Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is located northeast of Tucscon in the southeastern part of Arizona. It is managed by the BLM and is approximately 19,000 acres. A natural wonder, Aravaipa Creek sits at the bottom of a deep canyon with beautiful cliffs and a long length of prime desert riparian habitat. This year-round creek runs for 11 miles and supports 7 native species of fish, 12 bat species and more than 238 bird species. The park includes table lands as well as tributary canyons. This park preserves the best-known example of "cottonwood-willow gallery forest" in the southwest.

The canyon is managed strictly to keep the area as wild as possible. You must obtain a permit from the BLM to enter the Wilderness and only 50 people a day are admitted. This is a rare management decision that benefits wildlife. The adjacent Nature Conservancy's Aravaipa Canyon Preserve that  protects 7,000 acres also adds to the wildness of the area. You must obtain permisson from the Nature Conservancy to hike on this preserve as well. 

Amazingly diverse in flora and fauna, you can find Saguaros clinging to the cliffs, with the canyon bottom filled with Cottonwood, Arizona Alder, Ash and Arizona Walnut.

A myriad of animals survive by the river including Coatimundis, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Javelinas, Ringtail Cats, as well as Coue’s white-tailed deer. In the forested uplands you can find the threatened Mexican Spotted Owl and Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. Seven species of native fish swim the creek, including the Federally threatened Spikedace, and Loach Minnow, as well as Speckled Dace, Round-Tailed Chub,  and Desert Sucker. 

Conservation efforts at Aravaipa include active fish monitoring and removal of invasive species such as Periwinkle or Vinca (Vinca sp.) which the park dedicates substantial resources to combating.


Fremont Cottonwood

Found only growing near reliable streams and rivers, Fremont Cottonwood requires copious amounts of water but is an important species for an abundance of wildlife. It is a fast-growing tree that stabilizes streambanks in riparian areas, the place of greatest concentration of animals. Raptors often build nests in the branches, and deer, elk and rabbits eat the shoots and leaves that are within reach. Many smaller birds also nest in Cottonwoods. Hollowed-out cavities of dead trees are used by bats, bears, coyotes and foxes who take advantage of shelter in close proximity to water. The pollen is moderately allergenic. Native Americans chewed the seedpods as gum or used the bark to relieve pain and reduce inflammation because it contains salicin, which was the early active ingredient in pharmaceutical aspirins. Native tribes also used small branches to make baskets, and were known to eat the inner bark raw or even cooked.

Fremont Cottonwood tree in the desert

Saguaro Cactus

The Saguaro cactus is the largest cactus in the United States and enduring symbol of the southwest. It often uses Desert Ironwood as a nurse plant as protection from the sun and flash floods. At only six feet tall, it might be 70 years of age, and can live to be as much as 200 years old. Found only in the Sonoran Desert, it is an important food source for Sonoran Desert wildlife, including birds, javelina, coyotes, rodents and many others. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers excavate holes in Saguaros for nests and once abandoned, provide nesting habitat for Elf Owls, House Finches, Purple Martins, Screech Owls, various species of sparrows and many others. Hawks build nests amongst the "arms" which may be used by other avian wildlife such as Great Horned Owls, Ravens and others. The fruit of this plant was a very important food source for the Papago and Pima indians who also used the ribs of dead plants as tools and for roofing. The fruit is still sourced today for jam and wine.

Saguaro Cactus in the desert
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