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Sonoita Creek Trail - Sonoita Creek SNA - 2 members in 3 triplogs have rated this an average 2 ( 1 to 5 best )
3 triplogs
  All Months
3 Triplogs
Mar 28 2020

 Guides 5
 Routes 134
 Photos 608
 Triplogs 155

38 male
 Joined Nov 30 2015
 Phoenix, AZ
Sonoita Creek SNA explore, AZ 
Sonoita Creek SNA explore, AZ
Run/Jog avatar Mar 28 2020
Run/Jog5.39 Miles 547 AEG
Run/Jog5.39 Miles   1 Hour   20 Mns   4.04 mph
547 ft AEG
1st trip
Was supposed to be in the Grand Canyon, but with everything going on, my friends bailed and I bailed at the last minute, too. Ended up going down and spending the weekend at Patagonia Lake, which is better than nothing...

While there, I decided to get in a little meander through the Sonoita Creek preserve.

The most interesting thing on Sonoita Creek trail itself is a little slot canyon. Things get nicer after you drop down to the actual creek.

When you get to the creek (which was some flow), you see the remains of the railroad bridge. Crossed over, and headed down the railroad grade for a mile or two. Very green, the trail is quite overgrown, and there are lots of cows.

On the way back, I headed up the Vista Trail for a half mile or so. Vista was OK I guess, but nothing special.
Took Black Hawk Trail back up to the spillway. I think this trail was more interesting than Sonoita Creek trail, with an extra creek crossing and views down into the canyon (which had some small waterfalls).
3 archives
Dec 02 2017

 Guides 84
 Routes 693
 Photos 16,329
 Triplogs 1,626

48 male
 Joined Sep 18 2002
 Tempe, AZ
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, AZ 
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, AZ
Hiking avatar Dec 02 2017
Hiking13.57 Miles 1,041 AEG
Hiking13.57 Miles   6 Hrs   1 Min   2.41 mph
1,041 ft AEG      23 Mns Break
1st trip
I'd never spent any time in this area and decided this would be a good weekend to check it out. I put together a bunch of proposed routes for exploring and set out on a beautiful cloudy day after getting the required permit to explore the State Natural Area from the Patagonia Lake visitor center.

There's not much on HAZ for this area, so I'm posting more details and photos than I normally would for a hike like this to help give others a better feel for this SNA.

Sonoita Creek Trail
This is a well-marked and highly traveled trail through desert terrain with tons of ocotillo that would be a real treat when they're blooming. After 1.5 miles it drops down to the mesquite bosque shelf above Sonoita Creek where it ends at the old concrete railroad bridge abutment. Cross the creek here to find the New Mexico & Arizona Railroad Trail.

Sonoita Creek Off-trail Explore
I honestly had no idea that the trail from this point didn't follow the creek, and I just headed downstream. This is open range and there are numerous cattle trails and traveling along the banks of the creek is not difficult. The entire floodplain in the valley downstream/west to the Santa Cruz River is designated as part of the Sonoita Creek SNA and is managed by Patagonia Lake State Park. Though it is State Trust Land, the free SNA permit is all you need to hike here. The north side of the creek is owned by Arizona Game and Fish but managed as SNA until reaching Fresno Canyon. West of of Fresno Canyon and all land south of the Sonoita Creek above the floodplain is held privately with the exception of some parcels of State Trust Land (but not SNA, so have a STL permit!)

San Jose de Sonoita Land Grant
Patagonia and much of Sonoita Creek was part of a land grant issued by Spain in the early 1800s. The boundaries of the land grant are marked on topographic maps and I was hiking near one of the boundary markers so I decided to check it out. What a find! Historic documents indicate that the boundaries for the grant were marked with large cairns. All I found was a scattering of rocks that seemed unnatural looking, and in the center was a firmly embedded stone with a carving in it. The #4 matches the mark on the topo map. Neat history!

Back in the creek bottom, I explored downstream another four miles encountering a variety of scenery, flora, and some interesting structures from years ago. This is supposedly a birders paradise, and while I'm not into the little ones, I did have two close encounters with separate great horned owls and one red-tailed hawk.

