10 best bird hikes

Experience nature's prime time in Arizona

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3. Chiricahua Mountains

Birders know Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains because of its most spectacular migrant visitor, the elegant trogon. All visitors are thrilled by the towering peach-colored rhyolite formations guarding the entrance to the canyon. The South Fork Trail (6 easy miles round-trip to and from Maple Camp) makes a good first exploration.

Info: From I-10 just east of the state border with New Mexico, take State 80 south 27 miles to Portal Rd. and go 8 miles west to Cave Creek Canyon. $5 per vehicle. www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/douglas or 520/364-3468.

Refuel: The tiny Rodeo Grocery & Cafe makes the best cinnamon rolls in either state. $. 1 Main St., Rodeo, NM; 505/557-2295.

4. Dead Horse Ranch

Okay, Dead Horse Ranch State Park doesn't have the most prepossessing name, but you won't see any decomposing equines here (as the original owners did). You will find the Verde River Green- way, a protected 6-mile stretch of the Verde River, and a 1.5-mile easy loop trail. Watch for bald eagles soaring overhead and tuxedoed black phoebes perched just above the water. If you're lucky, you might glimpse a river otter sporting in the slow current.

Info: From Cottonwood, drive west on Main St., then north 1?2 mile on 10th St. $6 per vehicle. www.pr.state.az.us/parks/parkhtml/deadhorse.html or 928/634-5283.

Refuel: Patio decks at the Jerome Palace Haunted Hamburger, 10 miles west, overlook the Verde Valley; go for the ribs. $. 410 N. Clark St., Jerome; 928/634-0554.

5. Hassayampa River Preserve

The Yavapai Indians called the Hassayampa "the river that flows upside down," because for most of its course the water remains underground. But it burbles topside and runs year-round through this Nature Conservancy property, beneath towering Gooding willows, Fremont cottonwoods, and California fan palms. On the easy, 0.5-mile Palm Lake Trail loop, watch for two magnificent and rare raptors found here: the zone-tailed hawk and the black hawk.

Info: Take U.S. 60 about 3 miles southeast of Wickenburg. $5, ages 11 and under free. http://nature.org/arizona or 928/684-2772.

Refuel: The Pony Espresso serves a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a shot of hot espresso on top. 233 W. Wickenburg Way, Wickenburg; 928/684-0208.

6. Imperial National Wildlife Refuge

Pintail ducks and great blue herons eye the coyotes and desert bighorn sheep that wander down to drink at this astonishing juxtaposition of desert and the Colorado River. You can hike among cactus in the morning, then canoe among cattails in the afternoon. Red Cloud Mine Road provides vehicle access to several river overlooks as well as the moderate 1.3-mile Painted Desert Trail loop, which winds through a dramatic volcanic landscape.

Info: From Yuma take U.S. 95 north 25 miles; turn west on Martinez Lake Rd. and go 10 miles, then continue north on Red Cloud Mine Rd. for 3 miles to the Bob Jantzen Visitor Center. http://southwest.fws.gov/refuges/arizona/imperial.html or 928/783-3371.

Refuel: The huge Pilots Special breakfast at the aviation-themed Yuma Landing Restaurant will keep you going all day. $. 195 S. Fourth Ave., Yuma; 928/782-7427.



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