The Annual Southern Migration

After a nice stay with friends and fellow Xscapers Kate and Roger on their property near Mesa Verde National Park, including a nice weekend up in Fruita, CO to try my hand at mountain biking again, the cold weather pushing into Colorado finally forces me south.

Hanging with friends in Fruita

Other than a general direction, I have no specific destination in mind. It takes a couple overnights at Walmarts and truck stops before I get far enough to stay above freezing at night. And when I do, I land at Cosmic Campground along 180 in Gila National Forest. This is a free campground with a seven night limit.

It’s tiny, only six or so gravel sites with a vault toilet. What’s interesting is there are four circular concrete pads for putting up… telescopes. This part of New Mexico is quite remote and the park is dark sky rated. There’s one other person in the campground when I arrive on a Friday and he’s got his big telescope set up and ready to go for late night viewing. β€œI’ll probably be up until 2 or 3 am.” he tells me on our first meeting. He’s been wanting to get out here all summer but the smoke from the wildfires made for poor viewing conditions until recently.

I don’t own any special equipment for star gazing, but that doesn’t stop me from sitting outside on a clear night and enjoying them with the naked eye, which I do several evenings while camping here. And one night late-night-guy invites me over along with another solo woman who pulls into the campground shortly after me for some telescope viewing. Other people come and go from the campground during my stay, but the three of us hang around for a longer period of time and become friends.

From these pictures you can see the kind of terrain this campground is set in, a rolling savannah with mountains on three sides. It’s a pretty area and there’s a road from the campground that is good for walking, but I don’t get out for any serious sightseeing while here because I come down with a cold and don’t feel like doing much of anything for a few days. But with my new mattress and the nice weather I’m plenty comfortable enough.

Fortunately the cold doesn’t linger. Before I leave Cosmic Campground, our little crew of three meet up one last time for an early Thanksgiving meal complete with stuffing, green bean casserole, and pie. You meet some of the nicest people on the road. We wave and part ways the next day ahead of a cold front that’s about to push into the area.

Nov 11, Sunday

After one more overnight at a Walmart, today I pull into my next destination – Whitewater Draw Wildlife area.

In all honesty it’s not a very good camping spot. Basically it’s an open circle with picnic tables on the outside, in the center is the road running to the marsh and a pit toilet. There’s room for maybe five big rigs if everyone parks well and doesn’t mind being close. There’s very little privacy and a lot of traffic coming and going during the day. So the three night stay limit seems less restrictive knowing these things.

No, the camping isn’t the reason to come here. The cranes are.

Sandhill cranes through a telescope, look at the tall grass…

Over the winter, tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes take up residence in these wetlands. They start arriving in November and leave in March. I’m on the early side of the season so there probably aren’t 10,000 yet, but there are certainly plenty. Even from the camping area farther up the road I can hear their calls as I unhitch and set up camp. Occasionally, flocks of them fly overhead.

Once my table is up and my chair is out and everything is more or less in place, it’s a short walk down the road to the main event. The walkway through the wetlands is in essence a short loop over a berm. The cranes are far enough out that you can’t really see them with the naked eye, but there are viewing binoculars mounted in a couple places, and other birds to see.

Despite the sunny skies a chill wind blows across the flat landscape. The cold front is passing through here too and tonight’s low is in the upper 20’s, even this close to the Mexico border. But it’s much better than it would have been in Cosmic Campground!

Nov 12

In the morning I get a visitor, a roadrunner who comes right up to my camper as bold as you please. He loiters around my site for a few minutes, giving me the eye which makes me wonder what roadrunners eat. Have people been feeding him? A quick search revels that they’re omnivorous and eat insets, small mammals and reptiles, as well as fruits and seeds. I attempt to get closer for a better picture but he scurries away.

And of course I walk back to the marsh for more crane-y goodness. There are several benches scattered around the place and I’ve brought my kindle with me this time. So I sit on a bench for a while and listen to the sounds of life all around me while reading. It’s colder today so I’m bundled up, but less windy.

Nov 13

The roadrunner is back this morning. I’m reading in bed when movement out of the corner of my eye catches my attention. He’s standing on the table right outside my window, peering in at me! My laughter startles him and he scampers away into the brush.

While making my daily tour of the marsh I happen across a couple who are also camping here. They’re Xscapers too slowly making their way west for the Annual Bash in January, it’s a small world. We talk for a while and wish each other well.

Nov 14

Again my friend the roadrunner is waiting to greet me this morning, this time hopping on the roof of the camper for a bit. I hear the pitter-patter of his footsteps while I start stowing away items inside the teardrop for travel. This will be the last day I see him, as my three nights is up and there’s somewhere I need to be this weekend!