Before turning back, I decided to explore an interesting looking slot canyon that headed south of the creek. I thought this was one of the state trust parcels but found out later it's actually held privately. There are no signs, fences, or other markings, but I wouldn't recommend going up "Cuates Canyon" without checking out the property ownership. Unlike some of the south-side parcels, this one doesn't have any structures built on it, though it did have a very scenic cattle tank built into the rock of the canyon. Like much of the area, there was a lot of interesting geology along this 3/4mile loop. Back in the creek bottom, I headed upstream in search of my next side trip:

Fresno Canyon
This canyon looked cool on satellite and I'm glad I made the side trip. It forms the boundary of the SNA, so heading west of it gets you onto private property. I saw State Park boundary posts and some fencing and gates, but no posted signs or indication of any use other than cattle grazing. The canyon is shallow with vertical walls on both sides and a variety of flora. There's an area of very white rock that I was curious to see, but it wasn't that exciting in person. There's a deep pool in a narrow section of canyon that would require a bypass or swim during deeper water. As it was for me, I as able to skirt around it on the rocks. It's interesting how quickly you go from riparian creek bottom to rocky desert canyon. I'd like to see this one flowing with water sometime!

New Mexico & Arizona Railroad Trail
Upon returning down Fresno to Sonoita creek, I quickly found the very nicely maintained and marked NM&A RR grade. This railroad was built around 1900 and connected Nogales to Benson, and subsequently, Tucson by rail. Over time, flooding took its toll on the railroad, and it was abandoned in the 1960s. The town of Patagonia exists today as a remnant railroad stop (the old depot is now the courthouse), and Patagonia Lake now covers a segment of the old railbed.

As you hike along this trail, there are numerous old culverts in various states of decay as well as the wooden pylons for old railroad bridges. Though the scenery is a bit less exciting than hiking right along the creek, it's actually quite interesting history to walk through. There are two spots where the old railroad grade has been washed away by flooding and following it requires crossing the creek. I managed to cross with dry feet, but this isn't always possible and there are dry "hikers" bypasses built on higher ground around these sections. After 12 miles of hiking, I arrived back at the bridge abutment at the end of the Sonoita Creek Trail, and chose to head back to the trailhead via the:

Blackhawk Canyon Loop Trail
This trail parallels what I assume is called Blackhawk Canyon ... which is where the flow of Sonoita Creek now goes after topping the spillway at Patagonia Lake. The actual path of Sonoita Creek is blocked by the earthen dam that created the lake. This rocky drainage is surrounded by open vistas and ocotillo-lined hillsides. One particularly scenic spot is "Jen's Vista" which looks down on a "waterfall" in the flood channel which would actually be quite interesting to see when flowing.

Upon reaching the spillway, it's a short hike up a steep road to the trailhead with scenic views of the lake along the way. An ice cold beverage awaited my arrival back at the truck!

I encountered an antiquities sign somewhere along the way, but didn't see any reason for it. Then again, that's really not my thing. But historically, this area was populated with both Apache and O'odham people and there are reports online of many cultural sites along the creek and side drainages. So that's something else that some hikers might keep an eye out for.

foliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observation
Autumn Foliage Observation Moderate

dry Fresno Canyon Dry Dry
One stinky pool that probably never dries out. There's a photo of it in my 12/2/17 photoset.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water 4 out of 5 Patagonia Lake 76-100% full 76-100% full
33s over 45s
May 25 2013

 Routes 6
 Photos 15
 Triplogs 4

47 male
 Joined May 22 2013
 Tucson, AZ
Sonoita Creek Trail - Sonoita Creek SNATucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Hiking avatar May 25 2013
Hiking3.14 Miles 1,083 AEG
Hiking3.14 Miles   3 Hrs   46 Mns   0.83 mph
1,083 ft AEG
no photosets
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Short hike to the creek that was flowing but not very high. The ranger told us the creek was dry but that turned out to not be true. I assume there is a way for them to turn off the creek but this is the fourth time we have hiked the trail and there has been water in Winter, Spring and now Summer.

When the Ocatillo are in bloom or showing leaves this is an amazing hike! It is like hiking through a forest of bright green Ocoatillo. The kids love seeing dung beetles rolling their balls along the trail.

Hike was done with 17 people 9 adults and 8 children. 85 degrees and a breeze so the hike was great. The kids had a great time chasing crayfish and getting cool in the creek.
average hiking speed 1.62 mph

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.


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