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Trip Report: North Arizona

Discussion in 'Zoo Cafe' started by Arizona Docent, 5 Oct 2020.

  1. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    I did not visit any zoos on this trip, though I came as close as the entrance to one (see Sept 29). Since this is ZooChat I will list zoos that I pass by (in capital letters) in case any of you want to plan a trip. When I list wild animals, I will give the Latin name on their first mention.
     
  2. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Tuesday, September 22 (part 1)

    The day starts with disaster. I drop my main camera (Nikon D850) on my hardwood floor and the rear screen cracks. It still takes pictures, but I will not be able to review images or use the menu. (I also have a D500 that I keep my 500mm lens on, but it has a smaller sensor so I don’t like to use it for landscapes).

    At 9am I call Tucson Camera Repair but they do not have a D850 in stock. I will be stopping at Tempe Camera to get a wide angle lens so I call to see if they have a D850. They just got one in but someone is buying it as we speak.

    I hop on I-10 and pass by ROOSTER COGBURN OSTRICH RANCH and then at Eloy a vacant plot that twenty years ago was advertised as the site of a DRIVE-THRU ZOO that never happened. In Pheonix I stop by Tempe Camera which is not far from PHOENIX ZOO. With my new Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 G2 and an extra SD card in hand, I head north and stop for lunch at the historic Rock Springs Cafe. I make good time from there to Flagstaff, passing the highway to Prescott (home to HERITAGE PARK ZOO) and passing the exit for Camp Verde (home to OUT OF AFRICA).
     
  3. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Tuesday, September 22 (part 2)

    After checking in at Flagstaff I drive southeast to Mary Lake and Mormon Lake, an area reported to have elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni). A guy with a spotting scope points some out, but they are specks. He tells me down the road he saw a herd of pronghorn (Antelocapra americana americana) so I drive off. They run up the hill and I only get distant shots.
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  4. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Wednesday, September 23 (part 1)

    At dawn I am back on the road to the two lakes. Over three dozen elk are far away in the grasslands above Mary Lake. At the overlook to Mormon Lake the sun has risen to reveal a bull elk on the edge of the lake. I work my way halfway down the slope and he lays down in the grass but eventually gets up and walks into the shallow lake. I pop a 1.4x teleconverter onto my 500mm lens and then two adult females and a yearling appear, accompanied by another bull. This one is a bit smaller and darker than the first bull, with a white circle around his eye.
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    I want the bulls to spar for shots with water flying, but it never happens. As I leave the overlook a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is on the fence across the road. He flies to my side of the road and I lose him but find a black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus).
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  5. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Wednesday, September 23 (part 2)

    The camera situation is still gnawing at me. I will be spending the next three days at Grand Canyon and we live in the era of next-day-air shipping. I call and order a new D850 which should be there when I check in Thursday. I check the email on my phone but what is this? The shipping address is not my lodge but my old job in Tucson they somehow had on file! I call customer service and she says the order has already left the warehouse and they can put in a request for change to UPS but it may not happen. I can’t believe it.

    I have the day free and decide on a scenic drive down 89A to Sedona. At various points along the road I encounter road-killed raccoons (Procyon lotor) and skunks, most likely striped (Mephitis mephitis). At a narrow pullout I take a shot of two trees against the colorful red rocks then drive through busy uptown Sedona. I go past it and along the small undeveloped section of the highway before entering quieter Oak Creek Village where I have lunch at a local cafe.
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    In the late afternoon I take yet another drive to Mormon lake, this time looping around the back road that goes through small Mormon Lake Village. I am alone at a scenic viewpoint and a mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) is grazing in the distance. The only sound is crickets chirping and it is completely peaceful, with a half moon shining nicely in the sky.
     
