Buenos Aires Grasslands Fair in Southern Arizona

Buenos Aires Grasslands Fair in Southern Arizona

Buenos Aires Grasslands Fair in Southern Arizona

Written by Ron Dungan
Published by The Republic | azcentral.com
Fri Nov 8, 2013 10:53 AM
© The Republic

BUENOS AIRES NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE – The wind blows, the grass leans and the quail are safe in their pens. All day, the sun blazes over the grassland until it drops behind the mountain, the wind settles down and deer start to roam.

It is easy to see why this place was named “good winds” by Pedro Aguirre Jr., a rancher who settled here in the 1860s.

The land once was home to a small population of masked bobwhite quail, a species primarily found in Mexico. The ranch changed hands several times, and by the early 1900s, the quail were no longer found there. In 1985, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought the ranch to help restore the species.

The property is now a sanctuary for the quail and other endangered species, and it offers opportunities to hike, hunt, bird-watch and mountain bike. It has 118,000 acres of scenic grasslands, a wetland area popular with birders and a canyon that leads to a sky-island ecosystem.

“We almost treat it as three different management areas,” refuge manager Sally Gall said.

One recreation area, Brown Canyon, is near Baboquivari Peak, which is sacred to the Tohono O’odham people. Edward Abbey once called the 7,730-foot peak a “big aching tooth.” It’s the only peak in Arizona that requires technical gear to summit.

The refuge offers guided public and private hikes in Brown Canyon, and the season for them is just beginning. The hikes start at 9 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month from November through April. Cost is $5 per person, and there is a maximum of 12 people. Private hikes cost $40 for up to 12 hikers. They can be arranged when a guide is available and a public hike is not on the trail.

“The bulk of our visitors are winter visitors,” said Bonnie Swarbrick, outdoor recreation planner for the refuge.

The 3.8-mile round-trip hike heads up the canyon, filled with oak and juniper and home to golden eagles, Gould’s turkeys and Coues deer. When the trail forks, most hikers turn left to see a 47-foot-high arch, the fifth highest in Arizona, Swarbrick said. To the right is a trail that continues into the Baboquivari Mountains, past the refuge boundary. It is unofficially known as the Jaguar Trail, because Macho B, a jaguar that once roamed in southern Arizona, was first photographed near the trail.

In the eastern portion of the refuge, the Arivaca Cienega Trail offers an easy loop hike to a desert pond, where Swarbrick has spotted ducks. Lately, the pond has been dry.

In spite of that, “this is our most popular location in the refuge,” she said.

Free guided bird walks on the Arivaca Cienega Trail are available at 8 a.m. Saturdays from November through April.

The trail is on the edge of Arivaca, a quaint town of about 700 people. Stop at Virginia’s Rancherita Mexican Food Wagon on Main Street for good homemade Mexican food.

The bulk of the refuge is sprawling grassland, with deer, pronghorn and other species. There are more than 330 species of birds, including orioles, tanagers, warblers and waterfowl.

And quail. You may hear the familiar call of a Gambel’s quail. You’re less likely to spot a masked bobwhite quail. A variety of problems such as genetics and drought have made restoring the species difficult, but “it’s the only place in the country that has four species of quail,” Swarbrick said. Mearns’ and scaled quail are the other two.

For obvious reasons, quail hunting is not legal at the refuge. But 90 percent of it is open to hunting for mule deer and Coues deer, javelina, dove, rabbit and waterfowl.

Dispersed camping is free, and no reservations are needed.

Mountain bikers will find lots of ground to cover, with more than 250 miles of dirt roads.

“It’s kind of a neat opportunity for people out here because there are so many roads,” Gall said.

You won’t find this in the brochure, but at the end of the day, when the wind stops blowing, the grass still leans. Quail call. Deer start to move, and the sun sets over a big aching tooth.

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