It’s a bone-jarring road. Actually less like a road and more like a boulder strewn rock track. 2.7 miles in length it’s the only way into French Joe. That may not sound long to you, but at 4 miles an hour, constantly avoiding boulders that might rip open my SUV’s oil pan, it’s plenty long. Thankfully, I finagled a high clearance SUV from Budget Rental. Please don’t even consider driving in a sedan and best to leave those Subarus at home on the streets of Boulder; the road to French Joe will eat em alive.
It was 8:45 AM. And the temperature was beginning to climb Earlier this morning, I’d already located a Crissal Thrasher in the Sulphur Springs Valley east of Tombstone. That was on a primitive road as well. Give me a break, that was like the Champs-Elysees compared to the road to French Joe.
Half way up , I heard the grating sound of a mesquite tree scrape the passenger side. Dam,…. Arizona pinstripes! I fretted for a moment, but then remembered my last trip on the road to French Joe. I had persuaded my brother Jim to take his new Durango. Scratches from the mesquite trees on both sides. Deep scratches. Boy, Jim was freaked! But Jim and his daughter Jenny were able to eventually able to buff the scratches out. Glad my vehicle is a rental.
Finally, I reached the end of the road and parked in the shade of some oaks. Of course, there was no one else. In fact you’re as likely to see a Coati along the trail as you are a human. The Wetstone Mountains are dry and French Joe Canyon is always hot and never in the shade. Birders used to come for the Rufous-capped Warbler but that’s not here anymore. I wanted to explore it, though, and Stuart Healy had mentioned that Black-chinned Sparrows could be seen after the trail bent to the left and you climbed out of the wash.
It was getting hotter and four times I decided to turn back. Each time a small voice told me. Keep going, just a little farther. But two hours into the hike, I’d come to the end of my determination. That’s when I tried a little mind trick by saying to myself, “You’re here, if you don’t get the sparrow now, you’ll need to drive to Las Cruces in November. How much will that cost?” So I decided to trudge up a little further, at least to where the canyon walls weren’t so closed in. Where I could actually see the surrounding hillsides. I new from experience that Black-chinned Sparrows breed on steep hillsides. Fifteen minutes later I found a suitable spot. It was 11:30 AM and no birds were singing in the heat, so I would need to coax them with my I-pod.. This time the bird came in immediately. A male Black-chinned Sparrow! I had missed it in Big Bend and five minutes ago I dubbed it a nemisis bird. Now it was another tick on the list-albeit a handsome one worth looking at as long as it would stay.
So now it was on to Patagonia to seek the third target bird for the day. The Violet-crowned Hummingbird. But I knew one thing for sure, I would give the road to french Joe the respect it deserved. That meant going slooooowwwwww.