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.
I’m with you, Laurel! I don’t mind getting up early either as long as it isn’t before 7:00. Did that early thing for way too many years.
I would have really enjoyed this day. I love learning about the environment around me. Yes, while I may enjoy living in the desert one day, I wouldn’t want to do it as a means of survival for sure.
To my way of thinking, 7:00 is early. (And then I like time for my coffee.) This was definitely worth getting up early for, although I did whine a bit when the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. :-)
Patagonia Lake is on our list of places to visit. Our attempts in the past have been nixed by either weather or health. One day, but I don’t think I could get hubby to do a 4:30 outing.
It’s another place in SE Arizona that I’m sure you’ll enjoy when you get back to the area. Yeah, 4:30 was EARLY, but it was definitely worth the effort.
Glad you made your alarm call. Looks like you had a great day. I’ve seen hummingbirds, and I’ve seen hummingbird nests, but I haven’t seen a hummingbird in its nest!
It was so cute seeing the hummingbird on her nest! She barely fit into it.
There is little that I would set an alarm for these days, particularly 4:30, but this may be one of them. When Terry did some guiding in Sedona, after stepping away from corporate America, he learned lots about surviving in the desert.
We loved our time in Patagonia and this is where we found the Elegant Trogon ready to feast on a lizard. For two birders, this must have been paradise.
How cool that Terry did guiding in Sedona! Eric and I are really interested in primitive survival skills, even though we don’t want to HAVE to use them. We saw our first Elegant Trogon a few years ago at Patagonia Lake, too — although he was just sitting quietly in a tree.
I guess if the nature call is 430AM only I will get up and go with the naturalist. But why 430AM? is it because of the heat?
Yes, the early call was because of the heat — and also because we had an hour’s drive to Patagonia Lake from Sierra Vista. The early bird gets the worm you know, haha! It was worth it — I’d do it again.
4:30 is definitely mighty early but for what you saw, I’d have done it too. Sounds like Vincent has been to Tom Brown’s schools. How do you always look so totally put together and chic when you are hiking. I look like something the cat drug in. Love your pictures – I know what else is new. Looks like a nice small group. So much easier on a guided hike. Vincent and Claudia’s place looks wonderful.
Ha, you are hilarious!! You know, a big hat hides a LOT. I feel like I always look like something the cat drug in, too, with all of our outdoor adventures. (Check out the post I wrote on Going Feral In Joshua Tree.)
What a fascinating and informative day you had. I would love to go there!
It was a wonderful day, Marcia. We would love to stay overnight there, too!