This is why we RV

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

When we pulled out of Corpus Christi, Texas, we spent three days driving before arriving in Benson, Arizona (965 miles – 1553 Km).  Our plan was to spend the week at an Escapees Park – SKP Saguaro Co-op – getting caught up on household chores.  We did the exact same thing last year and it worked out very well.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls

We washed, we waxed, we cleaned, we fixed and still managed to get in some fine desert hikes along with a little socializing.

It felt great to be back in the desert and dry out from all the moisture we encountered along the Texas Gulf Coast.  And warm up…. darn that Polar Vortex!

Once our chores were complete, we were ready for a little boondocking and I knew just the place; a place I had been looking forward to visiting since leaving Texas.  I first heard about Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near McNeal, Arizona, from my friend MonaLiza and then again from fellow blogger Nina.  Nina did a great review on the place.

Pintail Ducks

Pintail Ducks

This 1500 acre wildlife area in southeastern Arizona is known as a major roosting site for 20,000 to 30,000 Sandhill Cranes.  That is not a typo… we’re talking twenty to thirty THOUSAND Sandhill Cranes.Sandhill Cranes

The arid grasslands, surrounding agriculture, and shallow waters provide the perfect environment for not only cranes but a bunch of other wildlife as well.  We saw several kinds of ducks, a huge flock of snow geese, a pair of great horned owls, hawks, other birds, and although we didn’t see any coyotes we sure heard them during the night.

bird photography

My RV is in the distance on the right…….. near the picnic shelter.

RVing lifestyle

That’s us on the left. Our home for 3 nights

But the main attraction at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area remains the cranes.  Imagine the sound of thousands upon thousands of Sandhill Cranes taking flight.  Imagine the sight of wave after wave of these magnificent birds filling the sky.  Imagine laying in bed at night falling asleep to the trumpeting sound of cranes.  Very, very cool…. and this is why we RV.  The nearest hotel is over thirty miles away in Tombstone, Arizona, but in my RV I get to sleep amongst the cranes.  For this craniac, it just doesn’t get much better.Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

After spending three days at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, I began to understand the behavior of these cranes.  However on day one, I did not know what to expect.  I awoke slightly before 6:00 a.m. and shortly thereafter I heard the start of the cranes distinctive rolling cries. bird watchingNot wanting to miss any action, I jumped out of bed, bundled up, and proceeded to stroll down to the viewing platform.  It was cold – 37 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was dark – almost an hour before sunrise. I was the only one out and about in our little neighborhood of about nine RV’s.  photographing birdsroosting cranesLook at all those cranes in the water in the above photo.  The cranes spend the night standing in the shallow waters to evade predators and each morning they fly out to feed and socialize in the surrounding fields.

I had heard the mass ascension of cranes at sunrise is not to be missed.

As I approached the viewing platform, a huge group of cranes took flight.  It was still pretty dark, thus they were silhouetted, but the sound…. oh my gosh, the sound.

wildlife in Arizona

All those black spots in the sky are Cranes

Roosting cranesAs hundreds of cranes lifted off, I could hear the rush of their wings.  It was loud.  In addition, their constant bugling made for anything but a quiet sunrise.

Their distinct trumpeting would continue until the group landed in a field.

Over the next hour, wave after wave of hundreds of cranes would take off, and shortly after sunrise, all the cranes had moved on.  By that point in the morning, I was no longer alone at the viewing platform.

A crowd had gathered to watch this  memorable sight and sound.

Wildlife areas in ArizonaRoosting cranesHaving left the nights safety of the water, they were off to forage for food in farmer John’s fields.  I’m not sure how the local farmers feel about this.roosting cranesSometime time between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. it was time for a coffee break and they would again return in waves to the waters edge.  I could hear them in the distance and ready my camera.  Very considerate of them to let me know they were coming, huh!roosting cranesAnd then there was sunset…. almost more spectacular than sunrise.cranes

In waves, they would return to the shallow waters as far from land as possible.  Mates will stand close together calling in a synchronized and complex duet.  Females make 2 calls for every one from the male.  Do I hear a “yes dear”?Cranes in the wild

Our three day stay was over way too fast (there is a 3 day camp stay limit within a 7 day period).  I do believe Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area will become a regular stopping point for us as our travels take us between Texas and Arizona.  I love RVing!Cranes in the wildCranes

RV

Entrance to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

boondocking

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96 thoughts on “This is why we RV

  1. I am such a novice and have not had much luck with capturing birds in flight but this are amazing! I have really enjoyed your photos. Beautiful blog, Ingrid, just beautiful.

