Needless to say, we spent little time at the campground. But we hadn’t planned to be there much anyway—we came to this remote location to bird in the nearby Chiricahua Mountains. A premier spot for spring migration, it had been on our list of places to visit for years.
A dozen miles from our campground (and crossing into Arizona), the Chiricahua Mountains craggily rise from the surrounding desert. The eastern side of the mountains contains Cave Creek Canyon and the teeny town of Portal (population 200), both well-known birding meccas. The water in the canyon attracts a wide variety of birds that arrive during spring migration; many stay to nest and raise their young.
Portal and the nearby even tinier town of Paradise (population 12) appear to be populated by birders; many people make their outdoor spaces into bird sanctuaries, with numerous bird feeders, water features, and landscaping designed to attract our feathered friends. There are seeds for the seedeaters (most everyone), jars of jelly and sliced oranges for the fruit eaters (orioles, grosbeaks, tanagers, and whoever else develops a sweet tooth), suet for those who like fat with their seed (woodpeckers, nuthatches, jays), and sugar water for the hummingbirds (although woodpeckers will also visit). We know from experience that keeping the birds stocked with food is a daily job—albeit a rewarding one.
Some of the locals are incredibly generous—they welcome visitors to their yards and gardens, even providing shaded places to rest and observe the birds. We found a favorite spot in Portal that we returned to several times—the owners are part-time residents, but make their garden available even in their absence. It was lovely to sit in the shade of the enormous sycamore trees, watching the various hummingbirds zip by to drink from the nectar feeders, or better yet, to sip from the ocotillo blossoms.
There are numerous hiking opportunities in the Chiricahuas. The South Fork trail along Cave Creek is so pretty that we hiked it twice, both times (to our surprise and delight) finding the Elegant Trogon, a tropical forest dwelling bird that lives in Mexico and Central America. A small number find their way to the canyons of southeast Arizona every spring, where they nest in cavities excavated by woodpeckers.
Despite the dust storm, Rusty’s RV Ranch is an excellent place to stay if you’re visiting the Chiricahuas. The owner runs a tight ship—she gave us a lecture when we registered about 1) no noise and 2) no lights. Apparently she didn’t realize that she was preaching to the choir. We’re always in search of the quietest, darkest places we can find. Needless to say, our stay at Rusty’s was wonderfully quiet and dark. It’s also a bargain at Passport America rates ($12 per night, full hook-ups, nice laundry, and beautiful views of the mountains. No extra charge for the dust storm).[portfolio_slideshow]