Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

(520) 823-4251
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Wildlife Refuge Specialist Joshua Smith talks about the 117,500-acre Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a spectacular bird and wildlife watching destination 60 miles south of Tucson, Arizona, on Big Blend Radio.


Located approx. 60 miles south of Tucson, the 117,500+ acres Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is a spectacular bird and wildlife watching destination that offers beautiful nature walks through riparian corridors, scenic dirt road drives through rolling grasslands frequented by pronghorn and mule deer, 200 miles of back country hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails, as well as primitive style camping under the stars.

No matter what time of year, there is always something new to experience at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. Dramatic summer monsoon rainstorms that green up the grasslands and riparian areas, fall colors that melt into crisp blue winter skies, and a vibrant array of wildflowers and native plants that bloom from spring through autumn. Bordering Mexico and offering milder winter temperatures and biodiverse habitats, the Refuge is a popular migration and breeding destination for a variety of birds. Its unique combination of semi-desert grasslands, wetlands, mountain canyons, as well as cottonwood, sycamore and live oak trees, provide habitat to over 340 bird species and a range of southwestern wildlife including pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, javalina, badgers and coatis.

The east side of the Refuge is in the small community of Arivaca. A bird watcher’s paradise, the Arivaca Cienega Trail is an easy and level 1.25-mile trail that is made up of a footpath and boardwalk that circles a rare and seasonal desert wetland, and leads you through hackberry groves and grass areas. There is a bird viewing station overlooking Willow Pond, some benches along the trail, as well as shaded picnic areas and restroom facilities at the entrance. The Tucson Audubon Society hosts free guided bird walks at the Cienega, every Saturday at 8am, from November to April.

The Arivaca Creek Trail is a 1 ¼ mile loop that leads you through cottonwoods and up to the edge of a stream, near the 1870s home of Eva Wilbur-Cruce, who is known for writing “A Beautiful Cruel Country” about growing up in the area. You can also connect to the 5-mile Mustang Trail from here, that crosses over the creek and goes uphill a ways. The tree shade and lush vegetation from the water sources make provide a good home to coatis, songbirds, woodpeckers and hawks.

Fall through spring is the time to join one of the guided hikes or educational programs at Brown Canyon. Nestled within the Baboquivari Mountains, this biodiverse canyon area is home to a beautiful sky island ecosystem that reaches up to 5,000 ft. in elevation. As part of the Refuge’s commitment to conservation and protection of habitat, Brown Canyon is only accessible by guided tours.

The Visitor Center is located at the Refuge Headquarters, in Sasabe. Open seasonally, the Center has a series of exhibits showcasing the Refuge’s ranching history, flora and fauna, and conservation efforts. There is a picnic area and restroom facilities, and you can also take a walk along the ½ mile Ranch Loop Trail. This part of the Refuge features the Altar Valley grassland habitat, as well as a small pond where you might see waterfowl, and the seasonal Aguirre Lake that has a 1 mile interpretive trail. One of the highlights is Pronghorn Drive, a 10 mile dirt road that loops around the grasslands, providing opportunity to hopefully catch a glimpse of the resident pronghorn.

Once a cattle ranch, the Refuge was purchased in 1985, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act. Today it is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, who are working to reestablish a breeding population of endangered masked bobwhite quail, while restoring the native grassland, and protecting the Refuge’s diverse habitats for native plant and wildlife as well as threatened or endangered species such as the Chiricahua leopard frog and Pima pineapple cactus.

For more information call (520) 823-4251 or visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/buenos_aires/. Keep up with the Refuge’s programs, bird and wildlife sightings on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BuenosAiresNWR



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