  6. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Thursday, September 24 (part 1)

    Before checking out in Flagstaff I do a dawn drive to nearby Pumphouse County Wildlife Area. A brown (mostly dry) meadow is backed by a hill where the forest starts. I walk about halfway into the meadow scanning for wildlife. As the sun rises I am begging for an animal to show up in the warm light. About fifteen minutes later a coyote (Canis latrans) comes out of the forest and is walking parallel to me along the base of the hill. He starts up the hill but then stops and rests on the slope. We spend nearly an hour together as he rests and occasionally gets up to readjust. Finally he continues walking but then turns back and poses majestically on a rock outcropping. It is a perfect photo op!
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    As he leaves I get a distant shot of him leaping out of the grass.
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    On the way back to the car I see a kestrel (Falco sparverius), northern flicker (Colaptes auratus), and yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus).
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    Back at my room I get a call from the manager of my old job – the camera was delivered to them in Tucson. He kindly agrees to send it next-day-air to my lodge in Grand Canyon so I can get it Friday for the rest of the trip. On my way up to the Canyon I pull out to admire a stand of yellow aspens. A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) lands in a pine tree next to me.
     
  7. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Thursday, September 24 (part 2)

    Grand Canyon National Park – the Promised Land, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and perhaps my favorite spot on earth. I check into Yavapai Lodge but discover the restaurant has been closed for a month due to Covid so I will have to stock up on groceries at the adjacent market or drive to Maswik Lodge for counter service or El Tovar Hotel for table service. I do a combination of all during my three night stay. I chose Yavapai because it is farther from the main village than the other lodges and wildlife is more abundant. As I approach the lodge a pair of cow elk are grazing next to the road so I snap a photo with my pocket camera (Fuji XF10). I walk the forest trail from my room to the main visitor center and get a pygmy nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea) along the way. The visitor center has a nice gift shop and bookstore run by Grand Canyon Conservancy and I pick up a copy of 100 Years of the National Park Service by Heather Hansen.
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    After settling into my room I drive to the east end to do sunset photos at Navajo Point. The sky is hazy today, but it creates a moody look on the distant formations. I am bracketing exposures since I can’t check them on the broken screen.
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  8. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Friday, September 25 (part 1)

    A breeze is clearing the air, which bodes well for sunrise shots. Watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon is an experience everyone should have at least once in their life. I follow advice from the lodge handout which says Yavapai Point is good for sunrise. Once again, the Canyon does not disappoint.
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    Back in the parking lot I swap gear for my 500 lens to photograph the western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) that are abundant at the viewpoint. I also capture a rock squirrel (Otospermophilus variegatus) and a white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). On the way back I pull over and follow a mule deer.
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    Mid-day I take a walk along the forest path, bypassing the turn to the visitor center and exploring another direction. A white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) moves about so quickly it is hard to get a photo. I also spot a woodpecker that I believe is a Williamson’s sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) – correct me if I am wrong. If so this is the sixth species of woodpecker I have photographed in Arizona this summer.
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  9. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Friday, September 25 (part 2)

    It is now 4pm so surely the camera has been delivered. I walk to reception and they don’t see it. The clerk says it is a rural area so next-day and second-day-air isn’t really a thing here. What? Since I left my phone in the room I walk back and call UPS. Their automated system confirms the package was delivered at 2:17pm. I walk back and they look everywhere to no avail, even checking the market across the way. I have been there half an hour and finally the clerk says they will call me if it shows up. I am walking back to my room when he comes out the back of the building with a package in his hand. He saw a different sized box with the chef’s delivery and that was it. I am so happy to receive it I don’t bother to ask why the chef is still getting deliveries if the restaurant has been closed for a month.

    Up the path from my room is a large stand of sage blooming yellow and I dream of photographing a mule deer in the middle. Deer are grazing across the path but never pose in the yellow (they do briefly walk through). It’s time to photograph sunset on the rim and I chose Mather Point, the one just above the main visitor center. I see pink sky color but by the time I set up I have missed the peak. I waited too long for the elusive deer to pose.
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  10. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Saturday, September 26 (part 1)

    I have been to Grand Canyon over half a dozen times, but there are dozens of viewpoints to explore. This morning I try a new one: Grandview Point. It is love at first sight. This is also the start of one of the few trails into the canyon and I walk a short distance down after photographing the sunrise. In addition to the ubiquitous turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) that soar the rim, I spot a red-tailed hawk in flight. My camera with the 500mm lens is back in the car so I hike up and swap gear, but the hawk is gone by the time I get back.
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    Driving back to my room for breakfast I spot more cow elk grazing the roadside. It strikes me that I have not seen any bulls in the park. When I get back to my room I have to wait to park because a group of female elk (with one yearling) are walking through the parking lot. As they pass I am about to pull forward when I notice lodge guests look to my right in the direction the herd has just come. Then he walks out – El Jefe, Big Daddy, the bull of the herd. When he passes I park quickly and jump out with my 70-200 lens. The herd, followed by the big guy, walks past the end of my building (the door on the far right is my room).
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    I follow at a safe distance and get a shot of him in the forest before the herd walks into the nearby campground.
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  11. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Saturday, September 26 (part 2)

