The Santa Rita Mountains are one of the many "Sky Islands" located in southeastern Arizona and Madera Canyon is a lovely gem located on the northwest side of this magnificent range under the towering Mount Wrightson (elev 9453 ft) the third tallest peak in Arizona and the tallest in the Santa Rita Range. Being one of the "Sky Islands", this canyon has unique and diversified flora and fauna with over 230 different species of birds recorded and documented, including more than a dozen species of hummingbirds that live in this ecosystem. April through June afford the best bird-watching months with June and September being the best for hummingbirds. I personally recorded 6 different species of hummingbirds in one afternoon including the male/female of the Broad Billed, Magnificent, Calliope, White-eared, Anna's and Black Chinned hummingbirds that visited the feeders located on the grounds of the Santa Rita Lodge which was our home for three days while we explored the area. Other species we saw included the Acorn Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, White-Crested Nuthatch, Goldfinches, House Finches, Warblers, Vireos and Chickadees. We were also witness to an Elf Owl that had set up a nest (with babies!!) in the telephone pole outside our cabin and mysteriously appeared around 8:30 PM as she cried "chy-ewp" and then we heard another similar cry from across the trees which we think was her mate answering her. It seems they were a tandom pair and one stayed with the nest as the other went off for food. An Elf owl is about the size of a sparrow and is the smallest of the species.
The area is as rich with history as it is with wildlife. Madera is the Spanish word for lumber or wood and was so named because it served as a major source of timber for Tucson over a century ago. Mount Wrightson is named after William Wrightson, a Nogales mining superintendent who was killed by Apaches near Sonoita in the 1860's. William Wrightson is also credited with bringing the first printing press to the Arizona Territory and published the first weekly newspaper in Tubac called "The Arizonian" in 1859.
The Nature trail starts at the Santa Rita Lodge and makes its way on the west side of Madera Creek and continues for 2.7 miles to the Mount Wrightson picnic area. This trail can best be described as a "nice stroll" and very well maintained with a bit of elevation gain through typical shaded oak-juniper forest of this elevation. My hiking companion and I found this to be pretty easy and there were nice views of Madera Canyon below us and the Santa Rita's to our East. The ridgeline of the Santa Ritas included Old Baldy (Mt Wrightson, Mt McCleary, Jack Mtn, and Mt Hopkins, where the Smithsonian had an observatory. It was an overcast day and temps were pleasant in the 70's with a nice breeze. This trail gains about 1000 feet in about two miles then levels out before intersecting with the Super Trail and Old Baldy Trails at the 2.7 mile mark. There is also the Carrie Nation Trail to Vault Mine trail from this intersection. We decided that we didn't have enough yet and started up a well maintained Super Trail toward Josephine Saddle (elev 7080 ft) and decided we would make the saddle or turn around at any given point. As we headed up the Super Trail, the flora gave way to more pine forest and there was a lovely little creek running. This is where we saw an abundance of birds including a Hooded Oriole, Robin and a Spotted Towhee. We were looking for an Elegant Trogan but didn't see any on this trip although there were reports of several nesting pairs in the canyon. We decided to turn around after hiking about 1 1/2 miles in on the Super Trail and vowed to return when we had more time to make the saddle or go to the peak. We took the paved road back to the Santa Rita Lodge and thought we may have heard the Elegant Trogan which supposedly sounds like an angry duck.
I should also mention here that this is Black Bear country although we saw none on our trip. Bobcats too. We also saw two very graceful white tailed deer that drank from the birdbath in front of our cabin at 6 AM. They know where the water is!
This is a great area if you're into bird watching or just a nature lover at heart. You can hike on the trails or just sit at the wildlife area at the Santa Rita lodge and soak it all in.
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