Mount Wrightson, Madera Canyon


By: Pat Acheson


Mt Wrightson (elev. 9453) is the highest peak in southeastern Arizona and is part of the Santa Rita Mountain Range. Beautiful Madera Canyon lies right at its foot both less than an hour's drive from Tucson. The mountains of southeastern Arizona are strange ranges - they're really isolated islands surrounded by lowland desert This give, each range its own unique mix of bird species. We were looking forward not only to the climb of Mt Wrightson but to the wonderful birding opportunities along the way and in the canyon itself.

On Saturday, Aug 31st, Dean end I along with Bob, Suzanna and Mattie Henry from Yuma and two canine climbers (our dog Dozer and their dog Chula) arrived at Madera Canyon and found a beautiful campsite at Bog Springs campground, which is located inside the canyon itself. Although Tucson had been vary hot, it was wonderfully cool in the canyon. It's usually cool here as the campground itself is at 4000 ft.

We spent the afternoon visiting the famous Santa Rita Lodge in the heart of the canyon where we saw 5-6 different varieties of humming birds and hiked the cool and comfortable trails of the canyon.

Early Sunday morning after a hearty breakfast we started up the Mt Wrightson trail. It was a beautiful day, a pleasant climb with many bird sightings along the way. I might add here that due to its unique location there are many Mexican birds found here, including the colorful Elegant Trogon.

We arrived at Josephine Saddle half way to the top in a couple of hours and had a cool drink at the springs there. That's when we noticed the black, rolling thunderclouds collecting around the peak of Mt Wrightson. Although it was bright and sunny where we were, the weather can change on Mt. Wrightson in a moment! So when Bob suggested we turn around and start back we readily agreed - Dean and I having climbed the peak come years before and actually encountered a sleet storm on top and such difficulty getting back down. On this very spot in the 1950s a troop of boy scouts lost their lives when caught in freak weather on Mt. Wrightson. A large monument in their honor is easily seen at the saddle.

When we reached our cars it was already becoming overcast, but we struck out for the Sonoita/Patagonia Wildlife Sanctuary as an alternative to the Mt Wrightson climb. This 312 acre sanctuary is operated by thee Nature Conservancy and runs for 1-1/2 miles along the Sonoita Creek almost to this Mexican border. The drive from Mt Wrightson to the sanctuary is beautiful through roiling hills and takes only about 44 minutes. We spent a couple of hours hiking the sanctuary where birders from all over the world come.

We then returned to our campsite and dinner and then the promised rain hit. The next morning was sparkling and fresh, and after an early morning hike to see the beautiful grey breasted jays one more time we took off for home.

His place is truly a paradise.

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