Patty

Wildlife viewing in the US South West

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We're planning to take a 4-6 week road trip from California to Austin, TX (to visit Mark's family over the Christmas/New Year holidays) and back. We will mostly be driving through Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas, possibly southern Utah, probably not Colorado as the trip is already getting longer and longer. Current plans are to roughly take 10 out and 40 back hitting Scottsdale and/or Tucson, Bosque del Apache, White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, Davis Mountains, possibly Big Bend though I'm having difficulty finding accommodations close to Christmas, Santa Fe, Taos, Petrified Forest, Monument Valley, then either Sedona or up into southern Utah. Just wanted to know if there are any particular wildlife areas on or close to our route that I should be looking into. I may even be persuaded to detour into Colorado. Thanks!

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Posted (edited)

@@Patty - if you were traveling in spring, summer or early fall - I would have lots of suggestions for stops in southeast Arizona's "sky islands" mountain ranges, Big Bend National Park in Texas, etc. But winter can be a slow time for wildlife and botany in such higher-elevation places. But the Chiricahua Mountains (protected as a national monument and national forest) have decent winter wildlife and incredible landscapes and very interesting geography. I have seen Black Bears there multiple times in December and small mammals like ground squirrels, Chipmunks, and others can be seen. The neat little town of Portal, Arizona is the gateway to the Chiricahuas - reputably it is one of David Attenborough's favorite places to visit, albeit in spring summer or fall. Portal takes great pride in preserving its dark skies and wildlife. I can provide lodging info if you're interested.

 

There are some achingly beautiful landscape scenes, as well as great winter birding and some mammals in the valley grasslands and hills of SE Arizona. Places like the San Rafael Valley (near Patagonia, Arizona), Altar Valley (Buenas Aires NWR), and the Animas Valley in SW New Mexico's boot heel have some of the most beautiful grasslands I have ever seen. In early morning light during winter they are a rich golden color that is superb when you get purple mountains in the background.

 

Buenos Aires NWR has mammals like Pronghorn Antelope, jackrabbits, and fairly cooperative Coues' White-tailed Deer and good birding.

 

Here is a photo (December 2005) of the BANWR grasslands with the Baboquivari mountains in the background:

 

14734997172_cb2a82a4e0_b.jpg

 

Here is a Coues' White-tailed Deer surrounded by Ocotillo and other cacti (also December 2005) in BANWR:

 

14733134502_e011d60f2b_b.jpg

 

Another neat grassland area is SE of Tucson - Las Cienagas Natural Conservation Area and Audubon's Appleton-Whitell Research Ranch. They have good birding and are very scenic.

 

Your choice of Bosque Del Apache is a good one - the thousands of Sandhill Cranes and ducks and geese galore is a spectacular thing to see and hear.

 

Not far off I-10 southeast of Tucson, "Whitewater Draw" state wildlife area that is like a miniature Bosque Del Apache. Thousands of Sandhill cranes, lots of waterfowl, confiding owls roosting in willow tangles and in the rafters of a barn, neat birds like Vermilion Flycatchers, etc. This area in the Sulphur Springs valley is also famous among birders for its winter concentrations of birds of prey - Rough-legged Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, the list goes on and on.

 

If you are staying in Tucson, Catalina State Park on the north side of town is a quick and easy stop with nice desert landscapes and good birding.

 

As your plans firm up if you need further info about SE Arizona or SW New Mexico, shoot me a PM.

Edited by offshorebirder
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That sounds amazing!!! Love Arizona and New Mexico - very beautiful ....... Sedona was stunning - lots of awesome hiking trails.

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Thanks so much @@offshorebirder! I'll start looking into all of those places. I'm sure I'll have more questions as I get further into planning. How long have you lived in Charleston? I grew up in Orangeburg in the 70's/80's.

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I will post a couple of more Arizona / New Mexico possibilities soon and some lodging info that may not turn up quickly in Internet searches.

