Now that Arizona temperatures have begun their climb, road trippers already may be planning destinations to the higher elevations. At 4633 feet, Sierra Vista offers visitors many outdoor recreation activities without the harsh Valley heat. Arizona travelers can enjoy both sun and shade at a cool park at the San Pedro River – at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and San Pedro House.
This long strip of 57,000 acres along the San Pedro River, maintained by Bureau of Land Management, surrounds one of the largest cottonwood/willow canopies in Arizona. In February, I spent the best part of one Saturday afternoon strolling along the river on a short nature walk – a self-guided tour of the San Pedro House trails. As I started out along the path, I immediately realized why birders flock to this area. While red-winged blackbirds congregated around the cottonwoods, red-tailed hawks soared above the nearby grasslands. According to the trail map/brochure provided at the entrance about 350 species that either nest here or use it as a migratory stopover.
The visitor’s center at the entrance is the San Pedro House, a one-time ranch manager’s house built by the Boquillas Land and Cattle Co. during the 1930s. Inside is a shop full of local history books, nature guides, maps and gifts. The store clerk, a volunteer member of the Friends of the San Pedro River, will answer questions about the park and the history of the area. It’s fascinating to learn how the area is being restored to its natural state after years of crop farming and cattle grazing. Trees along the river were cut down during the mining era to provide fuel for area smelters.
As I walked along the river after a day of heavy winter rains, I’m surprised the water level isn’t higher. Recent dry conditions have soaked up the rain water like a sponge. After taking a closer look at the banks, it’s easy to see where significant flood event flows have creased the brush and snapped the branches.
I’d recommend visiting San Pedro House and walking its nature trails to all. It’s a nice quiet picnic spot or rest area away from the busy traffic of the city. Take time to walk the easy path down to the river. Enjoy the cool shade of the cottonwoods. Don’t forget your camera!