Santa Cruz River Walk


Submitted by Diana Holmes, Pima County Certified Master Naturalist, Cohort 2:  Nov 2018

Curious to learn more about the ambitious vision by a collaboration of partners to restore flow to the Santa Cruz River and its tributaries in Tucson, I recently participated in a river walk sponsored by the Watershed Management Group (WMG) River Run Network. We met at Paseo De Las Iglesias Park (Silverlake Road and Cottonwood Lane) and walked in the river bed south to Julian Wash and back. The walk was led by Joaquin Murrieta, WMG’s cultural historian/ecologist.

As a kid in the 1950’s, I can remember the river before it was transformed into a soil-cemented barren channel which typically only flows during storm events. People have thrived along this river bank for thousands of years, and the area is known as the oldest continuously cultivated agricultural area in the U.S. The word Tucson comes from the O’odham word S-cuk Son, literally meaning “at the base of the black mountain.” In 1691, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino made the first of about 40 expeditions into Arizona following along the Santa Cruz River, and Juan Bautista de Anza traveled near the west bank of the river on his 1775-1776 trek to establish San Francisco.

Riparian Ecosystems:  In the western United States, riparian ecosystems occur on less than two percent of the total land area. In the arid southwest, riparian ecosystems are now designated as critically endangered. Originally comprising only one percent of the landscape historically, over 95 percent of that riparian habitat has been lost in Arizona.

The Paseo de las Iglesias Environment Restoration Feasibility Study:  The study by the US Army Corps of Engineers and Pima County, completed in 2005, evaluated ecosystem restoration, flood control improvements, and river park development along a seven-mile reach of the Santa Cruz River upstream from Congress Street. Planning objectives included increasing riparian wildlife habitat acreage and diversity, providing erosion protection where necessary, and providing passive recreation opportunities. The project was completed in mid-2015 and included gabion bank protection, rip rap and terracing. The river park features five miles of pathways and interpretive signage throughout the site.

This summer, WMG staff crafted their 50-year internal strategic plan for the River Run Network.  They state: “The typical three-year strategic plan won’t cut it; so we’re defining goals, strategies and metrics for 5, 10, 25, and 50-year timelines. Intermediary goals and measurable metrics will ensure we reach our long-term goal of restoring Tucson’s heritage of flowing rivers.”

Walking in the riverbed among healthy thickets of young mesquite, native grasses, arrow weed and wolfberry, and with a red tail hawk soaring over head, I was encouraged that a flowing Santa Cruz River would one day be a reality.




US Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement; Pima County Restoration Feasibility Study re Paseo de las Iglesias Park, July 2005

USDA Forest Service, Threats to Western US Riparian Ecosystems, Gen. Tech. Report, 2012

Watershed Management Group Action Bulletin, Nov 2018



Tucson Wildlife Center, Field Trip 10/20/18

Tucson Wildlife Center
Advanced Training
October 2018

If you have ever come across an injured animal on the road, or a baby animal with no mother in sight, you know the range of emotions and questions that flood through your head! Thankfully we have the Tucson Wildlife Center here to help us navigate these problems, and to help us decide how or even if we should intervene. This impressive 5103C nonprofit organization is celebrating a 20 year history of caring for wildlife received from 8 Arizona counties! Its annual operating budget is $500,000, raised from grants, donations and an annual fundraiser gala.

To learn more, 14 Master Naturalists toured the facility on October 20, led by Suzanne Benedict and Lou Rae Whitehead. The 5 acre facility receives 20,000 phone calls a year, takes in more than 3,400 animals treated by 2 full time vets, staff and volunteers. We were privileged to a behind the scenes tour which included indoor and outdoor holding areas, 3 huge flight cages, and a well-equipped hospital with an ICU and surgical suite.

Animal caretakers exercise great care not to imprint wildlife on humans. Handlers hide in ghillie suites while feeding baby animals, and use shift doors that let the animal in or outdoors without a person in view. Imprinted, or tame animals cannot be released. Some animals that have arrived at the center, unfortunately tamed by well-meaning citizens, are used as education animals and surrogates. We met Wilbur, the 13 year old bobcat and center mascot. His fellow bobcat companions, Rubie and Bisbee, serve as excellent surrogate parents to bobcat kittens brought in, teaching them natural bobcat behaviors and reducing the need for human contact. Young coyotes and javelinas also benefit from surrogate resident animals.