    A short walk before lunch reveals what I think is a Cordilleran flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis) – tell me if you know otherwise.
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    I treat myself to a nice lunch at the historic and upscale El Tovar Hotel. There is a wait to be seated, but I expected this and brought my new book. I settle into a leather chair in the grand lobby, surrounded by log beams and animal mounts, and dig into a good book. I can think of a lot worse ways to spend an afternoon. Lunch is crusted trout on a bed of red pepper rice with steamed vegetables followed with chocolate moose cake. It is as good as it sounds. On the path near my room a mother elk and her calf are so tame I could almost pet them (which of course I don’t).

    For sunset I return to my new love: Grandview Point. An extended family of perhaps a dozen are near me. After I photograph the sunset they ask if I will videotape them making a toast, which I am happy to do. When I hear the toast, which the father gives, he chokes up and I realize why the family has gathered. He toasts “To Megan, who would have been 22 today.” It’s a bittersweet moment, but I am glad I was able to help them record the occasion.
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  12. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Sunday, September 27 (part 1)

    I walk up the path to Mather Point for sunrise, where some visitors feel guardrails are for wimps.
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    After enjoying my final morning it is time to walk back to the room for breakfast. I am alone on the path when a dramatic event unfolds. A coyote comes running full blast out of the bushes on the right and crosses the path below me. Chasing him are a line of mule deer – four does with a buck on the end. The prey animals are chasing the predator, not vice versa. What is more a raven (Corvus corax) is part of the pursuit, flying low over the heads of the deer at the same pace they are running. My camera is in my backpack with no time to dig it out, so I watch as they disappear over the hill to my left. For a full minute afterwards I stand in silence staring in the direction they just went.
     
  13. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Sunday, September 27 (part 2)

    Leaving my beloved Canyon it’s a straight shot down Highway 64 to Interstate 40. As I enter the onramp an electronic sign to my right marks the entrance to BEARIZONA. A few miles down the freeway is the exit for GRAND CANYON DEER FARM. After a quick gas stop in Flagstaff it is on to Winslow. For the second day in a row I will treat myself to a nice lunch in a historic hotel, this time La Posada. It’s a beautifully restored train stop hotel that oozes southwest charm (I stayed here a few years ago).
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    Two blocks down the street is Standing On The Corner Park, a tourist draw on historic Route 66. Bronze statues of the two songwriters and a wall with references to the lyrics commemorate the Eagles song that says “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona; such a fine sight to see…” Rumor has it, however, the incident that inspired the lyrics took place in Flagstaff, not Winslow.

    It’s a short drive down I-40 to Holbrook where my room for the night is a Route 66 icon and another tourist draw. I am staying at the Wigwam Motel. Originally called Wigwam Village, this is number six in a chain of seven that were built across the country in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The rooms resemble Native American tipis but are made of cement. The original locations are, in order of construction: Horse Cave (Kentucky), Cave City (Kentucky), New Orleans (Louisiana), Orlando (Florida), Bessemer (Alabama), Holbrook (Arizona), Rialto/San Bernadino (California). Three survive today: Cave City, Holbrook, Rialto/San Bernadino. If you wondering what the inside is like, you stay here for the nostalgia and not for the space or comfort. Old cars decorate the property.
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    After checking in it’s off to Petrified Forest National Park. I arrive at 4pm and am disappointed to learn the entire park, not just the visitor center, closes at 5pm. I have to rush through, though the park is not as photogenic as I envisioned. Near the end of the road is the main area with petrified logs. It is 5pm but a dozen other cars are there with visitors strolling about, so I hop out for some pics. Pronghorn supposedly inhabit the park but I don’t see any.
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    I am back at Wigwam in time for sunset and dusk photos. Shooting all the angles, I grab a flashlight and light up two cars by hand with the camera set for a long exposure.
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  14. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Monday, September 28 (part 1)

