Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sky Islands of Arizona

     Tucson is the northern limits of an amazing group of ecological zones known in Arizona as Sky Islands.  They are unique in both their geology and their flora and fauna.  A tremendous organization that supports these wonderful biomes is the Sky Island Alliance.  Here is a link -

The 4 photos that are at the end of this story belong to members of the Sky Island Alliance as follows;

Photo #1 – Map of region by Louise Miszta
Photo #2 – by AJ. Schneller
Photo #3 – by Walt Anderson
Photo #4 – by Sergio Avila

We thank them for allowing us to use their photos.

     Visiting an island archipelago is something most folks associate with an ocean cruise, but in Arizona such an archipelago visit is also possible with a road trip to the Madrean Sky Island Archipelago of southeastern Arizona.   
    Sky Islands are mountain ranges that have become isolated from each other by vast valleys of grasslands or deserts that act as natural barriers, just like seawater, to the movement of plant and animal species. Here over the eons of geological time in southeastern Arizona the valley floors have sunk resulting in sky island mountain peaks rising to over 10,000 feet in elevation above the desert floor.
    The Madrean Sky Island Archipelago is a region of over 70,000 square miles that is the biological meeting point of two great mountain ranges – the Rocky Mountains of the north and the Sierra Madre Mountains of the south.  Here in this rugged southeast corner of Arizona and northern Mexico is found over half the bird species of the North America, 29 bat species, 104 species of mammals and 3,000+ species of plants. Arizona’s Madrean Sky Islands are the most biologically diverse communities found in the United States.
     There are 27 Madrean Sky Islands found in the United States most of which are found in this southeastern corner of Arizona.  Such unique and rugged sky island ranges as the Baboquivari, the Huachuca, the Chiricahua, the Tumacacori, the Dragoon, the Whetstone along with the Santa Rita and Santa Catalina Mountains all offer limitless opportunities for hiking, camping, horseback riding and photography.
     The many hotels of Tucson provide a great base-camp for day outings into over a half dozen of the sky island mountain ranges found around the Tucson area.  Willcox, Arizona becomes the ideal place to stay while enjoying the driving or hiking trails found among the incredible balance rock formations of the Chiricahuas.   Sierra Vista becomes a perfect home away from home while seeking to photograph the many variety hummingbirds that over-winter in the Huachuca’s Ramsey Canyon.  A four-day road trip from Tucson to Willcox to Douglas to Sierra Vista and back to Tucson will allow visitors the opportunity to explore and enjoy the many small towns and natural beauty found in this sky island region.  
     The Madrean Sky Islands are located within the boundaries of the Coronado National Forest.  The regional headquarters of the national forest found in Tucson, Safford, Douglas, Sierra Vista and Nogales all provide updated information for recreational opportunities and events.
Conservation groups, such as the Sky Island Alliance, offer the chance to learn more about sky islands through classroom and field hands-on workshops.  The Sky Island Alliance also seeks and trains volunteers who are interested in assisting in the conservation and preservation of these fragile Arizona biological wonderlands. 
     If you are looking for a great road trip, why not get out and take that drive to a memorable land known as the Madrean Sky Island Archipelago?  You will discover a part of Arizona that is historic, fun and ruggedly beautiful.

The Sky Islands of southern Arizona and northern Mexico.

The Chiricahuas Mountains

Looking from the summit of Mt. Graham

Sacred Baboquivari Peak

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