18 March 2012

A Slice of Paradise

Well we have been two weeks now at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and we are convinced we have stumbled on a rare gem of a place.  Patagonia is about 60 miles SE of Tucson in a  basin at about 4100 feet elevation with mountains surrounding.  This is the Mountain Empire area of AZ and includes Sonoita, a town about 12 miles east of Patagonia that is the heart of a recognized wine producing - an American Viticultural Area.

We are the resident volunteers at the Preserve and are responsible for operating the visitor center and assisting the visitors enjoy their stay.  This is a major birding area this time of the year and we have been averaging 40-50 people a day from all over the country.  It appears that many visitors from the surrounding area come here specifically while folks from further away include this as one of the stops on their AZ trip!

Sonoita Creek in the Preserve

Sonoita Creek wash east of the Preserve
It is a relatively small preserve along one of the few permanently flowing streams in AZ.  While you can pretty much jump across Sonoita Creek this time of the year, I understand that during the monsoon season it usually is a raging torrent that is typically 8-10 feet deep!  This time of the year you can see the water raising out of a small spring at the east end of the property.  However, a wash extends about a dozen miles east to Sonoita.  During the monsoon season it collects water from the watershed created by the surrounding mountains and sometimes becomes a raging river!   I know, I know, you cannot imagine a monsoon season in AZ.  Well, neither can I, but there is plenty of evidence that for a short time in the Fall they get torrential rains. Apparently, that is when they get 90% of their moisture at the lower elevations.  Snow fall in the higher elevations (4500+) is another major source of water though.

The316 acre preserve is operated by the Nature Conservancy and is one of several properties in this area.  Each is a unique piece and offers the visitor a wonderful experience in enjoying natural AZ features.  We are looking forward to visiting the other properties in this and other regions.  This is the only preserve in AZ that has the volunteer resident program, but we will be looking at other Nature Conservancy properties that might have the program.  What a hoot, it would be find that Blowing Rocks Preserve in Jupiter FL has a resident volunteer program!

The Railroad Trail in the Preserve today!
The mountains surrounding the basin use to be a big mining area.  However, about 50 years ago it had declined to the degree that it was no longer profitable.  In fact, the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve was developed on land the Nature Conservancy purchased from the railroad when it went out of business because there was no more ore to transport.  The Railroad Trail is one of two main trails in the Preserve and follows along the former railroad embankment.  As well as birds, you can spot deer, javelinas, bobcats, and coatamundi along the trail.  In November a mountain lion was photographed by one of our trail cameras as it passed through the Preserve.

We took a day last week and went exploring.  Patagonia Lake is about 8 miles west of us and was formed when they dammed up the Creek in the 1950's.  It is a long fairly large lake that has value as a flood control facility and a recreation area.  It has a nice RV park and a first class boat launch, along with some great birding trails.

The bad part of Flux Canyon Road
We took Flux Canyon Road which we were advised might be difficult once we started climbing.  That was an understatement, but it was so beautiful.  BJ deceided to get out and walk while I took the Jeep, very slowly, across the worst part.  Of course I think her ulterior motive was to check out the rocks and add to her collection!

The better portion of Flux Canyon road.  Abandoned mine behind the Jeep ! 
At any rate we got past that part and road got better relatively speaking!  And she eventually did note to me that if we had taken her advice and turned around we would have missed a lot of breathtaking scenery as we climbed the mountain to a pass and proceeded down the other side.

Following are some more pics from that day of adventure.  We both are looking forward to some more exploring while we are here the next several months.

Another one of the abandoned mines

Another beautiful view!

Patagonia Lake 

Some homes high in the mountains

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

01 March 2012

Off the beaten path

Today we met some friends from the SKP club about 10:00 and headed up into the Santa Catalina mountains for a day off-roading in our Jeeps.  What a beautiful day it was for riding in the mountains.  Sun was shining all day long, not a cloud in the sky and beautiful scenery all the way!

Tucson in the valley below!  We love Tucson and this is one reason!
There were 3 Jeeps and 4 couples for the day's adventure.  We did not have any particular target or destination.  One couple spends the winter here every year and had a better idea then the rest of us about the area we were headed into, so their guidance was an important component for the day.  But we all just wanted to enjoy the day as it happened rather then meet some predetermined goals.
The caravan for the day!
The road to the snow covered mountains in the background

We could see snow on the mountains in the distance and one of our crowd said we ought to go up for a snowball fight!  Sounded like a good idea so off we went in that direction!

Heading for the snow covered mountain!
Lunch break on the trail
A road hard to travel

We took a side road toward the snow covered mountains; however, it turned out to be really very rough road with large rocks making the road too uncomfortable for some of our party.

Snow covered mountains were getting closer!

A "forest"of the iconic Saguaro cactus
As we were travelling across the back road to somewhere we spotted 3 large solar panels sticking up from the countryside.  We had seen nothing to indicate  a need for some electricity so we were puzzled.

As we moved down the road we caught sight of a cattle holding area and the frame of an old non-functioning windmill so we suspect the solar panels were powering water pumps to bring water to the cattle.

We ended up on the north side of the mountains (Tucson is on the south side).  We stopped for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and then we headed back our individual ways until we meet on the road again.   We know we will see at least one couple in the Keys next winter.

Always at home, no matter where we are!!