There Be Pelicans In The Desert!

There Be Pelicans In The Desert

Today was the day we found pelicans in the desert!

Upon waking in the morning and having a lovely breakfast at the hotel we made some plans for the day.

None of which included pelicans in the desert! That was my surprise and delight for the day.

At the end of the day, we needed to end up in Phoenix for a good night’s sleep before we headed to the airport at 4 am to catch a flight to Florida.

So, we decided to take a road we hadn’t travelled before.

Instead of going down to Hwy 8 and taking the main road to Gila Bend, Rob headed into Casa Grande to see if we could find a route out of town as we were heading in the right direction.

Casa Grande to Gila Bend

As you can see from the map, it was a direct route down highway 84 which then joined Hwy 8.

As you can also see it was a 2 h and 25 min jaunt, but we managed to make a day of it.

It’s amazing where you will end up when you take off in a direction you think that maybe might be the right one. 🙂

Once we got out of town it turned into farmland and an occasional bird.

The first one we saw was a little kestrel hunting and then further on was a red-tailed hawk that would only let me get a picture of its tail.

Kestrel hunting

Red-tailed hawk with its back turned

After a lovely drive through the country we ended up in Gila Bend at the Information Centre.

The info centre is usually a good place to get a map or two just in case one wants to know where they are going.

The centre was attached to a museum and it was interesting to see the history of the area.

Heading up the road to the old US 80 Hwy there is a “Y” in the road and obviously, other people came to the same conclusion that we did… which way do we go?

But all you had to do was look to the owl.

Here’s a picture of Rob with the local paper “Sooke News Mirror” as they feature people in the paper who have their pictures taken while travelling.

Rob on US 80

Here is a little history of US 80 from

U.S. 80 is one of the most historic routes traveling through Arizona. The roots of the road date back to the late 1846 and the first roads through Arizona Territory. Beginning in Yuma, the road followed the Gila River to Buckeye and Phoenix, then traveled east through the Valley to reach Florence Junction, then south to Florence. From there, the road headed southeast to Tucson, east to Benson, southeast to Bisbee and Douglas, and northeast to Lordsburg, NM.

As we drove along the highway there was a canal along the road for crop irrigation and then behind fences and locked gates, we could see what looked like some lakes.

Driving up to the “No Trespassing” signs we could see 50+ egrets and in all sizes. Most of them were either Snowy egrets or Great egrets from what I could see through the bars of the fence.

waterskiing park

Along both sides of what looked like a lake was just full of them. There were also docks and a few random one-room cottages and there was no signage as to what it was.

It was so strange being out in the middle of cactus land so we got to speculate until we ran into someone who could give us the scoop.

It turns out someone built it to make a resort for waterskiing with no boat. Here is an article about another such venture.

But… the estate has stood empty for years and only the birds seem to visit it now.

Now… here’s where the unexpected surprise comes into play.

We came to an old bridge that crossed the Gila River and looking down to the right I could see a bunch of white birds.

First, there were egrets and then I could see huge white pelicans.

I told Rob and showed him where there was a pull-off before the bridge.

He kept straight on driving.

I asked him if we could stop.

Across the bridge, we went.

There was one pull-out on the other side of the bridge and then it headed up a hill into what looked like a canyon with no stopping or turning around points.

At this point in time, I was jumping up and down in my seat and yelling at him to stop the bus and turn around and at the last minute and almost too late, he swerved to the left and just caught the very last tip of the turnaround.

Turns out he was just funning with me.


Don’t know if that was a close call for me or for Rob. 🙂

We came back across the bridge, parked the car and walked down to the water.

Turns out this was an old dam that had been built to supply the surrounding farmers with irrigation.

Here are some interesting facts from Wikipedia and if you click on the link you can read all about it.

The Gillespie Dam is a concrete gravity dam located on the Gila River between the towns of Buckeye and Gila Bend, Arizona. The dam was constructed during the 1920s for primarily irrigation purposes. A portion of the dam failed unexpectedly in 1993 during unusually heavy rains.

The egrets lined the old dam walls on either side and they looked like a bunch of seagulls until you got a little closer.

Egrets on Gillespie Dam

The white pelicans migrate from northern Saskatchewan where they have their young and settle here for the winter. Seems they have been doing this for years.

White pelican floating

We ran into a couple who were surveying the water levels with a drone and they were a wealth of information about the area.

Rob was quite happy to talk with them while I sauntered off to get some pictures of the birds.

Snowy egret in flight
Snowy egret in flight

It was lovely.

Reluctantly, (because I could have stayed there all day) we got back on the road and found this wonderful restaurant in Arlington called the Desert Rose Bar and Grill.

As Arlington is more of an area than a town this is a hot spot for the locals to get a beer and a good burger.

They have calf roping outback, and all bikers are welcome and there is racing that pulls in a big crowd on the weekends.

The highlight was garlic fries.

French fries with crushed garlic cooked in butter or oil on them.

Hmmm good, as long as you both eat them.

Nothing too exciting happened after that.

We drove on to Phoenix and did the usual of going to the hotel and dropping off our suitcases.

Then drove to the car rental and returned the car.

Car rental to the airport.

Airport to a hotel shuttle and onto the hotel to be reunited with our stuff.

Wake up call for 3:30 am so off to bed early.



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