Three Beautiful Places In Southern AZ
Make a Resolution to Visit All Three This Year!
Arizona is such a diverse and beautiful state – we are blessed with everything from deserts to alpine areas. One of the organizations I appreciate most is the Nature Conservancy – they actually buy some of the most delicate and beautiful places, restore them if necessary, and keep them protected. In Arizona there are 12 preserves, protecting more than a million and a half acres.
Six of these preserves are open to the public, and they are definitely worth a visit. Two of my favorites are in southern Arizona. The last spot I recommend is not a Nature Conservancy Site, but it is an awesome place for hiking and birding.
Ramsey Canyon is in the Upper San Pedro River Basin southeastern Arizona, near Sierra Vista. The canyon walls here provide a cool place for hummingbirds, black bears, and threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs. The Huachuca mountains create a sky island that has fantastic habitat diversity. Ramsey Canyon is a place where special plants and animals thrive.
The spring-fed stream and the fact that the canyon is oriented northeast makes a cool, moist environment that is an oasis in the desert. We have visited Ramsey Canyon in March and in June, and both times were enjoyable.
This is a place where you can expect to see animals like Coues deer and lots and lots of beautiful birds.
Shady, Beautiful Trail
The path along the Creek at Ramsey Canyon is a lot of fun, with plenty of things to see, such as old buildings, unexpected plaques, tiny bridges, a fireplace with no house, and even a splash zone for kids. The whole trail is shady and beautiful. Parking is pretty limited, so get there early in the day. They are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. From March 1 through October 31 they are open from 8 – 5, and from November 1 through February 28 they are open from 9 – 4. Guided walks are offered March through November.
An Unusual River
While we were visiting Sierra Vista, we did a lot of other fun things besides our trip to Ramsey Canyon. We visited the San Pedro River at five different places – the San Pedro is an unusual river because it flows from south to north. In most places that we visited, it was divided into several different smaller streams for the most part, and the riparian area was lush with huge trees and an amazing variety of birds. We also went to Tombstone and saw a shoot-out, and we went to Bisbee and walked all over visiting shops, then took a fun tour of the Copper Queen mine where you get to sit astride a little train. It was a blast.
To get to Ramsey Canyon, take I-10 east to the Hwy 90 exit and go south to Sierra Vista. Take Hwy 92 south from Sierra Vista for six miles and turn right on Ramsey Canyon Road. The Preserve is at the end of the road, four miles west of the highway. Entry is $8 per person, $5 for Conservancy members and Cochise County residents. Children under 13 are free. Pets are not allowed, but service animals are permitted.
Another thing we did while we stayed at Sierra Vista is visit my second place to visit in 2020 – Sonoita Creek Preserve.
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
Before we even entered the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, we saw a flock of wild turkeys walking along near the road. Sonoita Creek is one of Arizona’s few permanently flowing streams, and there a lots of trails to walk in the Preserve. The Preserve protects the first two miles of the permanent flow and the floodplains adjacent to the stream.
Our favorite walk was the Creek Trail which follows Sonoita Creek. Along the trail are huge trees, and away from the creek are lush grassy meadows.
We found a lot of gorgeous birds, and also some smaller things like snails and lizards. The Preserve also protects a rare Fremont cottonwood – Goodding willow riparian forest, and some of the trees are among the largest and oldest Fremont cottonwood trees in the country. It is one of the few remaining sites where this type of forest still stands.
Great Birding Spot
The gorgeous riparian area is one of the best birding spots in Arizona – it actually provides habitat for over 200 species of birds. We saw hawks, flycatchers, hummingbirds, and a lot of birds we couldn’t identify, besides the turkeys. We also saw a lot of butterflies and other insects. There are lots of rare and sensitive plants here, too, and I’m so glad they are protected by the Preserve. The Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and also Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. It is open Wednesday – Sunday 6:30 – 4 from April through September, and from 7:30 – 4 October through March.
Know Before You Go
The fee to enter the Preserve is now $8 per person, $5 for Conservancy members and Cochise County Residents. Children under 13 are free. No animals are allowed except service animals, and smoking is allowed only in parking areas. Also, no drones, radios, calling devises, etc. To get there, from I-10 take Hwy 83 south. At Sonoita, turn west onto Hwy 82. In Patagonia, turn right on 4th Ave, then left onto Pennsylvania, which turns into Blue Heaven Road. Cross the creek and go about one mile to the entrance. You can also download directions to all six Arizona Preserves that are open to the public on the Nature Conservancy website, nature.org.
While you are there, be sure to spend some time in the town of Patagonia. There are cool shops, places to eat and have coffee, etc.
Madera Canyon is about 30 miles south of Tucson and 30 miles north of Nogales. This is a great place to come and spend a day hiking, picnicking, playing by the creek, or hanging out by the bird feeders to watch an amazing array of birds. There are campgrounds, picnic areas, an amphitheater, and even a couple of Bed and Breakfast places in Madera Canyon. The trails range from easy to difficult, so there’s something for everyone.
Madera Canyon is a gorgeous place with lots of shade by the creek and plenty of places to rest and relax. Some of the trails are real climbers, so if you plan to do some serious hiking, be prepared with lots of water and bring warmer clothes for the higher altitudes. There is also a paved loop trail that is suitable for strollers, wheelchairs, and walkers. It follows Madera Creek and lets you see the beautiful lower canyon. There is another paved loop trail at Whitehouse.
Summer temperatures can get into the low 100’s, so early spring is a great time to visit. It can snow above 5000 feet in winter and be almost freezing in the canyon. Also, watch for poison ivy near the creek in places.
Get The Details
To get to Madera Canyon, take I-19 to exit 63 (Continental Road and Madera Canyon), and go east. Follow Continental Road past a traffic signal and across the Santa Cruz River, then turn right at the 4-way stop sign on Whitehouse Canyon Road. After about six miles turn right onto the Madera Canyon Road. It costs $5 to enter Madera Canyon, and you can buy a pass at any of five parking area fee stations in the canyon. You need correct change or a check. If you have an interagency pass like the Golden Eagle Passport just display it and you don’t have to pay the fee. You can get all the details at the Friends of Madera Canyon website.