    • Thanks Alexander. I had trouble narrowing down my photos for the post. My camera remained on ‘burst’ mode the entire visit thus I have hundreds of photos.

  2. This would be wondrous, even magical, place to visit. Any of the migratory birds’ “rest stops” and winter homes will leave you speechless. This was a great post, Ingrid. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Ingrid, this is such a beautiful and descriptive post. Your photos are wonderful! We made a trip to Whitewater Draw while we were staying in Bisbee a couple of weeks ago and had a wonderful day with the cranes — next time, we’ll make it an overnight!

    • I would highly recommend overnighting. We did a day trip while staying in Benson and I can honestly say remaining their for late evening and early morning took the whole experience over the top. You and Eric would love it.

  4. “Craneiac” …I hope I spelled it correctly! What an awesome word to describe yourself while amongst the Cranes! And to not only see them but also to HEAR them as they all take off… and to sleep within their craneiac ways!!

  5. Oh my goodness, how I so enjoyed your sandhill crane photos Ingrid! Especially liked that leggy one of the bird in mid-air. Thank you so much for sharing this adventure! 😀

    • I thought of you while there thinking this would be right up your alley. Although the Sandhills are the main attraction, there was so much more to take in and enjoy. I had to really work on narrowing down the post. If you ever find yourself in Tucson, the drive over to Whitewater Draw in Jan or Feb is worth it 🙂

  6. This must be the 4th time I’ve started to read your post. Am I that busy or do I just have a butterfly mind?
    Great pictures of the cranes, Ingrid. How wonderful to see them in those numbers. I can see why you’re keen to go back.

    • Thank you LuAnn. I’m liking my camera more all the time. I do however, have my eye on the Canon SL1 but then get to thinking about lens changing and the thought passes 😉 I think you and Terry would enjoy a visit to Whitewater Draw… the skies, the water, the wildlife make it a pretty special place for a few nights 🙂

    • Thank you. I don’t mind providing the photos for you 😆 The iPhone is just to handy to have around. I still shoot a lot of my photos with my little pocket camera when I don’t feel like carrying around the big camera 🙂

    • Since the daughter lives in Denver, it’s summers in Colorado and then the son lives in Phoenix thus winters in Arizona. Seems to be working well so far. Hope you are doing better 🙂

  7. Ingrid, I just love the word “craniac!” 🙂 What amazing photos of these birds, and I really appreciate the fact that you got out of bed before sunrise and went out into the freezing cold morning to get these wonderful shots. The sunset pic is really magnificent too. 🙂

    • Thank you Sylvia. I made sure I laid my clothes out the night before including my Cuddl Duds (long underwear). I knew the morning would be rather cold making it extremely difficult to be motivated to leave the warmth of the RV, but the cranes were calling. And I only did it once LOL. Sunset worked out a little easier and not nearly as cold and still provided a fabulous experience 🙂

  8. Wonderful shots of those Cranes!! I sooo agree with being in the RV, sleeping with only nature sounds outside..gorgeous sunrises and sunsets..and knowing another adventure is just down the road!! I know RVing isn’t for everyone…but I agree with you, Ingrid..it’s those simple things that make it magical!!!!!

    • Yes, RVing isn’t for everyone, but just think what folks are missing out on. Our stay amongst the cranes was indeed magical and I’m not what one would consider a serious birder. I just enjoy taking photos of nature and wildlife and there was plenty of that around. I was in my element 🙂

  9. These crane shots, I’m speechless… Get to sleep amongst the cranes, Wow! I’m not sure I get to visit birds in Corpus next weekend. It has been cold, 30s most of the time.

    • Oh dear! I do hope that weather warms for you. I assure you, the vision and sound of thousands of cranes left me speechless. It was a very cool experience.

  10. Wow, what an awesome location! We were in that Tucson area a while back and wished we would have stayed there. Definitely going to get this on our list for future stops. The Sandhills are really cool but I would have to say my favorite photo is the three male Pintails. You take great pictures!

    • Thank you. Pintails, shovelers, cinnamon teals, mallards, coots, snow geese….. it’s a ‘must see’ stop for any waterfowl lover. Definitely worth a stop for a couple of days 🙂

  11. Spectacular photos! I could hear the cranes as I was reading your description. I’m a morning person, too and love to get up to see the sunrise. And I love the title of this post!

