Under the Big Top: This Will Rock Your World

What kid (or adult, for that matter!) hasn’t been hypnotized by the man on the flying trapeze or captivated by the high-wire act at the traveling circus? With Barnum and Bailey folding its big top tent and fading into history, you’d have to pay big bucks to relive the excitement generated by these circus daredevils at one of the pricey shows in Las Vegas. Or would you? Awe-inspiring views from dizzying heights. Gravity-defying boulders balancing atop massive granite slabs. Squirrels leaping over yawning crevasses. Birds swooping down from the top of sheer cliffs covered in citrus-colored lichen. All this and more was what we experienced at the natural wonder that is the Granite Dells in Prescott, Arizona.

Ancient History

Ellie standing guard at our campsite at Point of Rocks RV Park in Prescott, Arizona

Prescott is one of our favorite places in Arizona. The town, having been the Territorial Capital of Arizona from 1864 until 1889 when it was permanently moved to Phoenix (Tucson served for a 10-year stint early on), is full of reminders of its pioneer past. Colorful Whiskey Row bars and restaurants (sans the brothels, of course!) still draw crowds of thirsty, hungry visitors, and beautifully preserved Victorian homes fill the neighborhoods around the main Plaza square, a typical 19th Century concept of town planning. But in all our visits, we’d never been to Granite Dells, an area of spectacular beauty north of town. This geological wonder dates back 1.4 billion years and consists of ancient, weathered bedrock and granite eroded over eons into an eerie alien landscape. Watson Lake, just a short hike from the Point of Rocks RV Campground where we pitched our RV for four days, and Willow Lake are small man-made reservoirs in this formation.

Daily Dose of Wonder

Early each morning, Ellie, our 10-year-old canine companion, would lead the way through the quiet campground (I thought all campers were early risers?) and up the path that took us to the granite rocks behind our site. We marched along to the tune of the Spotted Towhees singing to each other and the loud, rattling trills of Canyon Tree Frogs. (Click on the highlighted words to acess audio sounds.) We leapt across a small crevasse to climb atop a granite slab that ran for about 200 feet to a point overlooking Watson Lake. Ellie would pause from her frenetic sniffing as if knowing this was a sacred moment and we’d stand breathless, the only human (and dog) in sight, and watch as the sun slowly bathed the lake and boulders in cotton candy pink, orchid blue and lilac purple.

The first morning, as I was surveying the lumpy landscape of the Dells, my eyes snagged on a small bump at the top of the highest rock on our side of the lake. I thought it was just another boulder balancing on the edge until it moved and I discovered through my lens that it was a Rock Squirrel, who was also enjoying the pristine morning. Turns out this was his favorite spot and we would see him on the same point of rock every morning; he didn’t seem to mind sharing the breathtaking view!

Beside the Spotted Towhees, which were everywhere, I learned to identify (with a little long-distance help from my friend, Susan) the loud, descending whistle of the Canyon Wren and the series of gurgling, burry notes made by a male Ash-throated Flycatcher, who seemed to wait for us each morning in the same tree high above the lake before starting his predawn song. The Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays, which I would have expected to be the loudest and rowdiest of the morning birds, sat at the very top of pine trees, silently taking in the day.

Rains moved in that first afternoon and every afternoon for the rest of our stay, creating a temporary river that flowed through our campsite and then receded when the rain stopped. We were fortunate; some campers opened the doors of their RVs to find 2-3″ of standing water – their home instantly becoming an isolated island. The mosquitoes loved the monsoon rains, as well, which limited the time we could spend outside.

Where Have All the Birds Gone?

While the scenery was undeniably some of the most spectacular we’ve experienced, I was disappointed with the lack of birds I found. It could have been the wrong time of the year; it could have been that I didn’t have my experienced birding buddies along to help me identify the sounds around me. It could also have been that birds don’t much like being out in the rain, either. It turns out, though, that it is the air, not necessarily the rain, that keeps them out of sight, bunched up on branches or under the cover of trees. Even though most birds’ feathers, combined with oil from preen glands, keep them fairly watertight, the low pressure and high humidity during a rainstorm tend to make the air less dense, and it is the density of air that gives birds the aerodynamic lift they need to take flight.

Enjoy the Show!

I hope you will enjoy this gallery of the few birds that did allow me to photograph them, as well as the wildlife and other-worldly landscape we saw during our stay. We will definitely be back.

6 thoughts on “Under the Big Top: This Will Rock Your World”

  1. You got a lot more birds than I did and your other photos are great, too! The last time I was at Watson Lake, I really wasn’t “into” birding yet but I didn’t notice a lot of them. I should probably go back again since it’s so different from the other Prescott lakes.

  2. You are certainly broadening my horizons as to birding/scenic sights in Arizona. The landscape here is spectacular.

    1. Thanks, Shelley! This is such an awesome state (and country) we live in and my goal with my blogs is to make it an interesting and learning experience for me, as well as for those who follow along. That’s for joining me!

  3. Thank you, Pamela! It really is a special place…hope you get the chance to visit it on one of your next adventures!

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