Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Arivaca Trails: Birds and Solitude

About 25 miles West of our RV park in Amado, AZ is the tiny town of Arivaca. Arivaca sits on the Eastern edge of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. There are a couple of trails into the Refuge near Arivaca and more trails accessed by appointment only in Brown Canyon on the Western edge of the Refuge.

This wasn't the prettiest time of year to visit this area, most everything was still in winter dormant stage, but we could easily imagine how beautiful it must be in the late spring or even in the fall as the leaves change. The photos will reflect this...but even a harsh desert environment has a rugged beauty in winter.

First we walked the Arivaca Cienega Trail, which consists of 1 1/4 mile of trail and boardwalk over a wetland. A cienega is a wet, marshy grassland area. This area is known for excellent birding and even though we were late in the morning and at an odd time of year we still saw a few interesting birds including a Northern Harrier who hunts by swooping low over the grasslands. We only saw a couple of people here.

There were some giant bare trees dotting the grassland.

We walked through grasslands with a few wet marshy areas.
At this time of year the water was at its lowest level.

Next we drove two miles past town to the Arivaca Creek parking area. Note: just before you get to the real Arivaca Creek parking area is another trail parking area that doesn't go anywhere! Look for the well signed Arivaca Creek trail head!

We started out on the Creek trail which travels along the currently dry creekbed under giant Sycamores. After about a quarter mile we turned on to the Mustang Trail which would lead us to the highest point in the nearby hills, El Cerro.

Our destination, El Cerro, is the high point center right.
This saguaro was the only one within eyesight for many miles!

The trail wound through grassy mesquite desert, rising slowly. Eventually we stared climbing the side of the low hill on the left above.

The trail up the side of the small hill was bordered by many dormant mesquite trees
which would likely provide some nice shade later in the year.
We had started hiking in the dark band of trees.

After climbing the side of the small hill, we went over the pass and proceeded to traverse the back side of El Cerro. The trail passed through a forest of ocotillos!

Hiking through a forest of ocotillos! On this side of the hill they were just starting to leaf out.

Then we started to climb to the top of El Cerro. No switchbacks here, the trail went pretty much straight up!

UP the hill, lots of loose rock...

The view at the top was fantastic!

That's the Santa Rita mountains in the distance on the right.
We had hiked from the center of the dark band of trees.
You can also see a lighter gray band of trees which are just barely budding sycamores along the creek.

We never saw another person during this hike. We also saw no sign of illegal immigrant traffic. There were many border patrol vehicles on the road to Arivaca and back as well as a border checkpoint.

Primitive campsites were noted on the signage at each of the trailheads. Though we did not take a look ourselves, we spoke to a couple who had spent a very peaceful night boondocking in their class C. The primitive sites are numbered and are accessible just West of the Arivaca Creek trail head on the North side of the road.


  1. Looks like a nice long hike. Great view! Too bad there was only one saguaro but that is one more than I've seen!

    I don't think I would be boondocking that close to the border.

    Be careful out there!

    1. Agreed! There is way too much border action around here for my comfort level!

  2. Hi guys, great photos! It sure is pretty out there, we love the Amado to Arivaca ride, especially the views on the way back to Amado, very scenic with the mountains to the East. Not much traffic on the road either, unless you are counting Border Patrol trucks. :) Travel safely.

    J & A