    • When we were staying in Benson, we made a day trip to Whitewater Draw and although it was enjoyable, spending a few nights there took the experience from enjoyable to amazing. And that can only happen in an RV (or tent). We could have easily stayed an entire week. I’m sure that’s why there’s a 3 day limit 🙂

    • Definitely a place to at least spend a day picnicking. Although overnighting allows for early morning and late evening experiences… a huge plus 🙂

  12. Ingrid I have seen a lot of amazing photos of birds both on your blog and others but I have to tell you this post is stupendous. My mouth literally hung open as I read and gazed at these captures. It’s impossible to pick which I love best. Stunning and I am left stunned. Wow!

    • Awe, thank you so much Sue. I really tried hard to share my amazing experience which isn’t always easy to do without the sound. At times, I didn’t know where to point the camera with so much going on. Incredible experience 🙂

  13. Thanks for the shout out, I am so glad you had a terrific time with the Cranes. I was imagining my time there as I was reading your story. And yes the gurgling sounds followed by the thousands of Sandhill Cranes flying in are really amazing and breathtaking. That was my first time seeing a Sandhill Crane and what a way to see them by the thousands. Boondocking there was the best thing you did for your shots are great especially the 10th and the 11the image.

    • I took over 5,000 photos and had a heck of a time picking which ones to post. Eventually I’ll be deleting 3/4’s of them. Spending the night took the experience over the top and I highly recommend boondocking there sometime. We could rendezvous giving the boys time to do other things 😉

    • Thanks Gayle. I did do some video taping with my little camera but the video is pretty rough and I’m not sure how to upload it to WordPress without using You Tube. Ah, something new to learn 😉

    • Thank you Judy. I’m not sure which way you’re heading back to MI but I’d say you guys would enjoy a couple of nights boondocking there. It was a great experience.

    • The beauty of overnighting was I got to walk to the water at anytime to capture the different lighting conditions and movement of the cranes. I’m sure this is a spot we’ll be returning to.

  14. Wow, what a beautiful experience. This reminds me of Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, due south from Albuquerque, not sure if you’ve been there. We went last year and loved it. We were planning to return this year, but with all of Angel’s issues, didn’t make it.
    Brenda

    • Awe yes…. I still remember Hector’s stunning photos from Bosque. We may hit it in late October on our way to Phoenix depending on the weather. Will you head to Denver after Alaska this year?

    • That’s exactly what I did – spent all day with the cranes. One of the beauties of the RV … I could hang with the cranes for awhile and return home for a snack, lunch, potty, etc. Rest up and return for more communing with cranes. Wonderful experience!

  15. Wow, that would be awesome. We have already decided we need to go to Bisbee next year, maybe we should stay there for a few days too. I love the sounds of cranes, so that would be a great thing to see….and hear.

    • I would highly recommend a stop at Whitewater and for a little more privacy, the Sportsman’s lot just a little further up the road would be perfect. It got pretty busy during our stay in the main area, but then again this was peak crane season.

    • I’m so glad you had a chance to experience this for yourself and that the cranes where still hanging around for you. I look forward to hearing all about your stay 🙂

  16. The photo of the cranes at night is gorgeous. Isn’t it great to be a morning person. We see so much more than those that get out of bed at 8.

    What a treat to see all those waves of cranes. What a beautiful bird for sure!

    The mountains in the 8th photo look fake. They just amaze me with their beauty.

    • Thank you Marsha. I’m a morning person and love watching sunrise with a cup of coffee. However, I don’t normally jump out of the RV especially when it’s really cold, but it was worth it that morning.

  17. So very cool. Most of our cranes and Snow Geese have left. So, it is now pretty quiet at Cibola NWR.

    Great photography.

    • Thanks. I wonder if some cranes stay around this area a little longer. It was such a great experience and can see why you volunteer at Cibola NWR.

  18. I can hear those cranes now! That must have been a beautiful place to plop for a bit. We just went to the RV show last weekend. Taking your advice and looking at smaller ones. Can’t seem to get under 35′ for now, but better than the 44′ I had talked about earlier! Too many bunks and not enough king beds. Queen is too small for 2 humans and 2 dogs 😉

    • We too had trouble finding a RV with a King bed and have gotten used to sleeping in a Queen BUT we don’t have to share with the fur kids 😉

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