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Crescent to Cisco - a Winter Eagle Fest
by Damian Fagan

This story starts in the thriving truck-stop town of Crescent Junction, were prairie dogs and hibernating rattlesnake are the town’s local residents. The truck stop and café form the heart of Downtown and Main. A single artery from Interstate 70 keeps the heart out of arrhythmia, and off of oxygen. Turn east from Crescent Junction along the dissolving old highway and the locals will think you’ve made a wrong turn. But as long as the roads are dry or snow free, it is well worth a January outing.
But if your out for viewing wintering eagles, soaring goldens and low-gliding balds, then you’ve come to the right place. Even though the sign on the interstate says “Eagles on Highway”, that is more of a warning than an invitation.

To look, you need to travel the old road, the abandoned highway with potholes the size of third-world country debts. You need to go slow, watching for washouts and jaywalking pronghorns. It isn’t a busy road and you should look upon any other travelers with suspicion, for they are doing the same to you.

But if your out after snow-white ferruginous hawks or redtails turning lazy circles in cold winter thermals, then you’ve come to the right place. Even though the sign says “Ranch Exit” your closer to becoming rich and famous than you are to the nearest ranch.

Between that ranch and the next, there is a whole lot of open country. “Whole lot of nothing” might best describe the place. But by going slow and slipping past the faded Amtrak station (where the train used to just slow down for disembarking passengers) you’ll see the desert pockmarked with white-tailed prairie dog burrows. A few may be out sunning themselves, warming their tawny-colored coats. Of course, they and the desert cottontails are two big reasons why the hawks and eagles are circling above.

From an eagle’s perspective, the Cisco Desert is a good place to hunt. Abundant prey, occasional roadkill that makes for easy pickings, and plenty of good visibility - the better to see your competitor with prey, makes this area ideal. It is not uncommon to see several birds, whether they are different aged eagles or several species, fighting over a rabbit carcass while ravens and coyotes try to hone in on the prize. The result is a free-for-all, where the winner manages to cart away the trophy and attempt to devour its meal with a minimum of interruptions.

Eventually, the old highway reaches the “town” of Cisco. Here one is warmly greeted by a sign, “This road does not go to Moab.” In other words, take the other one. Once a thriving metropolis, Cisco was the railway loading location for ranchers shipping their cattle. Today, more burrowing owls than people inhabit this hamlet. But the owls are gone, enjoying winter somewhere more exotic.

A side-trip from Cisco leads to the Colorado River, an anomaly after this long stretch of desert. As the river gently slides along undulating over cobble bars, one should scan the nearby cottonwood galleries for images of roosting or perching bald eagles. These groves attract immature and adult eagles; it is common to see a dozen birds scattered throughout the trees. Resting or loafing, these birds hunt both the river for fish and waterfowl or move into the uplands where they too, “seize the prey” dining upon rabbit and prairie dogs.
This story ends with the final leg home, back to Moab along Highway 128. Ducks and geese dot the river and agricultural fields, occasional prairie falcons perch on power poles and bighorn sheep are known to frequent some of the river bottoms within sight of the roadway. Total distance may be around 150 miles, but the majority of traffic you may encounter might only be your neighbors. But for a wildlife excursion in the heart of winter, this trip is a prescription to cure those winter blues.

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