|Cukes! Tomatoes! More squash! Green beans! Yum!!!|
Southeastern Arizona...if you don't know how wonderful that area is, by the end of this story, you will. Remember the movie musical "Oklahoma!" (yes, Shirley Jones...that one)? It was actually filmed in this area, oh yes it was. One of my favorite places to explore, it is a land of big sky and rolling grasslands with "islands" of mountains that harbor some of the most biologically-rich habitats in the United States. It is heaven for birdwatchers; matter of fact, it is one of the top five birding areas in North America. Towns such as Sierra Vista and Sonoita, as well as even the local military base, Fort Huachuca, have recently taken notice of the economic boon of birders "flocking" here, and have capitalized on this phenomenon with bird festivals and other marketing ploys. These grasslands, too, are found to have a type of soil that is conducive to growing grapes, and there is a burgeoning wine region around the small town of Elgin; approximately 15 wineries have tasting rooms, and it makes a great day trip from Tucson.
|Just out of Tucson, entering the grasslands|
|Grasslands around Elgin, wine country|
|Pronghorn antelope grazing around Elgin|
So when my husband suggested we get away for a long weekend, I happily accommodated him. Why not? Three of my favorite things are in southeastern Arizona: birds, wine, and Bed & Breakfasts (the other two favorites being yarn and beads; that about rounds out my Top 5 Favorite Things). It's actually a long drive from the White Mountains, and we had to make it even longer by going through Payson to drop off our dog with my mother- and sister-in-law to care for. After that, Sunday morning found us on a road trip to heaven.
After rolling through the "Oklahoma!" grasslands, where enormous oaks (Emory oak? AZ White Oak? I have no clue) break up the waving fields of grass, we reached our first stop, Sonoita. Sonoita is just a tiny crossroads, really. Two "highways" (two-lane roads) converge at a stop sign, where there's a general store/gas mart, and by chance, where some Arizona wine is sold inside. After seeing the jacked-up prices, which we knew were cheaper at the winery itself, we decided to forego the wine, but not before I took a couple pictures:
|Bruce at the Mercantile|
|Arizona wine for sale inside|
|The Sonoita Vineyard dog enjoying the shade|
|Bruce anticipating that money will be spent|
|Lots of peeps in the tasting room; it's a popular place|
|I had to buy a tasting glass just to make sure|
the wine was still the same
|Stuff for sale, including ceramic shoes as wine racks|
|Or, if you'd rather, some party napkins:|
"Pick Me Squeeze Me, Make Me Wine" and
"I'm not getting older, I'm getting more complex"
|Alas, as Bruce anticipated, he ended up|
hauling two cases out. As he said to me,
"it's not the weight of the wine, it's the depletion
of our checking account that's killing me!!!"
|The courtyard at Casa de San Pedro|
|Along the San Pedro, cottonwoods and green|
vegetation make it cooler, wetter, shadier,
and all-around more attractive for wildlife
|Breakfast of champions: a popover base with fruit, |
compote, and a dollop of fresh sour cream
along with a sausage link. So much for the diet.
|Birdwatching at the base of a|
huge AZ Sycamore tree
The following day, we visited Ramsey Canyon Preserve, one of The Nature Conservancy's most well-known preserves. Remember the "Monument Fire" a few months previous, one of Arizona's wildfires of the year? Well, after burning the southern third of the Huachuca Mountains, with Preserve folks thinking "here it comes, we're next," the wind shifted, and the fire basically stopped at the head of Ramsey Canyon. We saw the aftermath of the fire in other places, but here, it was untouched. We spent the morning exploring the creek, and had a great time.
|Wandering up the creek to "The Box," |
a tight, narrow canyon about 100'
high; don't want to be there
when it rains...
We saw six species of hummingbirds at the feeders maintained at the Preserve: Magnificent, Broad-billed, Black-chinned, Costa's, Anna's, and Violet-crowned. A few other southeastern-Arizona specialties, like Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, were also spotted.
|Violet-crowned hummingbird, photo by Bob Gress, obtained from Google Images (not my photo!!!)|
We wandered around, and I took off for a hike to the River (looking for Green Kingfisher, but not finding it, but I did find my 3rd and 4th Gray Hawk of the trip), while Bruce stuck around the House area. What happened with him while I was gone is the stuff of legends. Of course I missed it. He was walking along a bit of interpretive trail, and was simply watching one of the many lizards that tend to zing along in front of you; this one was particularly large, and as he was watching it and thinking "gosh, kinda big..," and BOOM, a large coachwhip snake shot out from the vegetation on the side of the trail, launching after the lizard. Coachwhips are FAST, lizards are FAST; apparently this lizard was a bit faster than the snake and eventually got away, but not until after a long chase down the trail. Bruce got a front-row seat to a very cool interaction between predator and prey. It happened too fast to get a picture, so this one is from Google Images (again), but Bruce saw something he'll remember for a long time.
So that was our second full day; when it got too hot, we came back to the Casa, and swam in their pool, relaxed, and I read my Kindle while Bruce napped. What a great day.
One evening, we took a drive to the Coronado National Monument, run by the National Park Service. It was originally designed to be a companion park to a similar memorial that Mexico promised to develop right next to this one (remember, we are, literally, at the border of Mexico here), but never did. The Coronado Monument was where the Monument fire was ignited, and black trees were everywhere. The amazing thing is how quickly the grass grew back after our summer rains started, so there was this curious juxtaposition of near-flourescent green grass with blackened trees all around. One of the rehabilitation efforts is to actually re-plant agaves, as the lesser brown bat, a federally-threatened species, depends on the nectar of the agave, and this species was pretty hard-hit in the fire. Anyway, there is a curvy dirt road you drive through the Monument to get to a saddle overlooking the San Rafael Valley, where Coronado and his troops came through in 1540, one of the first Europeans to visit the area. We reached the saddle right around sunset, and took about a million pictures.
|The windy road up the canyon; Sierra Vista is in the distance|
|The San Rafael Valley, looking into Mexico. A monsoon|
shower is on the left, the sun is setting on the right.
|Sunset on the San Rafael|
We came back to the B&B, enjoyed a glass of wine at poolside, and slept like logs. The next day, we ventured back home, via Tucson (pick up some pottery we had made for us), where it was about 100 degrees, then Phoenix to pick up our newly-repaired camper trailer, where it was about 109 degrees (ack!), then, finally, back up the mountain to grab the dog and mother-in-law in Payson, then home sweet home. A great trip, especially so when My Favorite Things are a part of it!!!