The view from interstate 10...
THE WILLCOX PLAYA
If you've ever driven this way on Interstate 10 out east of Tucson, you've seen it. And wondered about it, the wide and desolate bowl of sand and waves of heat off to the south of the highway just before you get to Willcox. It's called the Willcox Playa and it can be seen from just about any road you travel in this area...a bleak place...a place where forgotten tracks head off to forgotten destinations...dust devils slither along through midday heat...a place where it is forbidden to go.
Bob Coder is a retired biology teacher and has studied the Playa for years. "The military used it as a bombing range and, of course, they would fly over with 50 caliber machine guns and tracers streaming down on targets to sharpen their skills. Lots of 50 caliber bullets out there that have not exploded.
It looks like we are out in the playa itself, but we are actually at the north end just off a county road. Any farther, though, and we'd be beyond the military signs that say "don't go."
Summer rains bring great patches of standing water to the dry lake and even though it looks dead out there...
"It's just alive with lots and lots of insect life that has provided lots of study material for students over the years for grad students from Penn state, Arizona State.."
Every winter the playa lures tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes that migrate in from Canada and Siberia. Heavy, graceful birds with seven-foot wing spans that spend their nights on the playa...and their days out in the stubble of harvested corn fields. Their first flights in early morning light can involve groups of 10,000 birds! The Willcox Playa, a veritable play ground of little, tiny creatures, even a couple of species of tiny shrimp that can lie dormant for decades, then come to life after a rain.
Surprising in a land that seems so inhospitable, a land where winds can howl 60 mph for hours on end and then...dawns that break cold and clear and full of life, in a place you'd swear was lifeless.
You CANNOT go out onto the Willcox Playa. It is controlled by the military. It is dangerous, many unexploded shells and various ammunition. After 50 years, some of it may not be dangerous, but some is extremely unstable, say military authorities.
But to see the sandhill cranes, which is really a sight worth seeing, contact the Willcox Chamber of Commerce about the annual WINGS OVER WILLCOX, January 18-20, 2002. Tours ranging from $20 to $40 can be arranged, but think about making reservations now because this is a very popular event. Their number: 520-384-2272 or 800-200-2272.