Sabino Canyon incises the Santa Catalina Mountains at the northeast edge of Tucson, Arizona. Protected within a National Recreation Area, this refuge harbors a spectacular diversity of plants and animals, all of which typify the Sonoran Desert of North America.
If one avoids the central roadway, with its throngs of visitors and guided shuttle tours, he/she can experience the beauty and serenity of this spectacular ecosystem, with its diverse cacti, broad views and appealing mix of birdlife. Fortunately, a number of well marked trails lead away from the congested areas and a two hour hike took us through the heart of the refuge. Ocotillo, prickly pear and barrel cacti were beginning to bloom and we encountered a wide diversity of desert birds; the latter included cactus wrens, phainopeplas, broad-billed hummingbirds, Gambel's quail, Gila woodpeckers, verdins, green-tailed towhees, black-throated sparrows and plain titmice, among many others.
One can certainly find more pristine, uncrowded locations across the vast Sonoran Desert but easy access, maintained trails, a visitor center, restrooms and the aforementioned shuttle appeal to mainstream nature lovers. While I can understand the need for such visitor-friendly preserves, I was taken aback by the tire-shreaders in the exit lane, something I had never encountered in the numerous National, State and regional nature preserves that I have had the pleasure to visit. In my experience, nature-lovers are not the type to sneak in without paying the entry fee; rather, they are generally glad to support the maintenance and protection of these threatened ecosystems.