Sierra Vista in Southeastern Arizona is considered a Mecca for birders. Since it is close to Northern Mexico, many birds seen in that country can be found in the nearby canyons here. There are also different habitats such as mountains, grasslands and deserts that attract a variety of birds. Since eleven years ago I had been on a birding trip here with my parents and uncle, there were a few places I wanted to return to. One of those was Mary Jo’s home in Ash Canyon. Mary Jo has been opening her yard to birders for many years. She puts out dozens of different feeders and attracts lots of birds. It was so easy to bird here – no craning of the neck looking into high trees or scurrying around to find some bird I thought I saw fly by. It was relaxing to sit in one of her chairs and just watch them come. Sometimes Mary Jo comes out to chat with the birders and sometimes she stays in her home.
On my previous family birding trip we kept lists of the birds we saw each day and then voted as to our favorite birds of the trip. The winner was a Scott’s Oriole and we saw those orioles here. On this trip I was looking forward to more views of this striking black and yellow bird.
Orioles are some of my favorites as their colors are so bright and we saw other orioles including the Bullock’s and Hooded.
Lots of other birds entertained us such as Lazuli Bunting, Acorn, Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Mexican Jays, White-breasted Nuthatch, Spotted Towhees, Lesser Goldfinch and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Using his long lens, my driver got some great closeups of the birds.
Ramsey Canyon is perhaps the best known birding location in the Sierra Vista area. People have been coming to see hummingbirds here for years and 15 species are possible different times of the year. When Mark was living in Tucson as a teenager, he was acquainted with the former caretaker of Ramsey Canyon in the 1970’s and visited him there. Today it is run by the Nature Conservancy with a visitor center and gift shop on site. The area is beautiful with tall canyon walls, a rushing stream and large sycamore and maple trees. A trail goes up the canyon and there are several spots where benches have been placed near hummingbird feeders. I spent a few hours birding the canyon and checking out the feeders. It was not a particularly productive day but I really enjoyed the scenery.
South of Sierra Vista and right on the Mexican border is the Coronado National Memorial operated by the National Park Service. The Memorial honors the journey of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, a Spanish explorer and conquistador who in 1540 with an expedition of 1,000 people traveled through this area looking for the ”seven golden cities of Cibola” with riches they hoped to find. The expedition went as far as the state of Kansas before turning back. Although Coronado did not find what he hoped for, he brought a new culture to this land, introducing Spanish ways to the native population and also introducing Europeans to the culture of the natives. The Memorial notes that the influences of Spanish, American Indian, Mexican and Anglo cultures blending together began as a result of Coronado’s expedition.
During the expedition, the most common type of armor used by the soldiers was chainmail which protected them from close contact fighting. The fine mesh of the linked metal rings prevented swords or other blades from penetrating. The National Park visitor center has chain mail and helmets that visitors can try and it is surprising how heavy the chain mail is. I could not put it on or take it off without Mark’s help. We estimated it must weigh about 40 pounds and I found it to be pretty uncomfortable. I was more than happy to take it off as well as the heavy and cumbersome helmet.
The Park has a scenic road that travels to Montezuma Pass on a steep grade with switchbacks. At the top are magnificent views into the valley below where you can see in the distance the wall separating Arizona from Mexico. You also get an idea at how immense the valley was that Coronado and his men had to travel through.
From the parking area is a trail that heads up to Coronado Peak. From the peak the views extended in every direction, a vast landscape that Coronado explored so many years ago. What a great place to stand and think about the past!