There wasn’t much I could do about it. After all, I was the one who said, “Doesn’t this look interesting? There’s an all-day field trip offered at the Southwest Wings Birding And Nature Festival that’s led by a naturalist.” Eric and I both enjoy learning about plants and all things nature-related, and we were intrigued.
A Guide With Impressive Wilderness Skills
Our guide for the day was Vincent Pinto. He’s a self-described naturalist, environmental educator, and wilderness survival instructor, with degrees in both wildlife biology and ethnobotany.
Vincent’s impressive wilderness skills include identifying wild edible and useful plants. He knows about primitive fire-making, stone-age tools, and rope making from plant fibers. He also knows how to track wildlife, hunt with primitive weapons, tan hides, and build primitive shelters. Vincent is completely at home in the wild.
Beautiful Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary
We started our day at Raven’s Nest, a private 42-acre nature sanctuary just a couple of miles from Patagonia Lake. This is where Vincent and his lovely wife Claudia have wrought a beautiful home and educational facility out of a stunning, but unforgiving desert landscape. The educational Discovery Center, filled with dried plants and skulls and pelts, is fascinating. It contains everything you could possibly want to know about the flora and fauna of southeast Arizona.
Vincent and Claudia offer retreats and workshops, and the accommodations are in ultra-comfortable Safari Tents, with outdoor kitchens and showers. Everything at Raven’s Nest is not only functional, but it’s beautifully crafted.
Exploring Sonoita Natural Area
After a couple of hours of hiking on their property and a glass of fresh lemonade under an artistically designed shade shelter, we drove to nearby Patagonia Lake and Sonoita Natural Area. There, we hiked several miles of trails. We found a variety of birds along the way, including Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Black Hawks, Canyon Wrens, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Vermillion Flycatchers, and Western Tanagers.
Vincent talked about the native plants as we hiked, including yucca (used for making cordage) and edibles (cacti pads and fruits, mesquite, and yucca). He demonstrated simple flint knapping to create a sharp-edged tool. He pointed out various animal tracks and scat. And he told us that wasps are a good indication that water is nearby—while we swatted them away. Someone asked him if barrel cactus could be used as a source of water, since Hollywood cowboys are always slicing off the top of a barrel cactus and drinking out of it. Vincent informed us that barrel cacti can be used as a source of water in a desperate situation. But you had better be prepared for a serious stomachache.
A Harsh Landscape For Survival
This is not a lush landscape. It is harsh, dry, scrubby, and everything has thorns or needles. Eric and I love the desert. However, given a choice, this is not a place I would choose to try to live off the land. I think the Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest had the right idea—mild climate, abundant salmon, shellfish, and berries, plenty of water, and plants that aren’t trying to hurt you.
This was a fascinating and fun field trip, and I would do it again, even with having to get up at such a ridiculous hour. I can tell you for certain that if I ever found myself in a survival situation, I would definitely want to be in Vincent and Claudia’s tribe.