Arizona: Vulture Peak, Maricopa County (August 29, 2015)

Vulture Peak is located about seven miles south of Wickenburg, AZ.  Wickenburg is about one hour west of Phoenix. The town of Wickenburg is like an old western town where the bars are still called saloons.  It’s definitely a town I’d like to visit again. I found out about this hike through a hiking guide for Arizona that I finally purchased (Hiking Arizona by Bruce Grubbs.)

Sonoran Desert

If I had followed the proper trail I would have hiked to the top of Vulture Peak but the signs were not pointing in the right directions so I decided to follow and/or ended up following a wash that crossed the Vulture Peak trail at a few locations. A wash is a dried up riverbed that becomes a river when it rains in the desert; they are also called arroyos. I followed what I believe to be Cemetery Wash for less than a mile then I turned into a different wash, probably Turtleback Wash, and followed that for a short distance. The ground in the washes felt like they had been exposed to rain recently and there were quite a few birds, bees, and bugs enjoying the resources available after a desert rain.

Walking through Cemetery Wash

I saw quite a few new Arizona bird species including: Scott’s oriole, phainopepla, yellow warbler, and black-tailed gnatcatcher.  Birds that I couldn’t identify with confidence included: willow flycatcher (WIFL is an endangered species; Empidonax sp.), brown-crested flycatcher, and pygmy nuthatch. I’m enjoying seeing all of these new birds but they are often difficult to identify because they move quickly, are usually in trees or shrubs, may be too far away to see a definite fieldmark, and I don’t know the birds that well yet.  One of my favorite sightings during the day was rustling up a great-horned owl that perched on a nearby branch and stayed there the whole time I was in the vicinity.

Great-horned owl keeping a close eye on me

Eventually I turned around and headed back towards my car because there was a swarm of bees that were taking up the middle of the wash; I was happy to see the owl still perching where it was before.

When I was near where I began I looked for the proper trail that led to Vulture Peak, found it, and walked along it for about one mile.  The walk to Vulture Peak goes through beautiful desert countryside with abundant cacti, ocotillo, jojoba, brittlebush, and palo verde.

A very nice ocotillo with leaves

While visiting the Desert Botanical Garden I learned that Saguaro cactus don’t grow limbs until they are at least 50 years old; their root system is very shallow and extends quite far outwards in all directions to quickly absorb lots of water when it rains; they live for about 200-300 years, and they grow from a single, small black seed.  There were some really spectacular Saguaro’s on this hike.

Does this Saguaro look like it wants to give you a hug?

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