Notes from Patagonia and the desert

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Sonoita Creek, the source of the Patagonia Lake reservoir.

We are in the desert now, specifically, the edge of the Sonora desert that stretches into Mexico. We stayed at the campground at Patagonia Lake which is actually a reservoir fed by Sonoita Creek. The campground is huddled on the shores of this 265-acre man-made lake which is notable for its recreational activities like fishing and swimming and, most famously, for bird watching.

We know next to nothing about birds, aside from what two of our incredibly patient friends share with us on our annual trips to Wyoming. Birds are a finicky lot and they exhibit preferences for certain climates, and after this winter, who could question that wisdom? Here in Patagonia, the birds are known to ignore the national boundaries that separate Mexico from the United States, flagrantly flying over the fence erected by the federal government to control immigration.

As a result, there are varieties of birds here that are not found anywhere else in the continental U.S.  The park ranger told me that 6 species of hummingbirds and about 10 other birds appear only here.

Since our campsite was right next to the Sonoita Creek Birding Trail, there is a multitude of expert birders available, on demand. As they wander off the trail, some dizzy with euphoria unknown to non-birders like us, we ask them what they have seen. The most famous and sought-after bird is the Elegant Trogon, a brightly colored Mexican parrot about 12 inches long who comes this far “north” during the early spring. The Trogon here at Patagonia Lake has been a steady visitor for the past 14 years, so he definitely knows the neighborhood.

On our early morning walk, several people asked us if we had spotted “him”. Peter mused that if this trogon were a talking parrot, he most likely has learned one phrase in his time here: “Seen the Trogon? Seen the Trogon?”

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Vermillon flycatcher posing for photo.

We never did spot him but one day this week, on a morning trip into the village, a magnificent little bird – red-headed, sporting a black mask over his eyes, and with dark grey wings – perched on one side mirror, flew over the car and perched on the other mirror. He darted at the windows, turned and repeated the ritual. I asked one of the birders if they could tell me what I had observed. “Vermillion flycatcher”, one woman answered, “they love sitting on the mirror of cars because of the bugs that are often there”. I was impressed with the adaptability of the bird who could so intelligently select a food-delivery system like my little Ford Escape, and all the while looking impeccable.

We drove into Nogales, the sister city of the city of the same name in Mexico. If you have been following our blogs you know that one of the great pleasures of this pilgrimage is our experience with food. So, one of the great things about Nogales is one can get to experience authentic Mexican food without crossing the border.

We found a tiny little restaurant called Cocina La Ley, which is a favorite of the locals. It is tucked away at the end of a side street on the industrial side of town and the menu was entirely in Spanish, the loving tongue that neither of us speaks. Fortunately, the man at the cash register, who also takes the orders, spoke English and patiently answered our questions about the food, translated the menu, and told us how it all worked.

We ordered and it was amazing food. My very fresh and tasty ceviche was served with little corn tortillas, still warm and sweet from the griddle. Peter had a richly flavored shrimp soup served with soft tortillas, and fish tacos. While we were not the only Anglos in the place, we were definitely outnumbered by the Spanish-speaking men and women who clearly knew where to get food that feeds the soul, and not only the body. This was one of those illuminating moments in travel when the human experience of sharing food prepared in someone else’s tradition melts boundaries and opens the heart if you are willing to let it happen.

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View of the mountains in the valley around Patagonia.

While in Patagonia, we also visited with friends – new and old – as we redefine community. The first couple, from Vermont, we had met in January at Hunting Island during a cold morning walk along the beach. They travel in a beautiful, custom Gypsy wagon they built and drove here to Arizona, camping on land that they own here in the mountains. We wound up forest service and dirt roads to 5,500 feet and a spectacular view of the San Raphael Valley, where a picnic lunch and hours of conversation offered instruction into the community of like-minded souls drawn to the open road.

Our second visit was with an old friend (and her husband). She was a colleague in mine from years of study with Caroline Myss. Here we found community with fellow pilgrims, each of us on our own path into the mystery and wonder of a life of purpose and meaning.

And we end this post, having arrived at the home of our dear friend and teacher who lives near Tucson. Tomorrow, we will venture into the desert to the labyrinth that Peter built here for and with him many years ago, prepared to see it all over again, for the first time, as our pilgrimage continues to unfold.

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5 thoughts on “Notes from Patagonia and the desert

  1. Thank you for sharing your enlightening journey written from such a positive viewpoint . The last sentence in your journey reminds me of the Carlos Castenada stories.
    Can’t wait to read more!

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  2. Very nice. I am curious to hear of your upcoming crossing of the Great Divide, since Craig and Barb told us their Cad truck 1500 (whatever that is) had trouble with their 7500 lb trailer, Limited to 25 mph. And you, with an 1800 capacity or whatever. A little less ethereal than your present concerns, but on my mind. See you soon… JB

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  3. Magnificently crafted so that I feel like I am right there with you! The vermillion fly catcher is a beauty, and your non-birder outsider language made me laugh right out loud.

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