Between the rugged peaks of the Dos Cabezas Mountains and the Dragoon Mountains in southeastern Arizona lies Sulphur Springs Valley, home to more than 500 species of birds. Each winter, that population swells as more than 30,000 sandhill cranes swoop in for a seasonal visit.
The human population also gets bigger: Thousands of nature enthusiasts and tourists flock to the town of Willcox to catch sight of the winged wonders.
The 2004 Wings Over Willcox Sandhill Crane Celebration offers a chance to see and learn more about the birds during a weekend of tours, seminars and activities.
Activities kick off 5 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday with a $5 all-you-can-eat breakfast at the Willcox Community Center, headquarters for the event.
Each day offers free seminars on topics ranging from bird habits and conservation efforts to photography, astronomy and backyard gardening. You can also take guided tours of bird habitats, historic sites and geological wonders, and sit in on lectures by nationally recognized birding experts. A trade show, open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, offers nature-related trinkets and souvenirs, as well as information on local attractions.
When you’re not spying cranes and sparrows with your binoculars, you can explore miles of backcountry hiking at the rugged granite formation of Cochise Stronghold. Other good hiking spots include Cochise Lake, the Chiricahua National Monument and the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area.
The Rex Allen Cowboy Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Chiricahua Regional Museum & Research Center are other attractions.
Be prepared for mornings as cold as 15 degrees; wear layered clothes, sturdy shoes and socks, and jackets.
The Wings Over Willcox registration desk is open 6 a.m. each day at the community center. Check there for last-minute availability on tours. Tours are available at a cost; seminars are free. Space is limited, so arrive early.
For more information and a schedule of events, call (800) 200-2272 or visit www.wingsoverwillcox.com.
Willcox is about three hours southeast of Phoenix. Take Interstate 10 south through Tucson to Exit 336. The exit becomes Haskell Avenue. Continue on Haskell through the Maley Street stoplight. After one block, make a left onto West Stewart Street. The Willcox Community Center is at 312 W. Stewart St.