10 best bird hikes

Experience nature's prime time in Arizona

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7. Mormon Lake

Mormon Lake is the largest natural lake in Arizona ― usually. Its size varies with rainfall, and it occasionally disappears altogether, when the area is known as "Mormon Meadow." But it's always one of the best spots in the Southwest to see overwintering bald eagles, as well as a half-dozen other raptors, including golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Take the Mormon Mountain Trail 3 miles and 1,500 feet up to the summit of 8,449-foot Mormon Mountain to be at eye level with the falcons.

Info: Call ahead to check road conditions. From I-17 just south of Flagstaff, take Lake Mary Rd. (Forest Hwy. 3) about 23 miles southeast to the lake. www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino or 928/527-3600.

Refuel: Try the big T-bone at the historic Mormon Lake Lodge Steakhouse. $$$; call for hours. Main St., Mormon Lake; 928/354-2227.

8. Ramsey Canyon

Could anyone fail to be charmed by hummingbirds? The Nature Conservancy's Ramsey Canyon Preserve, south of Sierra Vista, is one of the best spots in the United States for watching the little feathered helicopters as they battle over flowers and feeders. Fourteen species have been spotted here, including the rare berylline hummingbird. A stroll along the creekside nature trail might also reveal amusing, raccoonlike coatis.

Info: From Sierra Vista, take State 92 south 5 miles to Ramsey Canyon Rd.; head west 31?2 miles to the preserve. $5 per person, ages 15 and under free. http://nature.org/arizona or 520/378-2785.

Refuel: Build a burrito at the Palominas Trading Post and Country Diner, 10 miles south. $. 10448 State 92, Palominas; 520/366-5529.

9. San Pedro River

The huge cottonwood trees shading the waters of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area provide a haven for wildlife. In fact, half of all the bird species known in the United States have been recorded here ― more than 365. Along the easy river trail, where you can wander 1 mile or 20, look for the electric scarlet of a vermilion flycatcher snatching insects on the wing.

Info: From Sierra Vista, go 7 miles east on State 90 to the San Pedro House visitor center. www.theriver.com/public/fspr or 520/439-6400.

Refuel: Caffe Olê serves breakfast all day. $. 400 E. Fry Blvd., Sierra Vista; 520/458-6261.

10. Wenima Wildlife

You could drive within a mile of this 357-acre jewel and miss it. Tucked in a valley off a high grass plateau, Wenima Wildlife Area straddles the Little Colorado River ― stream-size here and corralled by numerous beaver dams. Look for kestrels hovering over the fields bordering the riverside trail (2 easy miles round-trip) and mountain bluebirds in the junipers along the bluffs.

Info: Call ahead for road conditions. From Springerville take U.S. 60 northwest 3 miles; turn north on U.S. 180/U.S. 191 and look for the sign. www.gf.state.az.us/outdoor_recreation/wildlife_area_wenima.shtml or 928/367-4281.

Refuel: Java Blues makes a killer cappuccino. 341 E. Main St., Springerville; 928/ 333-5282.


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