We opted to do Cave Creek Canyon on Saturday morning but first things first: breakfast at the Portal Store Café and Lodge. Leaving Rusty’s we crossed the AZ-NM state line, which meant the café was on AZ time. Had the café opened at 8:00 AZ time as we thought it would, things would have been just ducky. Aaaahhhh. But as of 10/1 the café’s fall hours had kicked in. It wouldn’t open until 9:00 AZ time. But we were flexible (retired people tend to be). We took a walk-about down main street Portal waiting for the café to open. There were properties that have bird feeders easily seen from the road.
Bird feeders on private property where birders are welcome is a big deal in Arizona. Many notable properties in Arizona that offered armchair birding have been written up in the birding community over the years. The Spofford’s in Portal had such a reputation. But since Sarah (“Sally”) Spofford, a retired Cornel University ornithologist and educator, passed away in 2002, the newest must see stop in Portal had become Dave Jasper’s place. So it was fortunate that we bumped into Dave during our walk-about.
We heard that Dave had recently sold his property but that the feeders might continue to be maintained. He confirmed as much. Dave, a Wisconsin native, was pretty excited about pursuing other interests that would take him to Colorado – fishing seemed to be a priority. The idea of not having to fill bird feeders on a daily basis as he had done so for the past 18 years also seemed to bring a certain amount of joy to Dave’s demeanor.
We also learned from Dave that Chris West, a young up and coming WI birder had stayed at Dave’s house during the summer. Chris had managed Dave’s property in addition to working at the Southwestern Research Station (American Museum of Natural History) as well as guiding birding tours. Chris is again back in WI pursuing Midwest birds.
Other than the café (an oasis of food) and lodge, Portal has a volunteer library, a post office and a small number of private residences and that’s about it. Portal is well known as a birding destination not for it’s size but mainly because it’s the gateway to Cave Creek with one of the most spectacular canyon views known to man (and woman, of course).
View of entrance to Cave Creek Canyon
Cave Creek Ranch
After breakfast we headed up to Cave Creek Canyon, part of the Coronado National Forest. Our destination was the South Fork Trail. The trail incorporates a few stream crossings which might have been challenging during other times of the year but was now pretty dry. It meandered through a riparian forest of walnut, sycamore, and cypress trees. Arziona Madrone trees occur here as well – a favorite tree to look for Elegant Trogons. We were too late for trogons which, according to Reed Peters at Cave Creek Ranch (another good feeder stop) the trogons likely left with the last full moon before we arrived. Nevertheless our hike up the South Fork was rewarding and worth the effort.
We continued up the road and made a brief stop at the research station – they have a brand new gift shop – but the stop didn’t net us any new birds.
As it wasn’t too far out of the way we also stopped at Dave Jasper’s old place. It just wasn’t the same. To be fair the new owner was only on her second day of maintaining the feeders but our impression was that if the place lasts a year, it would be a miracle. Feeders were not well stocked although the resident rattlesnake was on hand to scoop up careless ground feeders when they were.
Sunday and Tuesday were day’s off – time to recoup doing laundry, fetching gas for vehicles, and hiking around Rusty’s RV. But on Monday we were off to Rustler Park, a high elevation birding destination and pretty much an all day drive. Much of the drive was on a single-track gravel road ultimately ending at the 8500-foot level at a campground. We had camped here ten years ago (tent) in July and were hailed on along during a thunderstorm. Gets kind of chilly at the top. We’d hoped for some holdover warblers but we were out of luck. Nice looks at William’s Sapsuckers, though.
views from road up to Rustler Park and a picnic break with the Smiths
On our way back down we took another single-track gravel road over to Paradise to visit feeders at the George Walker House Lodge. We finished up the day with a stop at the fledgling Chiricahua Desert Museum. Currently the emphasis is on gifts and gallery work. They’re planning on adding live exhibits of desert reptiles. If you’re within driving distance, it’s definitely worth a stop as they have first-rate pieces for sale at very reasonable prices – T’s, hats, jewelry, art, books – a varied and tasteful selection along with some eye-boggling eclectic displays of items having to do with reptiles (beer and wine bottles, books, art, photos, movie posters, etc.).
By the way, cell phone coverage in this part of the country sucks, at least for our Verizon data card. Thanks goodness for Rusty’s free wi-fi.