San Pedro House - Sierra Vista, Arizona

Inconspicuous and unremarkable to the average traveler, the San Pedro house sits tucked away among the desert brush outside of Sierra Vista, Arizona. Yet show up any later than 7 a.m., and you're unlikely to find a spot to park in the unmarked gravel lot. You might think you were witnessing the convergence of a cult as you watched the cars roll in and the passengers climb out, draped in strange garb and burdened with heavy, unwieldy equipment. And in a way, you would not be far off-- you've just witnessed the arrival of the Birders.

But the qualities that make San Pedro a mecca for birders are the same qualities that make it special for any stray traveler passing through Southern Arizona. "I travel across Arizona for business," says Coleman Welch, a hiker on the trails who admits himself unable to tell a vulture from an eagle, "and I make a point of dropping down every time I'm in the area. I've mentioned the place to clients, and I've known some of them to go two hours out of their way for a return trip."

So what's the draw for those less obsessed with avian interests? More than anything, it's the diversity of the landscape. While a quick glance from the parking lot might display nothing more than your typical desert flora, a craning of the neck would reveal the wispy tops of cottonwood trees swaying in the high breeze. A ten minute walk will land you in the sheltered and shaded riparian corridor, as if you've crossed into another world.

"Just hearing the sounds of animal life increase as you get closer..." Coleman says, "It's amazing. You wouldn't think you could find something like that in the middle of the desert."

Many birders who frequent the area admit that it was the San Pedro house which brought them to birding in the first place. "My parents took me here when I was young," said one birder too busy to stop for a proper interview. "Now I'm showing my grand-daughter. She's still too young to hold the binoculars, but she'll learn."