    An orange glow through the thin curtains of my tipi indicates it is sunrise. I grab the camera and head outside for a quick photo shoot.
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    After breakfast in the room I bid Holbrook farewell and drive across the plains towards the cool pines of the White Mountains. A friend of mine at work knows the area and gives me detailed instructions on which route to take (for which I am grateful). After passing through Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside, I am driving through forest on Highway 260. I am supposed to turn right at the start of Highway 273 but there’s a snag. It goes through the Apache Indian Reservation and a large sign at the start of the road says that due to Covid-19 the reservation is closed to visitors and only open to residents and emergency personnel. Does this mean the entire highway is closed or just that I can’t get out at any of the stops along the way? I call Hannagan Meadow Lodge, my destination, for advice. They have not heard of this and think if no officials are there turning people around it is probably safe to proceed. I see a couple large RV’s coming from the other direction, whose drivers are clearly not Apaches or emergency personnel, so I decide to go for it. The drive is uneventful.

    At the turnoff for Big Lake, Highway 273 becomes Forest Road 249, which was recently paved. My work friend has seen Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) with pups along this section. I don’t expect to be that lucky but have my cameras ready just in case. Mule deer are the only wildlife of note, though several stands of young aspen trees are turning yellow.
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  15. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Monday, September 28 (part 2)

    Hannagan Meadow Lodge is a peaceful retreat surrounded by nothing but forest. After lunch in the restaurant I retreat to my cabin. I am in one of a series of three smaller cabins on the left of the main lodge, but compared to my room at Wigwam it’s a mansion. It is quiet and peaceful and thankfully the two cabins next to me are unrented.
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    A common bird around the lodge is dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis). I take a short walk to the edge of the meadow where I spot my first red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), not that I keep lists per se. After walking to a trailhead I return to the meadow at sunset where a group of mule deer are grazing at the far end. I walk to their end and notice a couple fawns among the group.
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    There is no phone signal at the lodge, the nearest reception being on a hill seven miles away. I am relatively new to cell phones but they do have a wifi password and I decide to figure out how to log into a wifi network on my phone for the first time. I have an email fraud alert from my credit card company. Around 3am someone called “America” had tried to run a charge of twenty-seven cents, which my card company declined. This is a known tactic of scammers: they do a small test amount and if it goes through they run a big amount. My card company is wise to their ways but I do the seven mile drive before dinner so I can call them. I press the button confirming I do not recognize the charge but then get a recording that the fraud department is closed for the night and I will have to call back in the morning. My last use of the card was the previous afternoon checking into Wigwam Motel and I am virtually certain that is where the theft occurred (since I had not used the card for three days before that). I think they use a wireless wifi connection to run their cards and someone mingled in the large crowd of tourists with a receiver and stole the number.
     
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  16. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Tuesday, September 29 (part 1)

    After breakfast I drive the seven miles and call the card company. We confirm the scam and they cancel my card and will send a new one overnight to my home. I am going home tomorrow so that’s fine, it’s just a nuisance. It’s only a few miles more to Forest Road 26 which my friend from work recommended as a place to see elk. As soon as I pull onto the dirt road I see a sign about Mexican wolf reintroduction.
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    I drive slowly looking for wolves or bears or whatever else pops up. My only sightings are a red-tailed hawk and a golden-mantled ground squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis) with chubby cheeks full of food.
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    Due to a power outage the lodge restaurant is closed for lunch. With no towns or restaurants in the vicinity I drive almost an hour to Eager-Springerville. I grab a Subway sandwich and make a last minute decision to do the 2pm tour of R LAZY J WILDLIFE RANCH, Arizona’s newest zoological park. I pull down the driveway and see a small group of plains zebras (Equus quagga) with a baby in a small yard with ugly fencing. I am not even sure this is a public exhibit.
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    Driving into the dirt parking lot I look past the wood fence to see a walk-thru portion consisting of a series of sheds. The tram tour portion is just a large field (though I can’t see the antelope from the lot). The whole place seems so sketchy that I turn around and start to drive out. I stop and think I am already here, should I just see the place? I cannot bring myself to do it and drive away. The thought of walking in the heat to see homemade cages holds no appeal to me. Not only do I have no desire to walk around a place like this, I have no desire to support it financially. There is nothing on their website or social media that indicates they contribute to conservation in any meaningful way. On the way out of town is Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area but when I see it is a five mile dirt road I skip it and return to my lodge.
     