 

@@Patty - small world. Just last weekend, I was shorebirding at the Orangeburg Super Sod Farm - had RUFF, Upland Sandpiper, 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, etc. In terms if how long in Charleston - born here (late 60s) and spent early childhood on James Island. Then spent 5 wonderful years way out in the country in Jasper County (driveway a mile long and nearest neighbor miles away). Then moved back to Charleston (West of the Ashley) from the 5th grade through college (CofC). Then DC, New York, San Francisco 98-2003, then back home to Charleston.

 

By the way, are you into bats? I think I recall there are some enormous bat flights out of caves near Austin. Not sure if they do it around Christmas, though...

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The George Walker House is sort of a hybrid self-catering / bed-and-breakfast place to stay. It is not that far off I-10 in Paradise, Arizona near Portal, at higher elevation in the Chiricahua Mountains. It has bird feeders and water features that bring in a variety of wildlife, and the owners are good naturalists and birders with an expansive library and plenty of local knowledge and contacts.

 

http://www.thegeorgewalkerhouse.com/

 

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g31321-d1236185-Reviews-The_George_Walker_House-Portal_Arizona.html

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Posted (edited)

@@Patty - as a follow-up: if you are keen to see Pronghorn Antelope, Las Cienagas National Conservation Area has them. And it is much closer to I-10 than Buenos Aires NWR and is only a 45-minute drive from Tucson. Odds of sighting Pronghorn may be a little bit lower than in BANWR but Las Cienagas has a greater variety of habitat - riparian, freshwater marshes (cienagas), and of course excellent grasslands.

 

http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/blm_special_areas/ncarea/lascienegas.html

 

http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/blm_special_areas/ncarea/lascienegas/wildlife.html

Edited by offshorebirder
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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the additional suggestions @@offshorebirder. I'm into everything. I think we're there at the wrong time of year for the bats near Austin.

 

I spent 1st through 12th grade at Orangeburg Prep (formerly Willington/Wade Hampton) and have been in California since 1988. It's been 20 years since I was last in Charleston.

Edited by Patty
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We're planning to take a 4-6 week road trip from California to Austin, TX (to visit Mark's family over the Christmas/New Year holidays) and back. We will mostly be driving through Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas, possibly southern Utah, probably not Colorado as the trip is already getting longer and longer. Current plans are to roughly take 10 out and 40 back hitting Scottsdale and/or Tucson, Bosque del Apache, White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, Davis Mountains, possibly Big Bend though I'm having difficulty finding accommodations close to Christmas, Santa Fe, Taos, Petrified Forest, Monument Valley, then either Sedona or up into southern Utah. Just wanted to know if there are any particular wildlife areas on or close to our route that I should be looking into. I may even be persuaded to detour into Colorado. Thanks!

 

~ @@Patty

 

That sounds like a dream trip!

Although I once lived in Scottsdale, Carefree and Nogales, I'm afraid that I lack any meaningful recommendations of wildlife areas along your route.

The well-known Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson was an enjoyable visit four decades ago, but I'm uncertain how it might be today.

http://www.desertmuseum.org

I'm so pleased that you'll be enjoying such a gorgeous part of the United States!

Tom K.

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@@Patty - small world again: my mother went to Wade Hampton in her junior and senior years of high school in the mid-1960s - she commuted from Walterboro.

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The George Walker House is sort of a hybrid self-catering / bed-and-breakfast place to stay. It is not that far off I-10 in Paradise, Arizona near Portal, at higher elevation in the Chiricahua Mountains. It has bird feeders and water features that bring in a variety of wildlife, and the owners are good naturalists and birders with an expansive library and plenty of local knowledge and contacts.

 

http://www.thegeorgewalkerhouse.com/

 

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g31321-d1236185-Reviews-The_George_Walker_House-Portal_Arizona.html

Would you recommend staying there vs camping in the national monument?

 

@@Patty - as a follow-up: if you are keen to see Pronghorn Antelope, Las Cienagas National Conservation Area has them. And it is much closer to I-10 than Buenos Aires NWR and is only a 45-minute drive from Tucson. Odds of sighting Pronghorn may be a little bit lower than in BANWR but Las Cienagas has a greater variety of habitat - riparian, freshwater marshes (cienagas), and of course excellent grasslands.

