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Cochise Lakes, Wilcox Playa, Arizona
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Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Info and sign-in station at edge of Cochise Lakes


Cochise Lakes, effluent ponds for the town of Wilcox, are located at the north edge of Willcox Playa in southeastern Arizona. The ponds, with depths ranging from shallow to deep, the adjacent golf course, and surrounding grasslands and seasonal wetlands provide habitat for a variety of migrant and wintering waterfowl, shorebirds, sparrows, and raptors.

A paved road leads to the edge of Cochise Lakes, but roads around the lakes are dirt and can be impassable when wet.

Link to Map.

Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Main Cochise Lake


Willcox Playa lies at the north end of Sulphur Springs Valley (a broad desert valley set between the Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountains) and provides a variety of habitats, including lakes, wetlands, grasslands, desert scrub, playas, and farm fields, for wintering birds such as waterfowl, shorebirds, Sandhill Cranes, Lark Buntings, Chestnut-collard Larkspurs, a variety of raptors, and other wildlife.

Usually dry, the broad Willcox Playa is an alkali lakebed covering some 50 square miles, but it becomes a shallow lake after winter rains, creating habitat for thousands of Sandhill Cranes, ducks, geese, and shorebirds. Private land surrounds most of the playa, but it can be accessed from Cochise Lakes (northeast side), Apache Station Wildlife Area (west side), and Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area (southwest side).

Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Stay out of the water

The Cochise Lakes are a set of effluent ponds at the north edge of Willcox Playa. There is one large lake and 2-3 ponds. The lake is due south of the access road, and the ponds (not so obvious) are west of the access road and immediately south of the golf course. The lake is surrounded by a berm, the top of which is the road. The smaller ponds are accessed by a road along the south edge of the golf course.

The city of Wilcox installed observation blinds and telescopes along the south side of the main lake, which is better for viewing because the sun will be at your back.

Beyond the lakes, the playa is a broad expanse of grasslands and seasonal wetlands that stretch to the mountains in the distance. These areas seem to be full of sparrows, and the airspace above can be full of wintering raptors.

Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Grasslands and trees at the golf course


Wilcox is located about 1 hour east of Tucson on Interstate 10, and the Cochise Lakes are located on the south edge of Wilcox. Exit Interstate 10 into Wilcox. From downtown Willcox on Highway Business I-10 at Highway 186 (Table 1, Site 01), drive southeast on Highway 186 for about 0.5 miles to South Rex Allen Jr. Drive (Site 02). Turn right and drive south, passing a large Border Patrol facility and the golf course. Continue straight past the golf course to the information station and sign-in register (Site 03) on the edge of the main lake. Be sure to sign in to give resource managers credit for your visit. Smaller ponds are located west of the access road, just south of the golf course (Site 04).

Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Wintering ducks


Always open, but should be considered day-use.



Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Observation blind


A variety of migrants, including Sandhill Cranes, waterfowl, shorebirds, Chestnut-collard Larkspurs, and Brewer's Sparrows winter here with permanent residents such as Greater Roadrunner, Scaled Quail, Crissal Thrasher, and Pyrrhuloxia. During winter, raptors are a major attraction. It is common to see 12 species and 100 raptors in a day. Ferruginous Hawks are regularly seen around colonies of Botta's Pocket Gophers, their favorite prey. In summer, watch for Swainson's Hawks.

Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Observation blind with telescope

For More Information

Each January, Willcox puts on the Wings Over Willcox festival to celebrate the cranes and other wildlife of the valley; call (800) 200-2272 for more information.

Remember, the dirt roads around the lakes can be impassable when wet and muddy.

Lodging is available in Wilcox.

Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Main lake with grassy edge
Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Main lake with observation blind
Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Main lake with grassy edge
Wilcox Playa, Arizona
Grasslands and seasonal wetlands stretch to the horizon
Wilcox Playa
A few of thousands of Sandhill Cranes
Wilcox Playa
Some of thousands of Sandhill Cranes at one of the ponds

Table 1. Highway Coordinates based on GPS data (WGS84). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) Elevation (feet) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Bus I-10 at Hwy 186 32.25253 109.83245 4,175 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Hwy 186 at Access Rd 32.24872 109.82476 4,197 0.52 0.52 GPS
03 Sign-in Station 32.23318 109.82504 4,190 1.07 1.59 GPS
04 Ponds Overlook 32.23386 109.82858 4,172 0.23 1.82 GPS

Trip Notes

LAST VISIT: March 2012. I stopped at Cochise Lakes for 30 minutes while driving Mom from Florida to Las Vegas. We were delighted to see the ducks, and thrilled to see about 2,000 sandhill cranes with more coming in every few minutes. Species seen: Sandhill Crane, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, American Coot, Common Raven, American Avocet, Savannah Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow.

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120318

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