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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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/

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.

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.

A-1 Lake

July / August is the perfect time of year to enjoy our lakes and rivers. The weather in Northern AZ is as good as it gets, and the water location yield great fishing and wonderful views.

We have hit over a dozen lakes this year, continuing the trend we decided to check out A-1 Lake outside of Pinetop-Lakeside.

The lakes not only offer great views, but amazing wildlife. This time of year is also full of baby animals of all types.

Early morning hours sometimes gift us with wonderful skies, great light, and early birds.

We love to see the innocence of youth in its beautiful environment.

A picture tells a story

I have been determined to get that great story telling shot, since I missed the shot here … https://kritterspix.com/2022/05/14/tucson-to-greens-peak-in-45-degrees/

The story I want to tell, is of an osprey catching dinner, trout in it’s talons, taking it back to the kids for dinner…. and of the photographer (that would be me… getting her shot).

We heard there were osprey at Woods Canyon and Willow Springs Lakes. Along the way we saw herds of bull elk, deer, a bear cub, and coyote. At Willow Springs we found cute chipmunk willing to pose for the camera.

We headed to Hawley Lake hoping for better luck. We didn’t find any osprey, but we found turkey, elk, and bluebirds.

We kept moving, hoping for that illusive osprey shot. We found blue heron at Horseshoe Cienga Lake.

In the morning, still looking for osprey, we encountered beaver and baby Canadian Geese.

Still on a mission, we headed to Bog Tank for osprey, where we had seen them before.

We weren’t there 5 minutes, I had barely gotten out of the truck with my camera when we saw an osprey overhead… coming toward us.

With a lot of luck, (and a ton of practice), I actually captured my illusive shot. The osprey got his prize.. and I got mine. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you intend, but if you’re patient and take what comes one can get more than they sought.

Chasing the Weather

There is something to be said about chasing the weather.

I posted about Granite Dells here …. https://kritterspix.com/2022/03/25/blue-sky-blues/

Granite Dells is a picturesque lake with almost 2 miles of 1.4 billion year old Precambrian granite boulders protruding the water’s surface.

When we were there previously we got nothing but blue skies. So we decided to go back when weather predicted clouds. Tuesday was the day, according to the forecast. So we made reservations at the Watson Lake Park campground, feeling lucky to get a spot. Oh, but wait…. the forecast changed! Now it was Monday. After much cajoling of the City of Prescott, we were able to move our reservations to Monday.

This is the second time in a row we moved our reservations to accomodate the weather. Both re-scheduled launch times proved fruitful, as the weather the earlier night we arrived was the best it had been the whole time we were there.

It pays to be flexible and change with the weather.

Interestingly enough, Granite Dells is a sunrise spot as the sun peaks over the rocks to yield its lovely light. Of course, this can be a blessing or a curse with its harsh light and dark shadows. It all comes down to the clouds and how they may play out. Sunsets are equally opportunistic with the sun at one’s back and glows she may cast on the rocks, along with any light the clouds may cast on the water below.

For our re-scheduled visit, we got sunset light with clouds; and sunrise blue sky.

Fall has Fallen

With the recent cold blast (we saw it as low as 22F) and the intense winds, we thought we better check out the Fall Colors to see where we were. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the fall colors were mostly on the ground rather than on the trees.

We’ve barely begun to run our rounds of our favorite haunts for Changing of the Leaves… but as it turns out, we may already be too late. It happens every year. It goes from hot to cold, and there definitely is a chill in the air, particularly with the high winds. It seems Winter is already here.

If you are hoping to catch the change of season…. better hurry out, or it will be the change to Snow that we will be catching next.

North Rim, Grand Canyon

We frequent the North Rim of the Grand Canyon much more than the South Rim, in large part because we don’t actually enter the park.

We are able to enter the outside of the Park boundaries where we can camp and mostly enjoy great views in solitude. I will admit this time we saw more people on our trip than I think we ever have before. It was a treat to meet fellow travelers who were like minded and shared similar interests.

We drove all the way to Point Sublime (for which we obtained a Back Country Permit, as it is just over the Park Boundary) and camped for several days.

Surprisingly the leaves had hardly begun to change and temps were fairly warm. Unfortunately, we saw very few clouds. By the time we got home we were welcomed with cool temps, clouds, and rain. No matter what, though, it’s always a pleasure to enjoy nature and a good view.

Check out more pix here … https://kritterspix.com/2021/09/26/rainbow-trail/