Wildflower Wonderland in Buenos Aires NWR


A ‘Love Your Parks Tour’ Garden Story by Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid, assigned by fine art nature photographer Margot Carrera! Plus, a Big Blend Video and Big Blend Radio interview with Wildlife Refuge Specialist Joshua Smith.  

On Big Blend Radio, Wildlife Refuge Specialist Joshua Smith provides an overview of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and discusses its wonderful wildflower season that runs from early spring until the end of fall. 

Our first visit to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge was over ten years ago during a media trip to Santa Cruz County, which is about 45 minutes south of Tucson, Arizona. The Refuge was not on the itinerary but we heard about it from a couple of birders at the Bed & Breakfast we were staying at, and from their high praises of this biodiverse land, we decided a visit was in order. Thank goodness we did as it has been a favorite nature retreat for us ever since. If you love watching birds and wildlife, taking wildflower and nature walks, or back country hiking, camping, mountain biking or horse riding, this is a place for you.

Encompassing over 117,500+ acres, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is made up of semi-desert grasslands, wetlands, creeks and mountain canyons, as well as cottonwood, sycamore and live oak trees. This unique combination of landscape provides habitat to over 340 bird species and a range of southwestern wildlife including pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, javalina, badgers and coatis.

There’s an experience for every season with dramatic summer monsoon storms 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. Winter’s occasional rains encourage a spring wildflower bloom, and right now, it’s looking promising.

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.

Showing off in a beautiful blend of colors ranging in shades of pink, purple, blue, yellow, orange, red and white, the variety of wildflowers are spectacular. A pollinator paradise, the flowers teem with all kinds of butterflies and beneficial insects.

Spring heralds the flowering of desert mariposa lilies, fiddlenecks, deervetch, primrose, bluedicks, verbena and all kinds of poppies. Late spring and summer beckons the bloom of all kinds of cactus such as cholla, barrel, prickly pear, apple and hedgehog, along with ocotillo, agave century plants, yucca, yerba mansa, velvetpod mimosa and prairie acacia. Of course, many of the flower species like trailing windmills, fairydusters, buckwheat, amaranth, devil’s claw, rouge plant, morning glories, clustervine, low rattlebox, thimblehead, nightshade, datura, senna, fleabane and asters, show their colors in multiple seasons. You definitely don’t want to miss the showstopping late summer and fall sunflower bloom at the Arivaca Cienega, where one can literally walk through a magical hallway of sunny blossoms fluttering with birds and butterflies. Another highlight is the brilliant desertbroom bloom of ‘flower snow’ in fall and winter.

If you want to experience some true flower power, take a drive out to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The Arivaca Cienega Trail is an easy and level 1.25-mile trail that circles a rare and seasonal desert wetland, and takes you through hackberry groves and grass areas. The Arivaca Creek Trail is a 1 ¼ mile loop that leads you through cottonwoods and up to the edge of a stream.

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. 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.

For more on the refuge including its guided bird walks and seasonal hikes, visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/buenos_aires/ or follow them at https://www.facebook.com/BuenosAiresNWR.  


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