The center takes in almost all species except deer, bears, mountain lions, dogs, cats and rattlesnakes. Gila monsters and non-venomous snakes are accepted. Their busiest season is April through September and they are always in need of volunteers to assist with animal care, public education, and school and scout tours. The center’s wish list includes paper towels, white sheets and towels, unscented kitty litter, chicken thighs, Dawn dish liquid, baggies and trash bags, copier paper, fruits, vegetables, and turkey or banana baby food.

What can you do to help wildlife in your own backyard? Keep bird baths and feeders clean, empty hummingbird feeders that have black mold, or cloudy nectar; put baby birds back up in the nest or create an artificial nest with drainage holes for rain. Keep pet cats indoors at all times, trim hedges in the fall, not spring; don’t use glue traps; turn outdoor ceiling fans off at night to protect bats and don’t interfere with any wildlife without calling the center for advice first!

Learn more at or by calling 520-290-WILD (9453) which answers 24/7. Master Naturalists attending were Barbara Gaynor, Cameron Becker, Carrie Barcom, Deb Huie, Don Featherstone, Jane Davenport, Jean Boris, Julie Hallbach, Mack Consigney, Marilyn Liss, Penny Miller, Sharon Overstreet and Franklin Lane.

Our featured image has Master Naturalist, Carrie Barcom, dressed in one of TWC’s  camouflage ghillie suit!

Cooking with Tepary Beans


Tepary beans (Phaeseolus acutifolius) grow wild in the deserts of the the Southwest. They are the most drought tolerant annual legume in the world and are capable of producing a harvest with only 1 or 2 rainfalls. They have been wild harvested, as well as cultivated for domestication for millennia.

Nutritionally, they are superior to more common beans. They are 23 to 30% higher in protein than kidney, pinto and navy beans. They are high in fiber, which makes them slow to digest, which makes them an excellent food, especially for those with diabetes.

Here is a warm winter recipe that is full of YUM!


1 lb. dried brown tepary beans, rinsed
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp oil
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
2 carrots, sliced into coins
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cumin
1 10 oz can mild tomatoes and green chiles
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1-2 cups fresh pumpkin, as above
1/2 cup cut up greens (carrot tops, celery leaves, purslane, kale, spinach, etc)
salt and pepper to taste

1-Cook the beans until tender (soak overnight, or boil, or use instant pot pressure cooker)
2-Remove 1/2 cup beans with a little cooking liquid (save for thickening the stew later)
3-Saute onion and garlic in oil
4-Add rest of ingredients and simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked
5-To thicken stew, add the (blended till smooth)reserved liquid and the 1/2 cup beans

Enjoy with a crusty slice of Sonoran White Wheat Bread

Elegant Trogan Bird Survey Experience

On the weekend of June 2-3rd I took part in my first ever bird survey with the Tucson Audubon Society.  Our survey was for the annual count of Elegant Trogans located in the Cave Creek area of the Chiricahua mountains in southeastern AZ.  Other surveys for Elegant Trogans were also taking place in the Huachuca’s, Madera Canyon, and Patagonia Lake.

I headed to the Huachuca’s solo and opted to take the scenic route over FS road 42 via Pinery Canyon, over Onion pass and down to Cave Creek.  The views of the Dragoons, Dos Cabezas and Chiracahuas from this dirt road were amazing. Approaching Cave Creek from this direction was stunning and provided breathtaking views of the south east flank of the Chiracahuas.

Feeling intimated as a novice birdwatcher, I met up with 12 other very experienced birders taking part in the survey Saturday afternoon at the Portal ranger station.  My initial fears about being inexperienced were allayed as the director patiently went over the protocol for documenting when, where and how frequently we see and or hear elegant trogans.  After listening to recordings of three different types of calls elegant trogans make and describing traditional habitat trogans prefer, our territories were assigned to us.  My territory was the South fork of Cave creek 4 miles up canyon by the rock formation called “the Nose”.  Did I mention this area is nicknamed the Yosemite of Arizona?  Very aptly named!

