Nature’s Wonder

I think it was 8th grade (or some such) that I learned there are 7 natural wonders.  If you asked me to name them I’d have to use Google to look them up.  Since then I have learned from actual experiences that the world possesses many more than 7 what I call, Nature’s Wonders.  

As we explore the world, and our home state of Arizona, we find it to be an amazing, stunningly beautiful wonder.  Recently we have been exploring more depths as we are awed by animal migrations.  Most of us have likely heard of the wildebeest migration and seen fantastic photos of this Nature’s Wonder.  We have recently enjoyed small examples of the depleting butterfly migration in Northern CA.  It is surprising to me to find how few people, particularly Arizonans, have never even heard of the sandhill crane migration to Whitewater Draw in southern Arizona.  It is a feat and spectacle difficult to describe.

To set the stage, Whitewater Draw is outside of Willcox, AZ in the south eastern part of the state, just 12 miles from the Mexico border.  People come from around the world and country to see it.  We meet very few Arizonans, but on our recent trip we met people from as far as Canada, Florida, and Minnesota.  Sandhill cranes often mingle about all day in marshland ponds that surround the site.  Walking paths and viewing platforms allow visitors to sit at one of many benches along the way to contemplate life, see a variety of bird life, and watch the ‘show’. 

There are generally two big ‘shows’, the mass fly-out at sunrise when the cranes fly to corn fields nearby to graze; and the fly-in around sunset when they come back to sleep in the ponds to protect themselves from predators.  The sheer volume of their squawking, the noise, and the abundance of nearly 40,000 birds all flying over in waves is spectacular.

To catch the show you have to be at Whitewater Draw at dawn.  The nearest hotel is in Willcox an hour away.  In the winter months between November and March when they are here, sunrise is around 630am and sunset 530pm.  There is an overflow parking area that many camp at.  It has no electricity or water, but it does have pit toilets.   Some sleep in enormous rigs with generators running, others in vans or campers, and some ambition types sleep in their cars.  Mind you the temps can be quite cold.  On our last visit it snowed, and was 17F.  It’s luck of the draw, as weather does vary.

When we stayed overnight in our camper, our evening entertainment was the ‘rest of the show’ of Nature’s Wonder.  We heard owl calling to their mate and hooting and hollering up a storm.  That is, until we heard the screech of a hawk jet by.  That put an end to the owl’s banter.  Later we heard the yowl of a mountain lion close to our camper, several times, in hunt for its prey.  Then there was the sing-song of coyotes howling in the distance.  The noises of natures continued as we fully immersed ourselves in Nature’s Wonder until the spectacular spectacle of thousands of sandhill cranes ranting and chattering getting ready to take flight.  In a thunderous roar massive waves of cranes took off and filled the air.  It truly is a sight to see, and incredible to witness one of Nature’s Wonders.

Snow geese have joined the raft of cranes and breed as far away as north of the timberline in Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and the northeastern tip of Siberia. They migrate in the winter to warmer climates, making Whitewater Draw an increasing popular destination for them. Albeit, this year they were probably wondering if they made a wrong turn when they wound up in a snowstorm in Southern AZ.

Following the adventures we were met with at Whitewater Draw we ventured to our next stop, not far away, Chiricahua National Monument. You can see my post here … https://kritterspix.com/2023/01/28/chiracahua-national-monument/

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New Snow

The weather forecast said we’d get 12 – 18″ every day for 3 days. I’m not sure who got our snow, but we didn’t.

We got maybe 7″ over the 3 days.

We drove up Lake Mary Road having heard that Flagstaff got 18″+ just on the first day. It seems we found our snow. The snow as we neared Flagstaff grew heavier each mile with large drifts and snow piled high.

We were happy to find it… and the herd of elk wandering through.

Dr. Seuss Trees

When we went out to take photos after a recent snowstorm, I couldn’t help but think of our forests weighed down by wet heavy snow, as ‘Grinch trees’. You know, the Dr. Seuss animated classic with white cascading trees.

As we pulled off the road, fearful of getting stuck in deep snow drifts, we reveled in the blue sky the morning after our heavy snowfall. By afternoon, as the sun came out, the snow was gone, much to the relief of the burdened trees.

For more photos from our recent storm and it’s inhabitants that enjoy it, check out my post here… https://kritterspix.com/2023/01/03/let-there-be-snow/

Best of …. Landscapes 2022

It has been an amazing year full of record camping trips throughout the year. It felt as if we camped out more in 2022 than we were home… and we LOVED it. What’s not to like – rolling out of bed to stunning overlooks, amazing sunrises and sunsets, and exploring the great outdoors we so adore. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of material to choose from for my ‘Best Of’ this year. So in no particular order are some of my favorite landscapes from the year. Feel free to weigh in on your personal favorite.

