Monday, March 31, 2014

Touring the Grasslands of Southern Arizona

Not totally about birds and grasslands but mostly. Saturday evening I feasted on a pizza at the Velvet Elvis here in Patagonia while Sraddha stayed back home resting and relaxing. Met a delightful couple who used to live in Tucson and were touring the area after his business meetings. Turns out a lot of tourists, birders, etc love to travel through here in winter time (big surprise) and also in summer because it is cooler in higher elevations of over 4,000 to 5,0000 ft.

We had a wonderful afternoon at Paton's Bird yard then awoke to gusty winds on Sunday morning. Sraddha went over to the Nature conservancy while I nursed a sore foot from our recent power walks. Getting old in body with a few of the usual aches and pains but we tend to pay more attention to them these days since the body doesn't heal as fast as it used to. My right shoulder as case in point. I had messed up the tendons last summer during our big move out of the house and it is still hurting on a daily basis. I have had the cortisone shots which have helped but cannot work out regularly to this day and when I lift arm weights, it is half as much on the right side as left. Dr. Peter says the “tincture of time” will help and it has but I still guard against further injury and favor my left side. Now a sore right foot. But enough of my whining.


Looking north towards San Canelo Pass.
Looking north towards San Canelo Pass.

I had heard that the hawks fly in the mornings up in the hills south of town so we decided to head up the road in search of them.



Oops. Gas guage nearly empty. Not the right time to venture out in to unknown hills. Where to get some gas? We had explored gas at the Arivaca market but it was $0.40 more than Tucson so we figured we would wait. When we drove through Nogales area we didn't see a convenient station to fill up while towing. We had anticipated fueling up in Patagonia.


Those of you who live in the rural areas can relate when I say the only gas station in town is closed on Sundays! And they were surprisingly more expensive than Arivaca!

Panorama of San Rafael Valley Huachuca mountains in background (Southeast) Mexico on right horizon
Panorama of San Rafael Valley Huachuca mountains in background (Southeast) Mexico on right horizon

So off east 12 miles to Sonoita we go to find the Shell station where the gas was more reasonable and, most important, available. We had originally planned a little 90 minute drive but this ended up 4 hours and we are happy we did it. We ventured south into the Coronado National Forest over a winding road from Sonoita about 25 miles to a dirt road which took us thorugh Juniper and Pinon Pine forests up over San Canelo Pass.

View south to San Rafael Valley and Mexico from San Canelo Pass (5300 ft elevation)
View south to San Rafael Valley and Mexico from San Canelo Pass (5300 ft elevation)

Down in to San Rafael Valley and some incredibly beautiful and sparse natural grasslands remeniscent of a bygone era when the whole of southern Arizona was grasslands prior to the cattle ranchers moving in. We saw some cattle spread all around the valley and several ranches who seem to be more conservation minded these days. Drought has hit this area harder than the rest of Arizona but wildfire has not so the grasslands remain in tact.


 San Rafael Valley looking south to Mexico
San Rafael Valley looking south to Mexico

As we descended into the valley we could see the radar station used by the border patrol for monitoring the area. We saw several border patrol trucks as we drove along. A few ranch trucks too. We saw 6 or 7 Kestrals hunting or resting so we knew there was food for them around the area. Evidence of deer and other animals were seen when we looked.


Headed west again through Juniper and Pinon pine forests over to Mowry in the western border of the valley. Only thing there was some homesteads and mailboxes.

Harshaw - Adobe structure
Harshaw - Adobe structure

As we descended through the canyons we happened onto Harshaw, an old ghost town with one adobe shack and a cemetary. Several families were visiting the cemetary to pay respects to their ancestors. We saw this amazing old Sycamore up the canyon. Sycamore trees line the canyons at this elevation (4000-5500) and are just beginning to bloom our. Amazing trees.

 Old Sycamore tree in Harshaw
Old Sycamore tree in Harshaw

Continuing down the road we made it back to Patagonia for a late lunch then over to Paton's Bird Yard one more time.


We did see a couple red tail hawks but no Grey Hawks, or Zone tailed Hawks we had hoped to see. All in all it was a fun drive and we were glad we had to drive over to Sonoita for gas, otherwise we might not have seen this incredible valley.

 

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