A Swing Through Southeastern Arizona

February 9-11, 2018

We were looking for an outdoor adventure with hiking I can do while still recovering from a broken hip, and found a wealth of opportunities close to home in southeastern Arizona.

Our first destination was Whitewater Draw, where some 15,000 sandhill cranes winter over in a rare Arizona wetland. We arrived just in time to see a horizon full of cranes who had recently returned from feeding in nearby fields, and their raucous trilling filled the air.

Many other species can be found here, including this handsome hawk we later identified as a Northern Harrier.
With an average wingspan of more than five feet, the cranes are excellent fliers.
Killdeer admiring his reflection?
There's free camping in the parking lot at Whitewater Draw, but it's been discovered by the boondocking community, and was packed tight with more than a dozen RVs.
A short distance down the road, we were quite happy — and all by ourselves — in the overflow camping.
The next morning we got up early to hear the cranes lift off, then refueled at the Bisbee Coffee Company.
I forgot how much I like Bisbee! Great art and great opportunities for urban hiking!
Following part of the route of the famous "Bisbee 1000", we ascended/descended more than 500 steps.
Yes, my knees were jelly afterward, but so far hiking — cane and all — is by far the best medicine!
After lunch we headed for our favorite camping spot on the west side of the Dragoon Mountains, but were startled to see billowing clouds of smoke northeast of Tombstone.
View from Middlemarch Pass. In the space of a few hours, the Knob Hill Fire ignited on private land and raced up Cochise Stronghold, forcing evacuations on both side of the Dragoon Mountains.
We eventually found an isolated spot on a suitably dreadful 4WD road south of Middlemarch Pass.
Another fabulous Arizona sunset and opportunities for rockhounding on a remnant of an ancient seabed.
We thought we'd head home the next morning, but along the way we passed once again by the ghost town of Fairbank. A few weeks ago, we stopped there to visit a rather nice small museum, and were surprised to see that there are some developed hiking trails along the San Pedro River.
No time like the present! Off we went — this time with hiking poles instead of a cane — along a 4+-mile long that starts out in a dense mesquite bosque and then opens into dry grassland, passing by the ruins of the Grand Central Stamp Mill.
Since there was no water in Tombstone, silver ore was hauled overland to a series of SEVEN stamp mills along the San Pedro. In the mid-1880s the Tombstone mines flooded, the mills shut down and the boomtowns of Contention City, Fairbank, Emery City, Millville and Charleston were abandoned.
Except during monsoon season, the San Pedro north of Benson is a wide swath of blowing sand, so were surprised to see that closer to its source in Mexico's Sierra Manzanal, the San Pedro flows year round.
The stream is lined with giant cottonwoods, branches shimmering silver with the promise of an early spring.
Fairbank was an important stage stop, eventually served by four different railroads, and it was the closest railroad depot to Tombstone until a spur connected them in 1903.
We came home to find the freezer door wide open and all the food spoiled. Did we really leave it open? No, but thanks to the CATCAM, we know who did!