patagonia-sonoita-creek-preserve

Places We Protect

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

Arizona

Home to one of Arizona’s few permanently flowing streams, endangered fish, butterflies and birds.

In a verdant floodplain valley between the Patagonia and Santa Rita Mountains of southeastern Arizona, within the watershed of Sonoita Creek, lies some of the richest of the remaining riparian (streamside) habitat in the region. One of a few remaining permanent streams, it provides for a wide array of diverse species from endangered fishes to butterflies and birds.

This site contains the first two miles of permanent flow of Sonoita Creek and the floodplains adjacent to the stream. The site contains very high biodiversity values that are primarily focused on the riparian habitats along Sonoita Creek.

As the first project for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, it contains much of the biological diversity associated with these habitat types. The watershed is mostly undeveloped, and the natural processes of flooding are mostly intact and functioning.

The 873-acre preserve protects a magnificent example of the rare Fremont cottonwood-Goodding willow riparian forest. Some of the trees are among the largest (more than 100 feet tall) and oldest (130 years old) Fremont cottonwood trees in this country. This is one of the few remaining sites in Arizona where this once-common forest type still persists. Arizona black walnut, velvet mesquite, velvet ash, netleaf hackberry, and various willows are found in slightly different habitats throughout the preserve.

Here are remnant wetlands, or cienegas, a once-common feature of the Sonoita Creek floodplain and the most endangered natural community in Arizona. A significant number of rare and sensitive plant species are found in the Sonoita Creek watershed, including Huachuca water umbel, Santa Cruz striped agave, and the Santa Cruz beehive cactus.

Today, the Preserve is visited by thousands of people every year seeking to see and experience some facet of its rich natural diversity. The Preserve has been actively engaged in hydrologic research and monitoring and is the site of some of the first community-based activities seeking to build understanding and support for conservation in southern Arizona. It has been a platform for promoting the work of TNC and a site of several innovative environmental education activities.

The elevation at the preserve is 4,000 feet. The best months for birding are March through September. Late April and May, and late August and September, offer the greatest diversity of species, including migrants and spring/summer residents. Winter is the season for sparrows and occasional southern vagrants such as the rufous-backed robin.

Download a list of birds at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve (.pdf, 325 kb).

A New Trail
A one-mile long trail connecting the preserve to the Tucson Audubon’s Paton House is now in use. Built entirely by volunteers, the trail is a joint venture between the preserve and the Paton Center. Highlights of the walk include access to upland habitat, a stroll through a dense mesquite bosque, canopy views of the cottonwoods along Sonoita Creek, and a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains from the top of the vista point.

Visitors may learn about the preserve, its wild residents, viewing interpretive exhibits at the Visitor Center.

Location
150 Blue Heaven Rd.
Patagonia, AZ 85624

Fees 
General Public: $6 per person
Conservancy Members and Santa Cruz/Cochise County residents: $3 per person
Patagonia Residents and Ages 16 & Under: FREE

Fees are valid for seven days from date of purchase. Annual passes are available, as well as two-fer that covers this preserve and Ramsey Canyon ($10 general public). Group visits require prior arrangements. Please call  (520) 394-2400. Admission fees for the two preserves support their operation and The Nature Conservancy’s conservation projects across southeastern Arizona.

Gear
Sturdy shoes, hat, sunscreen, binoculars and plenty of water.

Nature Walks
Nature walks are offered on an irregular basis. For the most current information, call the preserve at 520-394-2400 and leave a message. Special arrangements may be made for groups, so call the preserve to learn more.

Preserve Regulations
In consideration of our sensitive wildlife habitats, we ask all visitors and guests to observe the following regulations:

  • All visitors must remain on established trails. Smoking is allowed in parking areas only.
  • No dogs, horses, or other domestic animals, radios, tape players or electronic calling devices, swimming, wading, hunting, fishing, picnicking, camping, fires, firearms, alcoholic beverages, motorized vehicles or bicycles are permitted. Do not feed or disturb wildlife or damage or remove any plants, animals, wood, minerals, or artifacts. Collecting of any kind is prohibited.
  • To preserve the natural character of our lands for our wildlife and the privacy of our visitors, we restrict the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), whether amateur or commercial, anywhere within this preserve.

Questions

Call (520) 394-2400.