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Monday, March 2, 2015


Sonoita Creek along the Railroad Trail

The 9,453' summit of Mt. Wrightson is a magnet for winter snow and summer rain. This year-round precipitation is the source of the perennial waters flowing through the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. Located south of the sky-scraping Santa Rita Mountains near the vineyards of Arizona's southeast wine region, the preserve was established in 1994 to protect the fragile watershed and riparian corridor. More than 20 miles of hiking trails wander through the 9,959-acre site that encompasses seven types of vegetative communities from
semi-desert grassland to moist deciduous forests along the creek. For an overview of the area, begin with the 0.7-mile, 500' climb up the Overlook Trail. On the summit, there are terrific views of adjacent Patagonia Lake and the peaks of the San Cayetano and Patagonia Mountains huddling around ocotillo studded savannah. To the east, the creek appears as a green satin ribbon dressing up the muted hills and gullies that bevel toward the water's twisting groove. A diverse menu of trails offer treks into the arid foothills, the lake dam and spillway, up into the Coal Mine Spring watershed and of course, walks along the creek.
Maps available at the visitor center and ample junction signage make navigation simple. One of the most popular day hikes is the easy, 4-mile Sonoita Creek-Cottonwood Loop circuit which begins with a 1.5-mile walk through high desert and ends with a spindle plunge into the creek channel and traipse through a lush forest of ash, willow, mesquite and walnut trees. For an extended, more challenging hike, continue on along the Railroad Trail which makes a stepping stone creek cross to follow the abandoned bed of the New Mexico and Arizona Railway 3 miles to the confluence with the Santa Cruz River. This section of trail is subjected to the whims of nature, so look for carins where the path gets erased by floods or downed trees. In addition to proper gear and plenty of water, a pair of binoculars will come in handy for viewing the more than 315 bird species--including the impossible to miss, brilliant red, Vermillion Flycatcher--- that inhabit the area.
LENGTH: 20 miles of trails
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 3610'-4250'
FEE: $15 daily per vehicle
DAY USE HOURS: 4 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area is always open, but the Visitor Center is closed during summer. Permits for hiking, hunting and horseback riding in the Natural Area can be obtained from the park gatehouse or by calling (520) 287-6965.
FACILITIES: Primitive, hike-in camping. Major ammenities are available at adjacent 
Patagonia Lake SP
400 Lake Patagonia Road, Patagonia.
From Tucson, go 17 miles east on Interstate 10 to the State Route 83 exit 281. Head 24 miles south on SR83 to the SR83/82 junction in Sonoita, turn right (west) on SR 82 and continue 7 miles to Lake Patagonia Road. Turn right and go four miles to the Patagonia Lake State Park gate. Pay the entry fee and proceed to the visitor center to get a free hiking permit for the natural area. Only a limited number of hikers (and horses) are allowed in the natural area at any time. So, call ahead if you're hiking with a group.
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

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