sights in southern arizona las cienegas national conservation area

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Down a stretch of highway not too far from Tucson’s streets with scenery more reminiscent of the Flint Hills in Kansas than what most expect to find in southern Arizona, there are 42,000 acres of natural grassland set aside for our enjoyment.

Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area is near the quiet ranching town of Sonoita, Arizona, and within its borders, there is a nearly 200-year-old working cattle ranch.

Set against a backdrop of stunning mountain ranges and vineyards, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at Las Ciénegas.

highway 83 pulloff
A scenic pull off along highway 83 in southern Arizona

One can encounter several bird species, javelina, coyote, pronghorn, prairie dogs, and many more animal symbols of the old west.

The Sonoran pronghorn is an endangered species that inhabits Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and the surrounding region. Scientists estimate their numbers to be roughly 150 individuals in the United States and 250 in Mexico.

Las Ciénegas is remote enough that the only thing you can hear while visiting is the breeze through the grass and chirping birds, but it’s also a convenient distance to Tucson and nearby Sonoita.

Dry camping is permitted, as are hiking, off-roading, and horseback riding. Las Ciénegas is free to access, but it connects to State Trust Land.

State Trust Land are areas managed by the Land Department that require an inexpensive permit for access. Once you have a permit, you’re free to be on the land for camping, birdwatching, hiking, and much more.

If you don’t have a State Trust Land permit, be mindful of little white signs that designate where State Trust Land areas begin.

grazing cattle
Cattle of Empire Ranch Grazing at Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area

Something that always surprises people about southern Arizona is that we have all four seasons. With the perennial flow of Ciénega Creek, deciduous trees and many species of wildflowers make their home at Las Cienegas.

That’s right! You can experience green grasses, autumn colors, spring flowers, and winter snow in the desert.

Along with interesting wildlife, beautiful scenery, and fun activities for every interest, Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area is far enough away from city lights that if you’re there for an evening, you’ll see more stars than you probably realized existed.

I go back and forth on if I want to share the beautiful wonders of my home with people who don’t know they exist. Will they appreciate it or trash it? If I make them known, will the wild and remote places I love succumb to crowds and traffic?

Then I think about how bleak and boring my life would be if I hadn’t been lucky enough to discover them myself, and my desire to share wins out.

If you’re a nature lover, an off-highway vehicle enthusiast, or need a quiet and beautiful place to get away for a while, I can’t give Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area enough of a recommendation.

JEEP FUN ON ARIZONA BLM LAND: Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

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