Canelo Hills Cienega Reserve

A small isolated wetland worth visiting - by Terry Brock

While on a recent trip to southern Arizona in December, I took the opportunity to visit a special place nestled in the rolling foothills of the Canelo Hills south of Tucson near Sonoita. The Canelo Hills Cienega Reserve is owned and managed by the Arizona Chapter of the Nature Conservancy was a rare find.

  • Canelo Hills Cienega Reserve
  • Canelo Hills Cienega Reserve
  • Canelo Hills Cienega Reserve

This reserve protects the best remaining example of the "riparian marshlands", the Cienega and rarest of all natural environments in the Southwest. A Spanish term; meaning a permanently saturated "seep wetlands", Cienega's are dominated by sedges and other herbaceous and woody wetland plants.

  • Canelo Hills Cienega Reserve
  • Canelo Hills Cienega Reserve
  • Canelo Hills Cienega Reserve

The preserve, once part of a "working ranch", (see above) includes 260 acres of rolling Black Oak and Arizona Fescue "savannas" with small isolated riparian wetlands in the draw bottoms. O'Donnell Creek, getting its name from the original owners, is a small perennial stream running through the Cienega and supports one of the best populations the Gila Chub. This, in addition to the rare Canelo Ladies Tresses Orchid (Spiranthes delitescens), have been proposed for the endangered species list.

The Cienega can be visited by traveling 14.7 miles south of Soniota on AZ Highway 83 to milepost 16. Turn left and travel 0.6 miles to visitors center at the old ranch house. For more information about this Reserve or others in southern Arizona, contact the Reserve Manager at PO Box 815, Patagonia, AZ 85624 or by phone to (602) 394-2400.

Author's Note: Even though I visited this Cienega in the winter when most of the living plants were dormant, the place definitely deserves another visit in the growing season.

Terry Brock
Juneau, AK


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