Las Cienegas National Conservation Area – Sonoita, AZ

February/March 2016

I wanted to make one last stop in southern Arizona before I headed back up to my parents’ place for a couple of weeks. I hadn’t ever spent much time in southeast Arizona, so I fired up trusty old Campendium and found a great chunk of public land to spend some time in as a basecamp for the area. Sometimes you luck out with the spot you pick, and this was definitely one of those times.

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

Once part of the sprawling 1,000,000 acre Empire Ranch, Las Cienegas National Conservation Area is 45,000 acres of protected grasslands and wetlands that is an absolutely spectacular place to boondock. For fans of old western movies and TV shows, Las Cienegas is a familiar place as it was the filming location for many classics featuring the likes of John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck. Can’t say I am a big fan of that vintage of entertainment, so the place didn’t ring any bells for me. However, I was taken by the expansive rolling hills and views that went forever.

I stayed 11 nights at the Cieneguita Camping Area, one of the designated camping areas at Las Cienegas. Nothing more than 6 sites consisting of dirt pullouts, Cieneguita has zero amenities, but that’s not why you come here. You come to enjoy the absolute peace and quiet, the wide open spaces, and the lack of immediate neighbors. Unless you count cows. Yes, Las Cienegas is still a working ranch in that there are a limited number of cattle that graze there, so watch where you step!

I didn’t research the area very much prior to arrival so I was a bit surprised to find that it is at 4,600 feet in elevation. There is a bit of a climb as you come south out of Tucson and the elevation makes for cool nights. And for some funny reason, sunsets didn’t seem as spectacular here as they had been at lower elevations. I’m sure I could use Google to find out why this might be, but I’d rather it remain a mystery. 😉

Two Saturdays a month there is a docent led tour of the old Empire Ranch House where you learn about the history of the ranch and of the ranch buildings. I attended one of these sessions and listened to a couple of volunteer docents with the Empire Ranch Foundation, which operates the facilities in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It’s fascinating to learn about how people lived before all of the modern day conveniences were available. Makes living in an RV seem like luxury accommodations!

Bisbee

Bisbee, Arizona is a place I’ve heard a lot about from fellow nomads and a place I never visited when I lived in the state. Located 60 miles to the southeast from Las Cienegas, Bisbee was the destination for a day trip.IMG_9996

Home of the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee came to life as a mining town in 1880 and enjoyed this status until mining operations ceased in 1975. While you can tour the Copper Queen Mine today by taking a trip underground, it was suggested to me that with limited time it might be a better idea to visit the Bisbee Mining Museum, so this is what I did. As befits Smithsonian-affiliated museum, the displays are top-notch and give an excellent education on mining in Bisbee. Well worth the visit!

Besides the mine, Bisbee is famous for its stairs. There is very little flat land in the town so most everything was built on a slope, which makes for a lot of up and down. Let’s just say that there are a whole bunch of stairs and to truly explore the town, you head out and start climbing.

Stairs are the primary way to get to many of the houses perched on the hill sides, so they can be found just about anywhere. And stairs are all public rights of way, so you can explore without trespassing. If you are lucky, you will run into a local that will point out “secret” spots to climb up to and view the city.

I asked my good friend Lynn for suggestions about what to do and see in Bisbee as she had just posted on her website about a month long stay (this is a great read that goes into MUCH more detail about Bisbee).

Unfortunately I visited Bisbee on a Monday when everything seemed to be closed, which means I will have to return. I can see myself staying at the one and only RV park in Bisbee for a couple of weeks so I could walk into town and really get to know the place. And this is saying a lot considering how much I despise RV Parks.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

25 miles south of Las Cienegas is the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, an 873-acre Nature Conservancy preserve that offers great bird watching. The entire Patagonia area is famous for its birdwatching, and since my mom is an avid birdwatcher, I needed to visit.

A nice walk around the preserve was had, but no birds were to be found. Wrong time of day. Story of my life! At least I made an effort. That counts for something, right?

3 thoughts on “Las Cienegas National Conservation Area – Sonoita, AZ

  1. I didn’t know Bisbee was famous for stairs or that it’s not flat. Of course, right now to me Bisbee=Lynn. Hopefully, we’ll get there someday.

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