With the onset of our monsoon summer months here in Southern Arizona, many nature lovers seek the cool comforts of our beautiful canyons. There are so many to explore and I must admit that there are several isolated ones that I'd like to discover with others down the road.
Each canyon is unique and has its' own personality. My favorites are Ramsey, Huachuca, Garden and Miller Canyons of the Huachucas, and Cave Creek Canyon near Portal of the Chiricahuas. Other canyons of birder interest are Florida and Montosa of the Santa Ritas with the main attraction being Madera. And there are SO many more! I haven't mentioned the Catalina Mountains but her star attraction is the internationally popular Sabino Canyon. But if you're going to see nature quietly, the best canyons are the ones least known by the outside crowd.
|Tarantula Hawk looks for a delicious juicy grasshopper or tarantula!|
The Santa Rita Mountains
- Madera Canyon-star attraction for birders, hikers and picnickers seeking cooler temps. Easy access with wonderfully maintained paved roads. There are Bed and Breakfasts in the Canyon. We've stayed at one and had a great time. It is a popular place for observing lots of wonderful hummingbirds!
The very special Black-capped Gnatcatcher can be found in both Montosa and Florida Canyons and sometimes along the Proctor Trail of Madera Canyon.
- Montosa Canyon-the secret gem of the Santa Ritas. Lots of specialty birds can hang out in this area. It is a canyon for hunters, joggers and birders. Access into the canyon isn't difficult but can be if there is a monsoon storm. Parts of the road are paved while others are gravel. I also recommend going with others as I have run into drug runners. It is an area that can be remote.
Rufous-capped Warblers along the narrow canyon and stream bed of Florida Canyon
- Florida Canyon-really a lovely canyon with a good chance of spotting the rare-to-the-US Rufous-capped Warbler. The road can be rocky and difficult at times if there have been rains. There are trails but they are geared more towards birders and hikers. Often, there is an active stream. There is a small waterfall area that requires climbing. It's good to have someone there to spot you in case you fall. And it does happen.
The Huachuca Mountains
This is easily my favorite mountain range because of its proximity to Tucson. It's also near the border and attracts all kinds of exotics! Great birds and other critters! Here are just a few of my favorites.
- Huachuca Canyon-one of my favorites! There is great hiking here along with the birding. You'll need to bring your US ID to get onto this military base but it's easy. Be careful with your Canadian birder friends. Personally I never had an issue, but I've heard reports of these snowbirds getting turned away. Military threats indeed! This canyon has been home to the infamous Sinaloa Wren and other rare Mexican Species. The issues? The road can be rough after a rain event. Wildlife! This canyon, like many others, is home to bears and other fun critters. But for some reason, we hear more reports about bear in this area than any other canyon during our summer months.
Arizona Woodpecker is another special bird that people hope to glance!
- Ramsey Canyon-my personal favorite. Sure there are great birds here but it's more than that. Sometimes I just want to go for a nice lovely hike and walk among deer and coati. There is a 6 dollar entrance fee but it's worth it. This is also a great canyon for rarities like the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. And I personally think this canyon and Montosa have some of the most interesting bugs flying around!
- My surprise new favorite canyon this year has been Garden Canyon on the Ft. Huachuca base. Dark and magical with streams crossing the road, this place reminded me of something I've read in a fairytale. I even got a fairytale picture of a Spotted Owl! This shot reminds me of Winnie the Pooh.....and I don't know why.
Garden Canyon and a beautiful Spotted Owl!
- Miller Canyon-Epic trails with lots of specialty birds like the Montezuma Quail, Northern Goshawk, and White-eared Hummingbird. Here you can visit Beatty's Orchard and enjoy lots of incredible hummingbirds around his CAS(Controlled Access Site). There are benches and lots of feeders to keep a nature lover occupied for some time. Sit underneath the shade of the ramada and enjoy the show! He does ask for a donation to keep his feeders full.
A Montezuma Quail watches me from a trail off of the gravel road of Miller Canyon
- Ash Canyon is another great spot for birders to hang out for a break from the trails. There are lots of hummingbirds including the very special Lucifer Hummingbirds that hang out at her location. They are rare to Southern Arizona but they are regulars at Mary Jo's place. A 5 dollar donation is requested to help maintain the feeders around her bed and breakfast.
|Juvenile male Broad-billed Hummingbird|
The Chiricahua Mountains
Admittedly, I have barely touched these mountains. The trip from Tucson is a bit further than other mountain ranges so I have to carefully schedule my visits here. This is one incredible place full of species that cannot be found anywhere else in the US. It is home to the Mexican Chickadee and other specialty birds. Normally if I visit the Chiricahuas, I will stay for a couple nights because the one way trek is almost 3 hours long.
Cave Creek Canyon is the only canyon I have visited. It's pretty amazing as it feels like there is more wildlife than humans in this rather remote part of the world. If you are driving from Phoenix or Tucson, you will need to pass through New Mexico and then reenter Arizona on the other side of the Chiricahuas to enter Portal. There is another road that crosses over the mountain range but it requires a sturdy car:) Again, it's another favorite hotspot for me.
A little hummingbird fun at Madera Canyon. For more bird fun, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!