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/