Las Cienegas

Our next stop after our visit to Buenos Aires NWR was at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Las Cienegas is a working cattle ranch. Cows would wander by our campsite. A few of them enjoyed Greg’s music.

April 1 – 6, 2020.

Our plan for a two-week quarantine failed. Although we thought about it several times before we left Tucson, in our hurry to go we forgot to check our propane tank. And then while we were out in the Buenos Aires NWR we cooked 3 van pizzas on the stove, unbeknownst to us, using the last of our fuel. Luckily since we made 3 pizzas we had meals for two more nights and didn’t have to leave immediately to find more propane.
The next couple of nights I rigged up a solar oven on the van’s dash and warmed the pizzas there.

We already knew we were going to have to get water before our two weeks were up but getting water from a dispenser doesn’t involve any human contact. Getting propane would. So we had a choice – go to the closest city (Green Valley) to refill our tank or go all the way back to Tucson (since we were breaking our quarantine anyway) and while we were there, pick up some packages we had waiting for us at Julie and Jason’s house. While we were deciding our other Tucson friend, Deanna, texted me a picture of the elusive Trader Joe’s falafel mix she had acquired for us. That made up our minds. Back to Tucson.

Since Green Valley was on the way, we stopped there anyway to get the propane. Tractor Supply was out. This threw me into a bit of a panic. Why wouldn’t they have propane? Are people propane hoarding? Is everyone out? What will we do without cooking fuel? Are we going to have to heat everything up on the dashboard? My panic was fairly short-lived. We hit another Tractor Supply in Tucson and they filled us up.

It was good to see our friends again although I felt uncomfortable going into their house to pick up our packages. And still no pets for the dog Pearl. We did some more grocery shopping. And met Deanna for a walk around her neighborhood and to pick up the coveted falafel mix. We planned to spend another night but then we read that Arizona was issuing a stay at home order for the next day. We didn’t want to get trapped in Tucson, feeling we could social distance better back out in the wilderness.

I texted Deanna to cancel our next day’s walk. The next morning I texted Julie when we about to go. Within minutes both Julie and Jason came out on their back door to say goodbye. With them on their porch, us in the lot, and an 8 foot corrugated fence and many 6 foot distances between us we wished each other well then took off back to the desert.

* All pics are click-to-enlarge. You can also click on them to view them in a slide show.

Map of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.
Our first campsite at Sunrise. Camping at Las Cienegas is primitive. No water or electricity. There are pit toilets but they aren’t close to the camping areas. Campsites are unmarked so you have to look for cleared areas that usually have a homemade fire ring. There is a main designated camping area that was pretty full when we arrived but luckily we found a spot.
Pronghorn with Western Meadowlark. We were hoping to see pronghorns when we were at Buenos Aires NWR but had no luck. At Las Cienegas we saw them almost every day.
Cactus fruit.
Thirty different kinds of native grasses can be found at Las Cienegas.
Northern Flicker.
The visitor center was closed but we could walk around the grounds of the historic Empire Ranch located in Las Cienegas. Established in the 1860s by Edward Nye Fish, a Tucson businessman, the ranch originally comprised 160 acres in 1876 but grew to 1 million acres over the next 20 years.
The ranch house is an adobe and wood-frame building containing 22 rooms. Normally one would be able to go into each one but everything was locked when we were there. We were able to peer into the windows, though.
View from the Stone Corral at Empire Ranch.
South Barn/Shops. The 30-foot tall windmill used to pump water. It is no longer operating.
Our favorite pond to go look for birds.
Say’s Phoebe.
American Robin.
Yellow Warbler.
Gila Woodpecker.
Chipping Sparrow.
Cottonwood trees abound in Las Cienegas. They can be dangerous because they self-prune, dropping limbs that weigh more than 1,000 pounds.
Bajada Lupine.
Western Kingbird.
Playing guitar to the sunset.
After about 4 days we decided to look for a new campsite. We had walked almost everywhere we could from our original campsite and wanted a new location to explore from. Because the camping area was full by then we were worried about losing our spot before we found a new one so we set up our tent and scouted out a new spot in the van. No worries! Once we left the main camping area we found lots of unoccupied campsites.
View from our second campsite – Pronghorn walk across a hill at sunset.
View from our new campsite. Not another rig in sight.
Desert Dandelion.
Loggerhead Shrike.
Antelope Jackrabbit. Our hikes took us down roads like this.
Sometimes we hiked in the washes (dry rivers).
And a few times we hiked cattle paths like this.
Gypsum Phacelia.
Black-throated Sparrow.
Vermilion Flycatcher.
London Rocket.
Spreading Fleabane.
Small-flowered Milkvetch.
Pronghorn from about 50′. They look like antelopes, but there are no antelope species in North America.
Mexican Bull Snake.
Blue Dicks.
White-crowned Sparrow.
Vesper Sparrow.
Sunset on Las Cienegas.

So how are you doing with social distancing? Have you been panicked about not being able buy something you need? Isn’t the Northern Flicker an amazing looking bird?

8 thoughts on “Las Cienegas

  1. Wow! Fantastic pics! I have never seen a pronghorn. So cool. I have to say the cactus fruit looks like the coronavirus. Or at least how I imagine it.
    Thanks for sharing all this cool desert wildlife with us.

  2. Blue dicks that are purple? Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Beautiful photos, as always, especially the pronghorn and snake ones – amazing to come across wildlife like that.

    So, does Greg always go for a walk with his guitar and accordion? 🙂

    I’m so happy for you guys to be able to stay and camp in the wilderness. Not much different than non-COVID days, I think. Mark and I often reminisce about our weeks out west, boondocked in a beautiful area with barely any people around. We surely miss it. Take care out there!!

    1. LOL. No Greg doesn’t walk with the guitar and accordion. That pic was taken at the campsite. He’s learning how to wear the instruments so he can play them one after the other without having to take one off and put the other on.

      The big difference for us pre-COVID is that we are staying longer in places – which isn’t such a bad thing – some of the wildlife we’ve been seeing is amazing!

      You all take care too!

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