It’s a relatively short drive from Whitewater Draw to Tucson, where I stay at Snyder Hill BLM area on the west side of town as I did last year.

This is typically a very busy boondocking area given its proximity to the city and today is no different. It takes me a while to find a suitable spot with a bit of privacy but eventually, I do. One of my neighbors who is out walking her cute little Pomeranian stops by and we talk about places we’ve been. By the time I disengage and get fully set up the sun has slipped behind the horizon, but it’s still pleasant out. The forecast is calling for highs in the 70’s the whole time I’m here, which I’m ready for after the cold weather I’ve been having!

Nov 17, Saturday

There’s just something invigorating about coming back to an area one loves after being away for a while. The past couple days I’ve taken great joy in photographing the various cacti around camp. Here’s the first cholla of the season, complete with bird nest:

And the first saguaro! These aren’t the first cactus I’ve seen as I spotted some from the highway driving here, but these are the first I’ve been able to get close to and inspect.

There are also ocotillo here, their leaves turning brown and soon to fall. If I’m lucky, I’ll see them green again before I leave the desert.

In the evening, I get ready and drive downtown to Ten55 Brewing and Sausage House for an Xscapers Community Day event. This weekend all across the US, members of Xscapers RV Club are organizing little get togethers for other club members in the area. There’s a good number of us who are around Tucson, and we stay out until late having fun.

I have no plans for Thanksgiving proper, but last week’s meal and tonight’s party are my version of Thanksgiving. Like with many facets of RV life, holidays are celebrated on a more flexible schedule and in a less conventional way. I’m still getting good food with good friends, and that’s what’s most important!

Further Reading

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Ava on December 21, 2018 at 10:33 am

    Your roadrunner photo cracks me up! Great capture. My new home base in south Texas is a birders paradise and I’m looking forward to getting out to some of the viewing hot spots.
    Ava recently posted..Boondocking at Walker Honey Farm and Dancing Bee WineryMy Profile

    • Becky on December 22, 2018 at 8:29 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Ava! And I hope your bird watching in Texas goes well, enjoy!

  2. Diane Ely on December 17, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Becky: You haven’t posted for over two weeks – hope everything is OK with you.

    • Becky on December 22, 2018 at 8:35 pm

      Everything is well, thanks for asking Diane. πŸ™‚

  3. matt on December 10, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Just a pair of binoculars is a big help star watching. I loved the picture of the roadrunner and the mention of cosmic campground.

    • Becky on December 12, 2018 at 7:44 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Matt!

  4. Jodee Gravel on December 6, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Love the call of the cranes and seeing them land en mass along that surprising desert waterway! Sounds like you’re having a great time with old and new friends. Safe travels.

  5. Ann in Tacoma on December 3, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    Great photo of the RoadRunner through the window! I just bought an Escape 21 in Canada this past spring and have loved camping in it in the Pacific NW this past summer and fall. I’m putting the Sandhill Crane “collection” at Whitewater Draw on my list for one of these winters down south. Sure appreciate your blog.
    Ann in Tacoma recently posted..Ainsworth – Pacific Crest TrailMy Profile

    • Becky on December 4, 2018 at 3:24 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Ann! Seeing the Sandhill Cranes is definitely worth the drive. πŸ™‚

  6. Norm H. on December 3, 2018 at 5:50 am

    Glad you got to spend some time with the Sandhills. We, too, are on the eastern migration route (in Tenn.) with a stop-over/wintering area about 45 min. from our house. We love hearing and seeing them overhead.
    Enjoy those warmer temperatures. We had an exception yesterday (high of 71), but it is generally cold back this way with lows dipping into the 20s. Definitely time for the Southwest!

    • Becky on December 3, 2018 at 3:28 pm

      How fun! I hear in recent years they haven’t been migrating as far south as they use to in decades past.

  7. raz mataz on December 3, 2018 at 5:01 am

    sandhills. we are on the flyway to georgia/florida. even though they they are supposed to go south, some winter here. i believe dnr feeds them. raz

    • raz mataz on December 3, 2018 at 5:03 am

      winamac, indiana. raz

    • Becky on December 3, 2018 at 3:26 pm

      In the winter a lot of them subsist on what’s left in farmer’s fields.

  8. Rena on December 2, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    Love that you are ina teardrop now. Will you be heading to the Women’s RTR next month? Would love to meet up with you.

    • Becky on December 3, 2018 at 3:25 pm

      Not sure if I’ll be making it to that or not Rena, we’ll see!

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