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  17. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Tuesday, September 29 (part 2)

    I make a cup of tea and sit on the sunny corner of my cabin porch. The tall pines gleam in the sun, birds and chipmunks scamper about, there are no city sounds, and it is utterly peaceful. I relax with my drink and try to forget that things like credit card fraud and roadside zoos exist. The primary entertainment are several uinta chipmunks (Neotamias umbrinus adsitus) scampering about the rocks near my cabin. With the tea finished I get my tripod low to the ground and photograph their antics. One is feeding on a flower when another cheekily snuggles up and makes off with the prized foliage.
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  18. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Wednesday, September 30 (final part)

    I do a short dawn hike on the trail next to the meadow. On the way back a mule deer is standing in the dirt access road with yellow aspens behind. I set up the tripod but just when I start to press the shutter she bounds into the forest. Back at my cabin a white-breasted nuthatch is on the adjacent pine tree.
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    I leave the lodge and head south on Highway 191. After a few miles of pleasant forest the view opens up to to expansive folds of mountains below and signs warns of dangerous curves. I am about to enter the sixty mile stretch of road known as The Devil’s Highway. There are two reasons for this sinister moniker. The first is that it consists of seemingly endless switchbacks and hairpin turns capable of sending careless drivers off a cliff. The second is that prior to its renaming, it was officially known as US Highway 666. The curves are slow going, with posted speeds as slow as 10mph.
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    I finally near the bottom and approach the copper mine at Morenci. I knew there was a mine here but nothing could have prepared me for what I am about to experience. The massive scale of this gash in the earth is unimaginable and matched only by its ugliness. The highway runs through the middle and just when you think this bend is the end there is more. It is a hideous blight of bare earth pits and the dust in the air adds a dreary gloom. It takes every bit of grit and determination to power through and I will do almost anything to never experience that drive again.
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    When I finally reach the support town of Morenci, the unimaginative tract houses and generic stores are actually a relief. A few miles further and modern Morenci gives way to the historic mining town of Clifton which has a kind of quaint charm. Road signs indicate bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) are present but I see none.

    I drive through Safford and on to Benson for a late lunch then home to Tucson. While it is always good to get away, this was one of my least favorite trips. The camera issues and credit card dilemma were compounded by the fact that the White Mountains were a bust photographically. I will always love the Central Arizona corridor running from Tucson to Grand Canyon, but I have no reason to return to Eastern Arizona. (I haven’t even mentioned the region’s abundance of Trump flags and banners, the large confederate flag at one ranch entrance, and the fact that none of the business owners wear Covid masks or that my Prius was the only hybrid in a sea of pickups and SUV’s.) If the Covid situation is resolved in 2021 I hope to return to Europe (where I may even add a zoo visit).
     
    Last edited: 5 Oct 2020
  19. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    What an awesome trip! Did you do this instead of coming east?

    The jumping coyote and bull elk photos are my favorites (unsurprisingly). What interesting interactions you had with them. The canyon photos are beautiful, as well.

    Glad you got the camera sorted; I had a similar issue with shipping something to a hotel, awards for a ceremony. They'd been delivered but no one could find them. They eventually "turned up" over a week later, after everyone had left and the ceremony had taken place.

    What did you think of the Wigwam hotels? I find places like that fascinating, but don't think I could bring myself to stay at one.

    R Lazy J sounds very similar to their place in VA...
     
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  20. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    @TinoPup Yes I did this instead of flying back east to see the king cheetahs. I just don't feel like flying this year and there wasn't much else that interested me there photographically. Also not sure I want to support the park they are at for the same reasons I did not go to the one mentioned in this trip.

    As I said you do NOT stay in Wigwam for the space or comfort. I am glad I did it once for the photo ops (although the credit card theft makes me sort of regret it). However if you take away the "cool" factor of the retro setting and just rate the room on its own, it is probably the worst motel room I have stayed at.