Way down in southeast Arizona, near the town of McNeal, there is a very special place. Right in the middle of the desert lies an oasis, a desert grassland habitat, where there are ponds for the Sandhill Cranes to roost in. In the wintertime, the Sandhill Cranes that migrate from the northern United States like to hang out here. They bed down in the ponds at night, in order to be safe from predators. Then in the morning, they wake up and fly off into the sunrise, where they will spend the day feeding and socializing. The Draw used to be a cattle ranch, but was purchased in 1997 and is now managed by The Arizona Game and Fish Department as a wetland providing waterfowl habitat.
Whitewater Draw is about a 90 minute drive from where we are staying in Tucson. There are about 6 or 8 FREE primitive camping spots at The Draw. There are no facilities, except vault toilets and picnic tables, so you will be boondocking. You are allowed to camp there for 3 nights out of 7. We thought about driving the RV there, but in the end decided to set our alarm for 4:00 AM and just drive the Jeep there for the sunrise. Of course I set the alarm for 4:00 PM (duh!!!), but woke up at 4:35 and off we went!!
Turns out our timing was perfect! We got there when it was still dark, set up our cameras and tripods, and started slowly walking out on the circle path that surround the ponds where the Cranes were bedded down for the night. The Cranes were just starting to wake up, and we did scare the ones that were closest to us and off they flew! Sorry guys!! The great thing about Whitewater Draw is that you are RIGHT THERE with the Cranes. They are nice and close to the walkway, so viewing and photo taking opportunities abound!
The Cranes are there in the wintertime, and we went at the end of January. It is COLD, so dress appropriately! On the morning we were there it was 15 degrees!! I’m still trying to figure out why the Cranes came all the way to somewhere this cold for the winter??? After about an hour of photo taking Jim made me go sit in the car and warm up because frostbite was a very real possibility!!
All in all, I absolutely LOVED going to Whitewater Draw and would highly recommend it for anyone that is interested in the birds, even if just a little bit. I would go back in a heartbeat!! I think next time I would want to bring the RV and camp there for at least one night or maybe even two. It would totally be worth it!