After our meeting was completed I set up camp at the Sunny Flat campground and had a stunning view of the sun setting on Cathedral rock.  Cave Creek area is also a “dark sky compliant” area which means stargazing was phenomenal!

Our survey started at 6:00 am Sunday morning and I was “late” to the trailhead and last one arriving at 5:30am.  Within the first 2 miles hiking in I heard 2 elegant trogan males calling in the canyon.  Arriving at my territory after hiking in 4 miles (and spending the next 2 hours there) I heard one more male trogan.  Unf., I wasn’t able to spot him but nonetheless it was very cool tracking him by sound as he flew up and down thru my territory.

Fortunately, on my way hiking out and with the help of another volunteer I saw my first elegant trogan!!  It was a male and was extremely exciting seeing one live in their natural habitat.  All told the early results of our survey counted @ 5 males and 2 pairs of trogans dwelling in South fork.  One other birder counted 32 different species of birds in her territory (there have been 375 avian species recorded here!).

The South fork of Cave Creek is a lovely shady riparian corridor at a higher elevation with many Arizona Sycamores and maple trees.  Water was plentiful higher up the canyon and a few small poolsDSC_0162r1remained lower down.  “The Bathtub” also had water in it and during monsoons it is a favorite watering hole for animals and people alike.

Overall, I had an excellent bird watching experience in Cave Creek.  The Chiracahuas are a magical place, have a fascinating history and are an incredibly biodiverse region.  I will definitely be back for more bird watching and exploring! By Deb Huie, Certified Pima MN, Cohort 1.

Here is a link with more of Deb’s photos from the trip.

PCMN Sonoita, Grasslands Field trip 4/22/18

IMG_4824Cohort (1) Carol Anderson, Don Featherstone, Julie Hallbach, Hank Verbais, Deb Huie, Franklin Lane. Cohort (2) Gael Cassidy, Mack Consigny

Presenter: Jim Koweek

At this final, coordinated, Advance Training opportunity for the Spring of 2018, Pima County Master Naturalists met at the General Store in Sonoita, Arizona. We caravanned from there about 20 miles south down Hwy 83 to the Lyle Canyon turn off. At the bottom of the hill we met our Grasslands Guide; Scientist/cowboy/author/range specialist/western singer, Jim Koweek!

For the next couple of hours we learned about the incredible biodiversity of this high elevation (+5,000’) grassland biome. The dirt road through the canyon is initially on private property but it is a legal easement to a section of the Coronado National Forest. We made several stops (get out, get back in!) as Jim spotted plants or a particular soil type from his truck.

At out final stop we hiked up a small hill that stood out prominently on the terrain. With some amazing views we discussed grassland ecology, history of ranching in the area and the impact of invasives.

Jim explained about the importation of African grasses to the area in the 1920s-30s as part of an effort to combat the devastation of severe drought conditions in Southern Arizona around that time. He has concluded that it takes about (40) years to really understand the effect an introduced species has on a native population. Therefore, many of those early decision makers never really lived to see the end result. When an invasive out competes a native species there is a cascading effect on other plants, animals and insects.

Everyone agreed that the experience was incredibly worthwhile and should be considered for part of the required curriculum for future PCMN cohorts.
“Grasslands are full of indicator species….a fascinating history of farming and development.” – Julie H.

Submitted by Franklin Lane, Certified Pima MN, Cohort 1. All Photos and the following partial list of plants encountered provided by Deborah Huie, Certified Pima MN Cohort 1.

List of Grasses Identified:

• Blue grama
• Side out grama
• Green sprangle top
• Seep willow
• AZ sycamore
• AZ ash
• Loco weed
• Border pinon pine
• White oak
• Alligator juniper
• Bull muhly
• Pinon rice grass
• Trailing flea bane
• Plains love grass
• Sacaton
• Three ons
• Canyon grapes
• AZ walnut

• Hairy grama
• Cochise lovegrass
• Creeping snake herb – dichereti
• Evolvulus arizonicus (blue eyed)
• Gumphrina
• Manzanita
• Spruce top grama
• Yellow disoida thymophyla
• Yerba de psomo
• Vevlvet pod mimosa
• Native flax – lineum pruberum
• Curly mesquite grass
• Rose heath
• Cliff rose
• Range spreading magenta rattney
• Mouse ears
• Louts (vetch)
• Milkweed
• Rubber rabbit bush

The Glorious Monsoon 2018

white lightning heating mountain
Photo by Pixabay on

Each year, about this time, those of us who have lived in southern Arizona start to look for totals of rainfall and to see if the numbers match up to what we have actually measured in our back yard. Or we have at least noticed about the fullness of water barrels placed strategically to harvest every bit of rain that falls.

