“Preposterously Beautiful” ~ Patagonia, AZ

This is the way part-time resident, novelist and screenwriter (Legends of the Fall) Jim Harrison describes Patagonia.  We just blew through this funky little town several years ago when we visited so we decided it was time to show her some respect.

Our good friends Stan and Marilyn were hunkered down here for a few days while a winter storm passed by and we wanted to see them one last time before they began their journey back home.  Even though the weather wasn’t perfect, what better place to enjoy nature for a few hours than in a world-class birding hot spot.  Even if you are not a birder, once here we are told, you may discover your inner passion for these colorful, feathery creatures who far outnumber people. This little gem has been named in the publication Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die:  Birding Experts Share the World’s Greatest Destinations.

Bridge over Patagonia Lake
Bridge over Patagonia Lake

Nestled between the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains at a 4000-foot elevation, this town has a unique vibe, a quirkiness about it that suits its residents just fine.  Preserving its history, its rich riparian area, and sustainability are some of Patagonia’s top priorities.

Just west of town lies the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, “home to one of Arizona’s few permanently flowing streams, endangered fish, butterflies, and birds”.  Adjacent to town the Nature Conservancy has also staked its claim and the organization Native Seeds/SEARCH maintains a farm for preserving and growing seeds of endangered crops that grow in this area.  Scratch below the surface, dig a little deeper, and you will find some hidden gems in small town America.  We will definitely be back.

Patagonia Lake
Patagonia Lake

Although I have bemoaned the fact that I need a camera with better zoom ability to catch the beauty of these little feathered friends, we headed out to Patagonia Lake State Park & Sonoita Creek Natural Area with binoculars in hand (and camera just in case I got lucky).  Our first stop was to the visitor center to ask where the most birds can be seen.  Many agreed that if we stood in their side yard, where their feeders are, we would see a wide variety, but they also decided to share a couple of trails that might offer some enjoyment.  We opted for the birding trail, sans tour guide, where we could get a little exercise and hopefully see some birds.

A pair of cardinals hiding in the thicket
A pair of cardinals hiding in the thicket

For the record, I am not a birder, but I must admit to sending out a little prayer into the universe to have a chance meeting with the reclusive Elegant Trogon, the colorful, tropical bird that brings birders by the thousands to southeast Arizona each year.  Patagonia and its surrounding  mountain ranges are the farthest north this little beauty ventures so I wasn’t very optimistic about my chances.

Who are you lookin' at?
Who are you lookin’ at?

The first mile didn’t offer much to entice our sense of sight, other than some inquisitive cows, a burbling creek and the sound of many bird species that filled the air.  We were relishing the fresh air after being cooped up inside waiting out the winter storm.  Following the creek around a bend, our friend Marilyn whispered, “there he is”.  The gods were smiling down on us as we watched this little beauty quietly perched on a branch.  I kept snapping away in the hopes of having a few viable photos then traded off with Terry so I could see him in all his splendor up-close through the binoculars.  Terry was able to creep even closer when the Elegant Trogon flew from his perch to the ground and back up again. Here is what he found to be much more interesting than us:

The big question from everyone we met on the trail was “did you see it?”.  We showed our photos many times before we got back to our vehicle.  We were ready to take off when someone tapped on Stan’s window.  Rolling it down, the group standing there asked to see the photos.  Guess this colorful little fella is something of a rock star!

Our time with Stan and Marilyn was coming to an end, and what better way to find solace than to nourish our bodies and toast this heart connection with a glass of nice French wine.  We headed over to the Velvet Elvis Pizza Company, where the lovely Ecuadorian proprietor and executive chef, Cecilia, creates the most delectable dishes.  Her pizzas are gourmet and the remaining menu has a Latin American flair.  What a find in this funky little town and the perfect way to bid adieu to our friends, with the promise of a visit later this summer.

"Last supper" at the Velvet Elvis
“Last supper” at the Velvet Elvis

For a great gallery of Arizona birds, check out the Lowe’s RV Adventures, and while you’re there, spent some time reading about their many wonderful travel exploits.

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