In late summer of 2012, we discovered a Southwest Garden of Eden, only a 2-hour drive east from Tucson, AZ – the last 30 miles over unpaved road. It’s Muleshoe Ranch Preserve, one of the best areas for Southern Arizona bird watching.
Scouting somewhat remote, but accessible Things To See & Do in Southern Arizona is one of our many joys. On a pleasantly warm mid-September Sunday, we left the comforts of our home in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains and headed for the wilds of Muleshoe Ranch Preserve north of Benson. On the way back, we stopped at Gammons Gulch, a Hollywood western movie set built by Jay Gammon. Most interesting!Read More
Muleshoe is one of the 4 Nature Conservancy’s preserves in Southern Arizona. The other 3 are Aravaipa Canyon, Ramsey Canyon, and Sonoita-Patagonia Preserves. All are designated major birding hotspots … and for very good reason. As we got near, Ms. Karen sighted (a) 4 raptors; (b) a dozen different LBJ’s – aka, little brown jobs; and (c) 3 seriously interesting feathered creatures she could not ID, even with her field guide. All without binoculars, which she forgot to bring.
Honestly, any one of these beautiful wild places could be the original Garden of Eden. And tons of gratitude to the Nature Conservancy for ensuring that our children and grandchildren will be able to experience natural Arizona as it was before human overpopulation began its destruction.
The Social Life of Rattlesnakes
Arriving at the visitors center, we met Jeff Smith who, as caretaker, lives in the Preserve. Melissa Amarello is there too, working on her thesis about the social behavior of rattlesnakes. Some people have all the fun.
I am reasonably certain that rattlesnakes have some social life. After all, they do mate. And to mate successfully, one must have a modicum of social skills.
I also know that when I remove rattlers from our yard, via a 6-foot-long snake-grabber, the only behavior they exhibit is hostility.
To learn more about their research, check out their blog, SnakeResearch.Wordpress.com.
Lodging & Hot Tubs at Muleshoe Ranch Preserve
Two features set Muleshoe apart from most preserves. First, you can stay overnight in one of their 4 apartments comfortably furnished in Southwestern décor, each bordering on a grassy courtyard. Or, if you crave isolation, you can stay in the Stone House located near the beginning of the nature trail.
And second, as an overnight guest, you have access to the hot tubs just down the path along the stream.
These tubs are continuously fed fresh water from a natural hot spring. Ms. Karen guessed the water temperature to be 102-103: just right. What a luxury it would be to spend the day in search of the many rare birds that live here or pause here on their migration, then soak in a hot tub beneath the starry sky before turning in for the night.
Of the apartment interiors we saw, our choice would be the one named Cypress. Why? Big windows.
Plenty of opportunities for picnics here too. Muleshoe Ranch quickly became one of our favorite picnic areas. But you do have to bring your own groceries. This is no B&B. A stay-over at Muleshoe is definitely on our To Do List.
Note: you can bring your horse, but not your dog.
You can access Muleshoe Ranch Preserve from two directions. Either from the Interstate at Willcox or Benson. Both departure points have their advantages.
Coming from Tucson, it was shorter to get off the Interstate at Pomerene (Exit 306) just past Benson. We took the road north to Cascabel about 16 miles, then turned east (right) onto Three-Links Road, which is unpaved. From here it was 15 miles to where it connects with Muleshoe Road. Then a hard left onto Muleshoe Road for another 14 unpaved miles to the visitor center. In all, about 30 miles on decent unpaved road across Southern Arizona’s ruggedly beautiful high desert. In all, it took us about 2 hours to go from Downtown Tucson to Muleshoe Ranch.
Willcox & Wine or Gammons Gulch
The advantage of going this way is Cascabel Road takes you right by Gammons Gulch, a re-created Western town still used as a movie set. The Gulch is a labor of love by Jay & Joanne Gammons, both of whom we met. Jay gives a very entertaining tour of the place, peppered with stories about the many movie stars he has worked with over the decades.
You can also access Three-Links Road just north of Willcox, then follow it west to Muleshoe Road. The advantage of going through Willcox is wine. There are several vineyards nearby.
In Old Town Willcox on Railroad Road across from the park is a wine tasting room for Keeling Schaefer Vineyards in a beautifully restored old commercial building. The interior space doubles as a fine art gallery.
Two miles east of Willcox, just off the Interstate, is Coronado Vineyards. Here they have a tasting room and a restaurant. We have not eaten here, but we have tasted six of their wines, three of which we particularly liked and bought a case. Take note that the restaurant at Coronado Vineyards only serves dinners starting at 5 PM. However, their tasting room offers a bar menu starting at 9:30 AM.
If you go to Muleshoe Ranch Preserve, please say “Hi” to Jeff & Melissa for us. And check out SouthernArizonaGuide.comfor more excellent local adventures like this one.