 

http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/blm_special_areas/ncarea/lascienegas.html

 

http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/blm_special_areas/ncarea/lascienegas/wildlife.html

What's a good base for Las Cienegas? Would you day trip from Tucson or is there some place closer/better/more central, perhaps to include Whitewater Draw too?

 

Trying to strike a balance between not day tripping too far and not constantly packing/unpacking either, thanks!

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@@Patty we were in Zion National Park on our way to Grand Canyon in April, and it is beautiful and we saw Bighorn Sheep there! Also, Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon, AZ is known for attracting California Condors - we saw a bunch of them there, it was very cool! (You've probably seen them near you in Big Sur but I hadn't seen this many at once). Also, not wildlife but Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ is gorgeous to visit - I don't know how these sites are at Christmas/New Years though!

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@@Patty we were in Zion National Park on our way to Grand Canyon in April, and it is beautiful and we saw Bighorn Sheep there! Also, Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon, AZ is known for attracting California Condors - we saw a bunch of them there, it was very cool! (You've probably seen them near you in Big Sur but I hadn't seen this many at once). Also, not wildlife but Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ is gorgeous to visit - I don't know how these sites are at Christmas/New Years though!

 

~ @@SafariChick

 

You saw California Condors in Arizona?!

AMAZING!

First I ever heard of them outside of California.

Very glad that you saw them.

I wish that @@Patty could pass through lovely Sedona or Flagstaff around Christmas-time, as both are striking with snow-dusted trees.

One of the most memorable Christmases of my life was spent in Scottsdale and Carefree, too many decades ago to number!

Tom K.

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Posted (edited)

Yes @@Tom Kellie this area is known for them - so glad we stopped there as it was beautiful! Here are a few photos:

 

20916091739_91309c9ed6_c.jpg

 

20914995298_b016ff312d_c.jpg

 

21110612051_d6efcbe8f0_c.jpg

 

21102877835_65eb3326ef_c.jpg

Edited by SafariChick
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Yes @@Tom Kellie this area is known for them - so glad we stopped there as it was beautiful! Here are a few photos:

 

 

 

20914995298_b016ff312d_c.jpg

 

 

~ @@SafariChick

 

Well beyond AWESOME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The image above reminds of the Arizona Highways covers I liked as a teenager.

Count me as thunderstruck by the fact that they're there at all, by your being able to readily observe them, and these TERRIFIC photographs.

Many thanks for sharing these. @@Patty has another option for her extended Winter trip.

Tom K.

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Also, Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon, AZ is known for attracting California Condors - we saw a bunch of them there, it was very cool! (You've probably seen them near you in Big Sur but I hadn't seen this many at once).

 

Believe it or not, I haven't seen one yet. Great images against the desert backdrop!

 

Condors have recently been spotted here as far north as Point Lobos for the first time. I love these photos that were taken at a docent's house across the highway last month https://www.facebook.com/pointlobos/posts/945902038803268

 

Thanks for the suggestions!

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@@Patty oh really? How long have you lived in the Carmel area? One of our favorite areas - we were married there at the Highlands Inn in Carmel Highlands (before it was taken over by Hyatt or whoever owns it now) - 19 years ago this October :-) You should definitely go look along route 1 in Big Sur, they are seen there often from what I understand and that's where we saw them first. You'll know the right spot because people will be pulled over by the side of the road looking with binos :-)

 

But yes, definitely worth a stop there in my opinion. Whole area is beautiful.

 

@@Tom Kellie thanks for the nice words about the photos - I think my husband actually took that one!

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You should go to SE AZ, specifically Cave Creek Canyon and Madera Canyon. There's some fantastic bird, mammal, and reptile viewing here - really worth the detour when you're in AZ!!

