Creek Trail/Railroad Trail Loop
A permanent stream in the lowlands of Southern Arizona? Do we have any left? In fact, we do, and thankfully, the first two miles of permanent flow of Sonoita Creek are protected within the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
Begin your exploration at the visitor's center where volunteers will collect a small entrance fee and provide you with a map and an informational pamphlet. To see the Preserve, you will meander a well-marked, easy 2.3 mile loop consisting of the Creek Trail and the Railroad Trail. You start by walking through a golden field of Sacaton where you can hear lizards darting through the grass. Soon you approach the oldest and biggest Fremont Cottonwood trees in the country; they tower over one hundred feet above you and sport trunks larger than cars. In the shade of their canopy and a plethora of other trees, you will soon be strolling along the creek. I hope you will see what I saw in the creek; four gorgeous Mule Deer drinking. The Mule Deer were calm as I watched them. They weren't disturbingly tame as some deer on the rim of the Grand Canyon can be; however, they were somewhat at ease with my presence as if they knew that in this place, at least, people come in peace with no agenda other than to catch a glimpse of what Eden might have been like.
You will continue on the Creek Trail, which runs parallel with the creek. For most of the trail you will be in the riparian forest; however, you will enjoy views of another Sacaton field that separates the Creek Trail from the Railroad Trail. You will also have occasional views of the southeastern face of the mighty Mt. Wrightson in the distance. After about one mile, you will reach the foundation of an old railroad bridge. This is where the Creek Trail ends and the Railroad Trail starts you on your approximately one mile trip back to the visitor's center. You will walk on a railroad berm elevated about eight feet off the ground. This berm once supported a railroad that ran from Benson to Guaymas, Mexico. The berm is now being reclaimed by trees such as Arizona Walnut, Netleaf Hakberry, and Velvet Mesquite. You'll appreciate the shade they provide as you make your way back to the visitor's center.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention one small detail: the Preserve is world-renowned for birding. Come here during the peak birding season (March - Sept.) and you will hear the sweet music of a symphony of birds. On this particular hike I watched a beautiful Vermillion Flycatcher dart erratically back and forth from his perch in that uniquely Vermillion Flycatcher way. These beautiful red and black birds breed on the Preserve. I also saw a couple of American Kestrels, a bunch of Pyrrhuloxia (greyish Cardinal), and countless other birds that a birding neophyte such as myself could not identify. My hope is that a HAZ hiker who is a birder will come to this little paradise with a powerful telephoto lens to capture the beauty and identity of the myriad birds here and share them with us.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.