Cave Creek Canyon
Originally we had planned on departing Desert Trails RV the day after we returned from Appleton but given how worn out we were, we opted to stay an extra day. Besides, we wanted a chance to see Nancy again. She had generously loaned Carol pieces of exquisite Southwestern-style jewelry to go with her outfit for Tom's reunion. We needed to return the baubles before we left town. The next afternoon we met Nancy for lunch at Romano's Macaroni Grill at the Ina Road location, a chain restaurant known for its pleasing blend of Italian-Mediterranean flavors. The Tomato bruschettea with Chianti - yum!
Well rested and ready to hit the road, we departed Tucson the next morning and headed east on I-10. There weren't many choices to get to Rusty's RV situated outside the one-time boom town of Rodeo, NM. There were basically two routes. One would have taken us through Tombstone east of Sierra Vista and the other followed I-10 into New Mexico. To avoid Interstate travel was our first instinct. But we had already spent a week at Tombstone east of Sierra Vista so we chose the northern route through the Dragoon Mountains between Benson and Wilcox, a route we had not been on before. The Cochise Stronghold lies in the Dragoons, the site of Cochise's last resting place.
Site at Rusty's RV
We had stayed a week at Rusty's on our way to Texas in the Fall of 2009. Located on the New Mexico-Arizona border the park has wide-open spacious sites with grand views of the surrounding Chiricahua and Peloncillo Mountains. It also put us within easy driving of Cave Creek Canyon, in the southeast corner of the Coronado National Forest and known world-wide for it's birding. This is in a fairly remote part of the country. Serious grocery shopping? A 50-mile one way drive to Douglas, AZ. And, as one prominent local birder put it, the local citizenry is comprised of "cowboys and scientists" which accurately captured the area's political dichotomy. However, the Rodeo Tavern is a nice blend of the two and offered a must-do pizza and authentic western decor. "No Guns Allowed" prominently displayed over the entrance.
Our view of the Chiricahua Mountains
Moon set over Cave Creek Canyon
Rusty and her husband who we had dealt with the previous year happened to be away for a few weeks. The park had been left in the very capable hands of Rusty's parents, Bob and June. Colorful to be sure. They had been full-timers for better than thirty years but now that they were in their 80's (very fit 80's) they had slowed and were happy to hang out and help Rusty. No lack of stories and certainly no lack of displaying their political leanings. Let's just say we left our politics out of our conversations with them. Bob always wore a loaded colt six-shooter on his belt. As was mentioned before, cowboys and scientists. We doubted that he frequented the Rodeo Tavern.
Our site was near the same site in a far corner of the park we had the previous year. The next closest RV was two hundred yards away. The view out our rear window soaked up the Chiricahua Mountains. Sunrises and sunsets were mesmerizing.
Sunrise over the Pelonchillo Mountains
When our former home in Appleton was built in 1870, Frank and Jesse James were still robbing banks. Out west Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and the Great Sioux Indian Wars were being fought. 1870 was when Wyatt Earp started a law office in Missouri, eleven years before the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone. In the Arizona-New Mexico territories it was turbulent times as the Chiricahua Apaches struggled to survive as a people. Not far from Rusty's was Skeleton Canyon, the site of Geronimo's surrender which marked the end of the Indian Wars of the Southwest. Near the town of Animas, twenty minutes away, the notorious Clantons maintained a residence used as a base for their nefarious activities. We were smack in the middle of so much western history.
Cave Creek Canyon. We never tire of the view of the canyon's entrance in early light. It has to be one of the prettiest views ever. On the way to the canyon's entrance lies the tiny town of Portal, population under 100. Private residences, a post office and the Portal Cafe pretty much define the town. That, and excellent birding.
the new trail view
We discovered another trail this year found at the canyon's entrance across from the park's boundary sign. A trail that wound up and through desert scrub and cactus. Excellent habitat for Bendire's Thrasher which we needed for the year. Last year these thrashers were common. This year none were to be found. Go figure, but that's birding for you.
Unpaved portion of the main canyon road
The road that winds through the canyon leads to a number of small campgrounds and the South Fork Zoological and Botanical Area. Every day we were at Rusty's we took time to search South Fork for resident Elegant Trogons. The 1.3 mile entrance road of South Fork terminated at a picnic area and extensive trail head. The trail followed Cave Creek and is where trogons are are reliably found. Trogons are easier to find in the Spring when they are calling. By late Summer they sit for long periods of time silently perched in shady spots. In the Fall they may have already begun to migrate south. We were becoming discouraged after four days of searching until we finally found some feeding along Cave Creek south of the parking area along the entrance road, 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where they are typically seen. The intersection of the South Fork entrance road also turned out to be an excellent spot to find a Whiskered Screech-Owl one evening.
entrance road to South Fork
Two miles further up the canyon road from the South Fork intersection is the Southwestern Research Station run by the American Museum of Natural History. A small but well stocked natture shop is found here, a delightful picnic stop. There is also access to a side road we had never taken before that lead up through oak-juniper-pinyon forests.
The main road's pavement ends shortly after the research station and continues to climb higher toward cooler coniferous forests, excellent habitat for Mexican Chickadees. Rustler Park Campground is where the road terminated at the top at about 9,800 feet. We had tent camped here in the 90's in July and were subjected to a hailstorm and freezing temperatures.
view from near Rustler Park
Retracing our route back down we took another fork which lead to the town of Paradise, even smaller than Portal. For birders the highlight in Paradise is the George Walker House Bed and Breakfast which has several bird feeders. The road continued on a loop back to Portal. The entire trip took us through five live-zones: Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian, and Hudsonian. Biogeographically the Chiricahua Mountains are located at a crossroads between distinct desert and mountain biotas.
Trarantulas - common along the trails
tiny but colorful jumping spider
Other birds we had hoped to find include Crissal Thrasher. Again, easily found last year but not at all this year. The road to the research station was also supposed to be good for finding Montezuma Quail. We whiffed on them too. There had been talk of a Berylline's Hummingbird nest in one of the campgrounds in the canyon but chances were that we were too late in the season to find one. And we were. However, over the course of our stay at Rusty's we managed to add several new annual birds to our list along with plenty of insect sightings...and the scenery alone was worth our stay. There were not many options for us to park in this part of the country but Rusty's is certainly a place for RVer's to consider. And don't overlook the Chiricahua Desert Museum on Highway 80 between Rodeo and the turn to Portal. Don't let the bland exterior fool you. A well stocked gift shop loaded with art, books, clothing, jewelry, pottery, a live reptile exhibit and a recently installed 20,000 square foot botanical garden await. If we can work out our schedule to include a month at Rusty's sometime, well, it wouldn't be bad at all.
Meanwhile, Las Cruces was next on our target list. We needed to find a safe place to park our RV while we drove to Dillon to visit the Colorado Luetkens clan.