July 6, 2007
Olive Warbler
Olive Warbler
"Sweet, sweet, sweet.  I'm so doggone sweet."  The high, thin, and yes, sweet, song of the red-faced warbler echoed up the canyon.  Joe Woodley and I exchanged high fives as we sat in the shade of a pine at Bathtub Springs in the heart of the Miller Peak Wilderness Area.  For those of you who have come to birding from hiking and the joy of being outdoors, many trails in Arizona combine scenic and/or historical interest with great birds, and from time to time I'd like to explore some of them in this column.

Bathtub Springs is at 8700 feet on the Crest Trail in the Huachuca Mountains of southeastern Arizona.  This natural spring, which flows into a bathtub left behind by miners who transported it up the mountain by pack train, can be accessed by two different trails.  From the trailhead at the end of the Miller Canyon Road 9 miles south of Sierra Vista off Highway 92, the Miller Canyon Trail climbs 3.5 miles to the spring.  An alternate route, 4.3 miles in length begins opposite the Reef Townsite campground on the Carr Canyon Road which is 7 miles south of Sierra Vista.  This hike begins on the Old Sawmill Spring Trail, then follows Carr Peak Trail to the Crest Trail.

Warblers love to bathe, and on a hike to the bathtub the previous summer Joe had watched painted redstarts and Grace's and olive warblers, a trifecta of Arizona's most colorful species, in the runoff puddles under the tub.  Red-faced warblers, arguably the most beautiful of our mountains warblers, were all along the Miller Canyon Trail.  For this trip we were packing 35 pounds of scopes and camera gear between us, but there's a reason we took the longer route out of Reef.  Miller Canyon gains 2950 feet of elevation to the spring, our route out of Carr only 1200.

Climbing the eastern flank of Carr Peak, this route switchbacks in dry chaparral, passes through cool glades of aspen, and then opens out to spectacular views of the San Pedro Valley far below.  From here to the bathtub the trail is a "skywrap," Carr Peak itself the only landform above the hiker.  While serenaded by greater pewees, we flushed a pair of Montezuma quail, one of the most sought and elusive of Arizona's species.  These high Hauchucas are summer home to cryptically feathered whip-poor-wills and the recently discovered breeding short-tailed hawks.  Though we struck out on both these, our consolation was hearing red-faced warblers, seeing olive warblers, and watching cordilleran flycatchers building a nest in the rock outcroppings above an old mining shaft.

This is a moderately difficult hike through awesome scenery and some of the best birding habitat in Arizona.  The alternate route up Miller Canyon is a difficult hike climbing the intimate confines of a creek lined gorge where spotted owls and mountain lions have been seen this spring.  Take water and lunch.  Plan for all day.  In my next column I'll tell you about a very different kind of birding trail.

If You Go

Phoenix to Sierra Vista driving time, approximately 3 1/2 hours.

Pick up a Hiker's Map of the Huachuca Mountains for trail detail.

Miller Canyon Road--dirt but no problem for passenger cars.  15 minutes to the trailhead.

Carr Canyon Road--dirt and cobblestone with white-knuckle, exposed hairpin switchbacks the last four miles, but no problem for passenger cars with high clearance and a confident driver.  45  minutes to the trailhead.