Memories of the Santa Rita Mountains

Black-Capped Gnatcatcher - Polioptila nigriceps
Lower Madera Canyon by Proctor Road. East of Green Valley Arizona.

Madera Canyon, Gardner Canyon, and Florida Canyon each find their origins on the slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains. Madera flows west, Florida north, and Gardner east. Each canyon differs from its mates.

The most well-known location on this sky island is Madera Canyon. There are several reasons for its popularity. Accessibility here is one factor. Unlike the mountain’s other locations, the roads into the canyon are paved and wide enough for the visiting vehicles to maneuver. Proximity to the population centers of Tucson and Green Valley makes it convenient for day-trippers to drive in with their families to enjoy a picnic or a hike on the side trails.

The most obvious reason for Madera Canyon’s popularity is the natural beauty of its rich and varied habitat. The creek that carved this notch in the mountain, supports large riparian loving trees. Further up-slope, there are oaks, pines and other conifers dominating the canopy. Even the lowest reaches of the canyon, where it spills out to the arid desert below, is rich in bird-life.

Florida Canyon took me a while to find. The desert dirt roads leading here are not well marked. To appreciate its gifts, one needs to hike the trails up-slope. When you carry heavy camera gear, it requires a higher level of commitment than the other canyons accessing the Santa Ritas. The rewards here are for the patient and persistent explorer. 

Gardner Canyon is relatively remote. The road from the open desert grassland east of the mountain is long, dusty and sometimes rough. There are side-roads branching from the main track, but I’ve only travelled the main track from beginning to its end, where gates are placed and foot traffic only is allowed this barrier. As one might expect, desert-loving species make their home along the lower slopes, but I found Elegant Trogons about 3/4th the way up this road. My explorations were limited to the roadway leading up the mountainside. I suspect a hike up the trails might provide encounters denied me on my visit.

The gallery below shows some of the places and critters I met in my explorations of this sky island.

Click map markers to reveal further information