From our campsite near Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, we watched hundreds of sandhill cranes fly in to roost in the wetlands every evening as the sun was setting. Their calls tickled our ears and gave us goose bumps. At night we fell asleep to their intermittent calls rising up from the wetlands as well as the calls of snow geese at the refuge. Every now and then, we heard the chorus of a pack of coyotes, which to me, sounds like a crescendo of screaming, excited girls.
Cibola National Wildlife Refuge is on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, about 17 miles south of Blythe, California. We originally planned to camp in the Blythe area for a few days to make use of the Wi-Fi at Starbucks and get caught up on our blog. However, a search for campsites on Campendium.com pulled us in a slightly different direction. We found a review of a campsite on BLM land directly across the road from Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, a refuge we had not yet visited. Being birders and biologists, this option was more appealing than the sites on Levee Road near Blythe.
The drive on Neighbours Road, which eventually becomes Cibola Lake Road, took us through numerous agricultural fields and over some rough spots in the asphalt. We were starting to wonder if there really was a campsite out there. After crossing a narrow bridge over the Colorado River, we approached the refuge on the right side of the road and found the entrance to the BLM land on the left side of the road. The entrance was a rather narrow break in the fence with an old cattle guard that was quite rickety (the individual bars bounced as we drove over). We carefully maneuvered the truck and trailer over the cattle guard and up the hill. The dirt road to the campsites was a bit rocky and rutted on the hill. The high clearance on our truck and trailer were helpful.
We chose the campsite at the top of the first hill on the left, which had a great view of the refuge. After setting up camp, the sun started setting, and we began to see the lines of sandhill cranes in the sky. They approached the wetlands at the refuge, circled around, put out their landing gear, and landed with a graceful bounce, as if they were dancing. All the while, we were soothed by the sounds of their calls as we stood in awe at the orange glow of the sun setting behind the jagged desert mountains in the distance. We turned around to find the crescent moon rising behind a saguaro cactus on the hill. It was a perfect evening.
Touring the Refuge – Goose Loop Auto Tour
We ended up spending a total of six nights here. On the first day we took the Goose Loop Auto Tour of the refuge. It’s a three-mile drive along the edge of ponds, wetlands, and agricultural fields. We stopped at the nature trail and walked the one-mile loop through a restored riparian forest. We saw snow geese, northern pintails, American wigeons, Canada and cackling geese, an American robin, black-tailed gnatcatcher, and many more birds.
As we drove through the agricultural fields at the refuge, we noticed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had constructed burrows in the levees out of corrugated drainage pipes, presumably for burrowing owls. We arrived at one with two owls sitting immediately outside their burrow. Burrowing owls are just adorable. They sat with their backs toward us, but turned their heads all the way around to look at us. They were keeping a watchful eye. When one turned away from us, the head on the other one swiveled around to face us.
We returned to the refuge just before sunset to watch the sandhill cranes come in and land at the wetlands and got some additional photos.
Touring the Refuge – Colorado River and Cibola Lake
After a couple of rainy days, we got out to explore the desert around our campsite. We were happy to be in the Sonoran Desert again. It’s such a green desert with the palo verde, mesquite, jojoba, and many other shrubs in multiple shades of green, and the saguaro cacti standing tall. We found lots of animal tracks, including desert cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, striped skunk, and coyote tracks.
We spent another day exploring the southern end of the refuge, walking around a dried up marsh and driving along the Colorado River. There we saw green-winged teal, American white pelicans, osprey, double-crested cormorant, and one swimming raccoon! On our way back to our campsite, we finally found the culprit behind the horse-like scat and tracks we kept encountering on our desert walks: burros (aka, wild donkeys)!
We enjoyed our weeklong stay in this peaceful little corner of Arizona on the Colorado River. We will always remember falling asleep to the sounds of the sandhill cranes, snow geese, and coyotes every night.