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@@Patty oh really? How long have you lived in the Carmel area? One of our favorite areas - we were married there at the Highlands Inn in Carmel Highlands (before it was taken over by Hyatt or whoever owns it now) - 19 years ago this October :-) You should definitely go look along route 1 in Big Sur, they are seen there often from what I understand and that's where we saw them first. You'll know the right spot because people will be pulled over by the side of the road looking with binos :-)

 

But yes, definitely worth a stop there in my opinion. Whole area is beautiful.

 

@@Tom Kellie thanks for the nice words about the photos - I think my husband actually took that one!

 

~ @@SafariChick and @@Patty

 

Oh my goodness!

@@Patty lives in Carmel and you were married there?

Color me green!

Ever since I was a university student — long, long ago — I've been in love with Big Sur.

Staying at the Ventana Inn was one of my nicest experiences.

@@Patty surely knows that area so well. I must've visited Big Sur around one dozen times.

I preferred driving north to south, as that way the sea was just to the right and it was easy to pull-off for a better look.

I'd typically start in Monterrey early in the morning, mosey my way southward, with lunch in Nepenthe, then end up at Hearst San Simeon where I'd have reservations for a tour.

The day would wrap up in Cayucos, after dinner in Cambria or Morro Bay.

Never did I see California Condors during those happy days, but then again, I probably wasn't really looking.

I do hope that @@Patty will get to see the condors, and other wildlife on her American Southwest Winter Trip!

Tom K.

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@@Tom Kellie

 

The stretch of highway between Lucia and Nepenthe is great for Condors. I haven't been in that area in a few years, but last time I was there (June a few years ago), I saw 5 circling overhead - they dwarfed the nearby Turkey Vultures!

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@@Tom Kellie

 

The stretch of highway between Lucia and Nepenthe is great for Condors. I haven't been in that area in a few years, but last time I was there (June a few years ago), I saw 5 circling overhead - they dwarfed the nearby Turkey Vultures!

 

~ @@Anomalure

 

Color me foolish — at least when I was young.

When driving that very stretch of highway, I stupidly never once looked skyward, my eyes either being on the road or on the seacoast below.

Thank you so much for this post, as I've been mulling a visit to the United States and would love to reprise my decades-ago drives down Highway 1.

What you've kindly explained is of special value, as it tips me off where to increase my alertness to possible sightings.

If I'd only known as a kid what I now know, there could have been so many memorable wildlife sightings.

Fortunately, I now know better, am still reasonably active, and thanks to helpful Safaritalk members like you, it's possible to know where best to look.

Many Thanks!

Tom K.

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@@Patty oh really? How long have you lived in the Carmel area? One of our favorite areas - we were married there at the Highlands Inn in Carmel Highlands (before it was taken over by Hyatt or whoever owns it now) - 19 years ago this October :-) You should definitely go look along route 1 in Big Sur, they are seen there often from what I understand and that's where we saw them first. You'll know the right spot because people will be pulled over by the side of the road looking with binos :-)

 

Since March 2014 but we spent all of last year renovating our house. We've made the Hwy 1 drive several times this year but we tend to start hiking and never make it very far south! I may join one of the Ventana Wildlife Society condor tours or go on one during the Monterey Bird Festival at the end of the month. The Highlands Inn is still a Hyatt. We just celebrated our 19th in May!

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Posted (edited)

@@Tom, PBS just aired a series on the recovery of Monterey Bay this week. Don't know if you're able to stream it http://www.pbs.org/big-blue-live/home/

Edited by Patty
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Posted (edited)

@@Tom, PBS just aired a series on the recovery of Monterey Bay this week. Don't know if you're able to stream it http://www.pbs.org/big-blue-live/home/

 

~ @@Patty

 

Thanks so much for the link.

As PBS is continuously unavailable here, I wasn't able to watch it.

Nonetheless I forwarded it to two friends in the USA who I'm sure would be interested in Monterey Bay's recovery.

Monterey Bay...and the top-of-the-line marine aquarium...are surely among the most scenic and educational spots on the Central California coast.

BTW: Big Congrats on your 19th last May!

Tom K.

Edited by Tom Kellie
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Thanks, Tom!

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