Tag Archives: Cochise County

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area – Cochise County, Arizona

Sandhills at Sundown

Whitewater Draw  - Viewing Deck

Arizona attracts a multitude of bird watchers – novices to fanatics. Cochise County in the southeast corner of the state is especially rich in avian habitat: riparian zones, sky islands, canyons and playas.

Some years ago we stopped into the visitor center in Willcox, AZ during a February trip. I overheard a staff member describing the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near McNeal. “Last week when they did a count there were over 11,000 Sandhill Cranes and 2,000 Snow Geese. The hour before sunset is a great time to see them fly in after a day of field feeding.” We added Whitewater Draw to our afternoon agenda – and have returned every year we’re in the area.

Sandhills on the Wing

Standing Sandhills 2

When we arrive at Whitewater draw we spot only a few cranes pecking around corn stubble in a nearby field or standing one-legged in shallow water. Armed with binoculars and cameras we follow the trail around Cattail Pond to one of the viewing platforms. We hear rumbling “swish, swish, swish” several seconds before spotting a dark, airborne wave approaching from the north.

Sandhills and Water

Soon we can distinguish literally hundreds of wings seeming to flap in unison. With wingspans in excess of six-feet a lot of air is displaced with each downbeat. After a couple of slow circles the Sandhill Cranes glide in for a landing, line after line resembling a well choreographed dance. The water seems to fill as the next wave circles. Sandhills stand more than three feet tall, their gray plumage tinged with shades of russet. We admire the long graceful necks and distinctive red forehead patch.

Honking announces a V-formation of Snow Geese high overhead. On land or water they appear all white but their black tipped wings are evident in flight. The geese settle in among the cranes, neither perplexed by the other.

Sandhills and Canada Geese

Last Stragglers As the last stragglers arrive we watch cranes and geese settle in for the night.  Some flit from group to group – must we the teens – while most fold one leg up into their breast feathers and “crane”  necks 180-degrees to bury heads into thick back plumage.

Arizona Sunset It’s time we leave our amazing nature experience. As we drive the rural roads headed to Benson for food and lodging we bask in one more phenomenon – an Arizona sunset.



Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, Cochise County, Arizona

Whitewater Draw, Cochise County, Arizona

Holiday Inn Express – Benson, Arizona

Guest Satisfaction

What do you do when you’re dissatisfied with a lodging? Do you complain, fill out the comment card or go away vowing never to return?

The Holiday Inn Express in Benson, Arizona has been rated the #1 HIE hotel in Arizona for 10 years in a row. They hold recognition from the parent company with the Quality of Excellence and Torchbearer Awards and are ranked in the top 17 HIEs in the country. This is not a cookie cutter of every other HIE, we see evidence in many areas of this being a cut above.

We’ve stayed at this hotel on other trips and included them on this year’s itinerary because of past satisfaction. During our visit in late February I became extremely frustrated, especially with the Internet service. It was slower than molasses during an Alaskan January. I was trying to post nightly travel blogs which was impossible from the Benson facility.benson-hie-exterior-h

I, of course, filled out the comment card and turned it in upon check-out. It’s a month later and the phone rings today, it’s the general manager of the Benson HIE calling.  From my comment they had some testing done and did find a problem in the area of the hotel where our room was located. Their Internet provider had failed to notify them of the problem but I was assured corrections have been made. I was amazed he took the time to make a personal phone call, to him I was only a name on a card. Although we’re repeat guests our stays are far enough apart that we’re not remembered from one trip to another. And, he has no idea I write a travel blog and may put my opinions out to the world via cyberspace.

Benson is located on I-10 east of Tucson. The incredible Kartchner Caverns State Park is 10 miles south, an excellent reason to stop in Benson. Also nearby is the Singing Wind Book Shop (see blog), a must visit for book lovers of every genre. Benson can serve as a hub for touring many highlights found in Cochise County – Tombstone, Chiricahua National Monument, Cochise Stronghold, Armerind Foundation, Bisbee, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Sierra Vista, Fort Huachuca. Cochise County fills the southeast corner of Arizona and offers a long list of reasons to visit.

benson-hie-roomFrom the warm cookies at check-in to the specially selected carpet and materials in a tasteful Southwest theme there’s been attention paid to detail throughout the hotel. I love the cowboy boot fabric covering the valance. In the bathroom we find not only the obligatory bath mat but also a sparkling white throw rug – perfect for bare feet in front of the sink. New flat-screen televisions are wall mounted. A wood cabinet holds the microwave and mini-frig; they’re not just plopped in an available space as an afterthought.

Conveniently located at exit 302, the hotel is set back far enough to eliminate much of the road noise. Grounds, fountains and landscaping are kept well maintained as are the heated outdoor pool and hotel interior. There’s an obvious commitment to excellence.

I still have a couple of things I would like to see addressed. In place of a desk they’ve chosen small square tables in the guest rooms. I suspect that’s sufficient for most guests – which I assume to fall into the tourist category instead of business. I would much prefer a desk.

benson-hie-lobbyThe lobby is a large lovely space with stone fireplace and deep cushy chairs. The breakfast area is not large enough to accommodate the number of guests wishing to eat at one time. It wouldn’t be quite as eye pleasing but adding some tables would increase convenience and comfort. One of the problems is that a fair percentage of the guests are retirees (at least during winter months) who tend to have little morning agenda other than socializing and the crossword. They claim a table and sip coffee for the duration. I understand the hotel can’t ask them to move along but more space and tables are needed for a successful breakfast buffet experience.

There’s no doubt in my mind that management does care about guest satisfaction. We’ll have to return to check on that Internet connection.

When You Go: Holiday Inn Express, Benson, Arizona is located at I-10 exit 302 and Hwy 90. They’re often filled to capacity, make your reservations before heading to Benson.