Four Peaks all aglow at sunrise over Roosevelt Lake.

Sandhill cranes takeoff at sunrise at Whitewater Draw in Southern AZ.

Sunrise over Alamo Lake

Sunset over Toroweap, part of Grand Canyon North Rim

Sunset at Tucson Mountain Park

Sunset at Dogtown Lake outside of Williams, AZ

Sunset at Kaibab Lake

Luna lake at sunset

Fall colors along Haigler Creek

Maple fall overlooks Haigler Creek

We got a lot of ‘dud’ skies. That’s becoming part of photography for us. But we were also gifted with some stunning sunset / sunrises and magnificent overlooks. We did a lot of lakes this year as the water makes for great reflections and attracts eagle and osprey. For my Best Of … Animals 2022 check out my post here …. https://kritterspix.com/2022/12/29/best-of-animals-2022/

Like a little kid

Kids love snow. There is something just fun and adventurous about sliding down slopes, making snowmen, and snowball fights.

I know our pup, Trek, enjoyed her first snow.

So animals aren’t any different. Particularly the baby animals. They are just as nuts for it.

We’ve seen baby deer, elk, and now big horn sheep go crazy for the snow. We were fortunate enough to be able to watch this amazing herd playing in the snow.

We felt very privileged to witness their fun. You can literally see the joy on their faces.

If you enjoyed these photos, you can see more of this ‘shoot’ here.. https://kritterspix.com/2022/12/15/practice-makes-better/

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is conveniently located outside of Cottonwood, AZ and offers the public an abundance of reasons to go. With 423 acres, the park hosts a number of scenic hiking & bicycling trails through willow and cottonwood forests, past 3 lagoons, and along the Verde river. The environment provides habitat for mammals (deer, javelina, rabbit, etc.), reptiles, amphibians, and over 200 species of birds. We even saw our first AZ river otter that had come in for some fishing.

The animals aren’t the only ones fishing. The park is popular among fisherman trying to snag a trout of their own.

It’s a great place to contemplate, watch the sunrise or set, enjoy the ducks bobbing for supper, or partake in one’s own picnic. Dead Horse has campsites for RV’s or tents, and cabins for rental. It’s close to the freeway (I-17 / SR-260), and a hidden oasis for wildlife watchers, and outdoorsman alike.

We learned a lot on our visit, and found all the people walking around the pathways to be friendly and kind. We’ll definitely be back for more.

Fall has fallen

It’s an early fall here in Northern AZ. Generally I don’t think of fall colors until later in October, but it seems our recent cold snap has induced bright colors and piles of fallen leaves.

Red, yellows, and oranges contrast with varying shades of green with great enthusiasm and happiness.

Fall must be one of my favorite seasons, as the colorful outbursts just seem to smile upon its recipient. We’ll have to get out more to enjoy what might be left of this vivid season and it’s brilliant hues.

California Cruising

Our Oregon coast trip took us through California on our way home. You can check out our Oregon pix here… https://kritterspix.com/2022/09/30/oregon-coast/

It is stunning to see the diversity of the California coast. The Northern end dives inland into massive redwoods lining the roads. The gigantic ancient trees are impressive to see as they cast a dark shade across the road even in the daylight. The dark roads were narrow with constant twists & turns that made them challenging and stressful to drive, while trying to enjoy the scenery along the way.

As we continued down the coast we moved from forest and trees to ocean with rocks littering the landscape as far as the eye could see.

North of San Fransisco there are wineries galore through Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Ynez valleys just to name a few.

As we got past San Francisco / Oakland area our landscape changed to agricultural. We stopped at Gilroy for some of their famed garlic, and Salinas, known as the ‘Salad bowl of the world’ for fruit & nuts – something CA is known for.

It was fascinating to see the change in landscape along the long coast, as we made our way.

Monsoon Horizon

July / August is our typical monsoon season. Storm clouds on the horizon bring great skies, wonderful sunrise and sunsets, and lush grass.

The lush grass brings out the animals happily feeding on the tender greens.

Nature takes care of its own as newborns are born around June to take advantage of the ample food and water to quickly nurture them to adolescent before the harsh winters are upon them.

It’s a beautiful season and great time to get out and enjoy its many blessings.