Side Trips in Southeast Arizona

Published: March 8th 2009
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Traveling to PatagoniaTraveling to PatagoniaTraveling to Patagonia

Contrary to intuition, as one travels south towards Mexico in this part of the west the elevation increases. This results in greater annual rainfall and favors the change from a desert ecosystem to an arid grassland with trees.
We left Tucson for a destination that was not on our original itinerary. Patagonia Lake State Park was recommended by several people we met along the way has very scenic and with lots of birds. The lake was also sizable, by Arizona standards, and would allow us to finally use the kayaks we’ve been dragging around the country. The plan was to stay there for six days before heading east to Willcox, Arizona to meet our good friends Peter and Trudy Brussard. They were to arrive pulling their trailer (nickname “Bob”) from Reno, NV. The four of us would then head off to Big Bend National Park after a two-day side trip to the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. This travelblog documents our travels leading to our arrival at Big Bend National Park. As before, the pictures and captions tell the story.

Sorry for the delay in posting this; Big Bend National Park (where we've been for the last week) has no cell phone reception or internet connections!

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 22


Our tax dollars at work!Our tax dollars at work!
Our tax dollars at work!

On our way to Patagonia we passed through Sonoita, AZ where we saw this parking lot with over 100 Border Patrol vehicles, reminding us of our proximity to Mexico.
View of Patagonia LakeView of Patagonia Lake
View of Patagonia Lake

Patagonia Lake State Park is located about 13 miles from the US-Mexico border. The lake was established in 1975 by damming the Sonoita Creek. Below the dam, the state has established a large natural area that includes important riparian (streamside) habitat.
Sonoita Creek State Natural AreaSonoita Creek State Natural Area
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

This area, known as the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, was established in 1994. The state park issues permits to those who wish to hike the many miles of trails within the Natural Area.
Campsite at  Patagonia LakeCampsite at  Patagonia Lake
Campsite at Patagonia Lake

Our campsite (with water and electric hookup) was adjacent to the lake and within sight of an excellent birding trail that follows the Sonoita Creek upstream. An amazing variety of birds are present here, including the Elegant Trogon, a bird that is otherwise found only in the mountains of Mexico.
Sonoita CreekSonoita Creek
Sonoita Creek

During the summer monsoon season the Sonoita Creek floods and frequently changes its course. During the dry winter, the flow is modest. During our visit, the willows and cottonwoods were starting to flower.
Sora RailSora Rail
Sora Rail

Many ducks and other water-birds spend the winter in and around the lake. We found this Sora Rail foraging in the shallows near the cattails.
Black PhoebeBlack Phoebe
Black Phoebe

The Black Phoebe was a very common flycatcher. We also saw Say's Phoebe, Vermilion, Ash-throated, and Gray flycatchers.
Elegant TrogonElegant Trogon
Elegant Trogon

During the summer, the male Elegant Trogons (or trogon—there may only be one) that overwinter here are thought to migrate to Madera Canyon on the other side of the adjacent mountain range to breed with female trogons living there. This is my best picture of the trogon.
Verdin NestVerdin Nest
Verdin Nest

Verdins are small pale birds with mustard-yellow heads that live in bushy deserts. They build a spherical nest, typically in a small thorn tree. The nest has a side entrance. The male builds several nests, the female makes the final selection.
Pipevine SwallowtailPipevine Swallowtail
Pipevine Swallowtail

Butterflies are not yet very common this early in the southwest, but this Pipevine Swallowtail was worth a picture.
Kayaking on Patagonia LakeKayaking on Patagonia Lake
Kayaking on Patagonia Lake

We did get to paddle on three different days and the weather as perfect. After a cool time in Tucson, things turned sunny and warm with highs in the 80's.
Harbor EntranceHarbor Entrance
Harbor Entrance

This tall bridge was built with the intention that sailboats would be docked in the lake's only harbor. This commercial venture failed and the state acquired the property from the previous owner.
Boat Birding TourBoat Birding Tour
Boat Birding Tour

During the winter, Sonoita Creek Natural Area volunteers provide birding boat tours several times a week and bird walks on most mornings. They are a knowledgable, dedicated group.
Boat-in CampsitesBoat-in Campsites
Boat-in Campsites

The state park has several boat-in campsites, many with their own chemical toilets.
Cattle are everywhereCattle are everywhere
Cattle are everywhere

We have learned that cattle grazing occurs everywhere in the west including most state and federal lands. These cattle have direct access to Patagonia Lake and Sonoita Creek. Their adverse affects on the habitat are not trivial.
Town of PatagoniaTown of Patagonia
Town of Patagonia

It is evident that the town of Patagonia has undergone gentrification. We stopped by to have a propane tank refilled at this colorful gas station. The affable owners renamed the station after it became evident to them that the town fathers thought the station did not fit in with their image of the town. They also had very cheap diesel!
No Comment!No Comment!
No Comment!

Sign near Patagonia State Park land.
End of a hikeEnd of a hike
End of a hike

Walking back to the dam's spillway after a hike in the Sonoita Creek Natural Area.
Patagonia Lake SpillwayPatagonia Lake Spillway
Patagonia Lake Spillway

Crossing the dam's (very slippery) spillway after a hike in the Sonoita Creek Natural Area. The winter flow rate over the dam is slight, but during the summer monsoon season the water level can top the white, staff gauge in the background.
Willcox, Arizona RV ParkWillcox, Arizona RV Park
Willcox, Arizona RV Park

As planned, we met Peter and Trudy, their two dogs, Katie and Modoc, and the Bigfoot trailer "Bob" in an inauspicious RV park in Willcox, AZ. The park advertised shade trees at every site!

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