Willow Tank is reached from the junction of State Line Road and Sulphur Canyon Road, south of Rodeo. The junction can be reached by driving south from Portal Road along State Line Road about 4 miles to Sulphur Canyon Road, or by turning west from the NM Highway 80/State Line Road intersection. Willow Tank is located 0.6 miles west along Sulphur Canyon Road, on the right, where a sign for the Wildlife Pond and small parking pullout can be found.
Arizona’s Willow Tank has been one of the better bird watching sites in the Portal/Rodeo area outside of Cave Creek Canyon. Rick Taylor, author of A Birder’s Guide to Southeast Arizona, calls Willow Tank “arguably the most important pond [for bird watching] on the eastern flank of the Chiricahuas.” FoCCC has partnered with the Chiricahua Regional Council to raise funds to upgrade the water system and to rejuvenate the Willow Tank. This wildlife resource has been an exceptionally valuable source of water for birds and other wildlife for decades. It has been a consistent destination for birders visiting the Portal/Rodeo area, Cave Creek Canyon, and both the Chiricahua and Peloncillo Mountains. Some of the rarities seen over the years here over include Tri-colored Heron, Trumpeter Swan, Green Kingfisher, Brown Pelican, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Field Sparrow.
The 1-acre Willow Tank pond is on private property, but the Rivers family has allowed access for birders and others over the last 30+ years. After a combination of drought years and high pumping costs made it unfeasible for the Rivers family to continue growing irrigated crops, the US Fish and Wildlife Service installed solar panels and a solar water pump to keep water flowing into the tank. These certainly helped, but could not keep up with this area’s high evaporation and percolation rates.
Since 2008, grants by individuals and a major foundation, plus donations from Portal/Rodeo residents and birders all over the country, have kept water in Willow Tank most of the time. In addition, Larry Rivers has pumped water whenever needed. Due to mechanical failures and cost of pumping water, in 2014-15 the pond was often dry. Recently, FoCCC and a group of interested parties organized a rejuvenation effort that includes secure fencing and entry to keep cattle out, installing more solar panels and a larger pump, reconfiguring the pond with an island in the middle, stairs, multiple blinds and a new walkway. In early 2016, work began on many of these restoration efforts.