2023-07-12 Arizona’s Huachuca Canyon

Elegant Trogon - Trogon elegans
I had hoped to spend two days at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista Arizona as I headed home from my 2023 North American Expedition. When I learned of the poor road conditions and the closure of Garden Canyon, I settled for a half day in the lower Huachuca Canyon. The birds I found here are like few places in North America.
Cassin's Vireo - Vireo cassinii
My first thought was this was a Plumbeous Vireo. But there is enough yellow on this bird that believe it is a Cassin’s Vireo. Winter is the only season they should be found here, but perhaps it was an early migrant.

After coming off the Chiricahua Mountains Monday and getting breakfast in Sunsites, I pushed my way over roads I’d not traveled in a very long time. It carried me through Tombstone and Charleston. I paid a visit to the Charleston Bridge, a place I had spent time twenty years ago. The old steel single-track bridge has not carried wheeled traffic for decades. All motorized traffic goes over the San Pedro River on a slightly more modern concrete bridge several yards downstream (north). I remember taking pictures of a Summer Tanager from the bridge. But on this visit, I found the rails were lined with a six-foot high chain-link fence. There were no longer clear views into the mid-story canopies of the tall cottonwoods growing from the riverbed. I suspect the chain links were required to deter adrenalin freaks from jumping into the river during high water.

After my long drive, it was good to stretch my legs and survey the birds below. There were but a few. While I was so engaged, a couple about my age walked out and we began a conversation that lasted almost an hour. We walked back to the large parking area. They headed east, and I had planned to continue west and stay at the Sierra Vista Walmart 8 miles away. But as I began my move, I realized that this dirt parking lot by the bridge would be far superior to the paved lot I was headed for. So I found the most level place I could find, far enough away from the road and the river to be relatively quiet, and I settled in for the night.

Wednesday I planned to drain my holding tanks and access the army base at Fort Huachuca. With their permission, I would explore Huachuca Canyon and/or Garden Canyon. They each have the potential to offer meetings with birds only found in Southeastern Arizona.

By this point in my trip, I had given up all hope of getting caught up with my blogging. I have tried to balance the call of the road home and still exploit my opportunities for meeting birds. But I have not had enough time to completely process all the images, let alone spin the yarns. I had been journaling as much as I could, so the beginning of the stories were in place. The images had most of the metadata embedded, and some of the culling was done. But if I wanted to make the most of my time in Arizona, I had to prioritize my time. So I gave myself permission to take all the pictures I could, and pay the price of an ever-growing backlog of story-telling until I got home.

Passing monsoonal storms tempered some of the worst heat, but they presented their own issues to contend with. In Sierra Vista, the skies were all behind a thick cloud layer. Someone I met on the road said the monsoons were over early in Arizona, but to my eye, they were just waiting for my visit.

My day Wednesday started with a Denny’s breakfast. After my meal, I found a gas station with an RV dump facility and I followed the dump with a fuel fill up before my visit to Fort Huachuca. I have fond memories of years past when I have spent time in both Huachuca and Garden Canyons. After getting my 90 day pass from the MP’s at the Visitor Center, I went looking for the agency that issues permits for overnight camping, but they didn’t open until 10am. So I proceeded on to Huachuca Canyon. I’d planned to drive as far up the canyon as possible, but the road conditions were so bad, I stopped at the first sign of water. I was only two miles up this long gravel trail, but the rocks in the road discouraged me from advancing further in my RV. 

And there were worthwhile birds here. I could hear trogons, cuckoos, and vireos within seconds of my stop. I tried shooting from the van for a while, but despite the water flowing from the nearby pipe, I was not getting good shots. So I grabbed my gear and wandered out under the riparian trees, where I had slightly better luck. The challenge here was getting good line-of-sight views of my quarry. So consistent were these bird’s choice of perches, I am convinced theirs was a conscious decision to avoid my gaze. The overcast skies compounded the challenge to my image gathering.

When I finished with my visit, I drove back to the base to see about my overnight options on base. I learned two discouraging facts. First, because I was neither ex-military, nor a government employee, I did not qualify for application. The second obstacle was that Garden Canyon was not accessible because of fire concerns. That meant I had no compelling reason to stay nearby overnight, and return the next morning. So I drove back to Sierra Vista and stocked up on groceries, then set out to visit Patagonia. Only about a mile before reaching Sonoita, I found a wide place along the road and parked to spend the night.

Thursday morning, I continued my trek. I had breakfast 12 miles away at the Gathering Grounds Cafe in Patagonia. After my meal, I paid a visit to Patton’s Center for Hummingbirds before continuing west towards home. I may stop at Madera Canyon, but I do not expect any more stops before I push myself down the road to home. But these stories must wait until I am ready to tell them.

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