Triggered by a tropical storm that came through our area and saturated much of Tucson, this year’s monsoon seemed to get off to a good start. However, going forward, patterns were less fulfilling with the afternoon clouds arriving but releasing little water, before moving on. In spite of the wonderful sunsets created by those clouds (which at least once appeared to be lit from above and sending shafts of bright light to the ground), the desired thunderstorms were mild during much of June and July.

Following the driest Spring ever (as recorded by KVOA news) and a severe drought condition over the Four Corners area of the state, the full-on storms held off until August. Some dazzling lightning bolts were recorded by AZ Daily Star photographers over the Santa Rita Mts forming a large loop and again near the downtown area where spectacularly long, vertical stabs were caught on film. After brief sprinkles rainbows appeared amidst the beautiful cloud formations.

On August 22 heavy rains and wind whipped the Menlo Park area on the west side of Tucson and caused flooding of surface streets in the northwest around Thornydale and Overton. Hail and the uprooting of trees by Cortaro Farms Road and Camino de Oeste also occurred. On August 24th lightening delayed a football game at Tucson Magnate H.S and caused a rescheduling of the same at Cholla HS. While these seem significant one friend called this a ‘baby monsoon’ with low frequency of downpours and high intensity of the few we’ve had.

KVOA had predicted an above average season total of inches of rainfall due to the drought in the Four Corners and temperature of sea surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico and on Mexico’s west coast. In order for us to be out of danger of drought it was thought that 12 inches were needed. As of 9/10/2018 there have been only 6.26 inches recorded officially at Tucson International Airport leaving the rest to fall hopefully before the season concludes at the end of the month. By Barbara Rose Gaynor, Cohort 2 Intern

Get Involved in Citizen Science with the USA National Phenology Network

The USA National Phenology Network ( is a national consortium of volunteer observers and many partners, including research scientists, resource managers, educators, and policy makers. The USA-NPN was established in 2007 to collect, store and share data and information about the life cycle events of plants and animals, or phenology. The primary way the data come into the National Phenology Database is through Nature’s Notebook, a plant and animal observation program. Many Master Naturalists are involved in programs run by the USA-NPN to collect data about Sonoran desert flora and fauna. Several Master Naturalists are also Certified Local Phenology Leaders who organize groups of volunteers to collect data for a special purpose. Visit to find out how to can get involved!
— Posted by Erin Posthumus, Certified Master Naturalist, Cohort 1group by sahuaro

White Water Reserve Field Trip

On January 11, 2018 eleven Pima County, Master Naturalists from cohorts (1) and (2) joined, noted humorist and part time ornithologist, Jeff Babson on a visit to the Sulphur Springs Valley to observe and appreciate Sandhill Cranes.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is east of Tucson and extends from Wilcox to Douglas, Arizona. The cranes start showing up as early as September and may extend their winter vacation into March. The best time to appreciate them, however, is between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.

Jeff explained that there are several subspecies of Sandhills that visit the Wilcox Valley.  One group is known as the Rocky Mountain population and come down from nesting areas in Idaho, Wyoming and Southern Canada. The other, Mid-Continent population, is from Northern Canada, Alaska and as far away as Siberia. Between 25,000 and 35,000 birds visit Southern Arizona each winter.

The cranes are grayish, with black feet and legs. They have a very distinctive red patch on their foreheads.  Most of the ones we observed appeared to be about 4 feet tall and were VERY noisy, especially in flight! We observed flocks returning from feeding, in fallow fields of corn and alfalfa, of several hundred birds but also loners and couples.  It was interesting to speculate on the dynamics going on. There were also many young among the cranes at the White Water Reserve, making their first visit to Arizona with their parents. Next year they’ll be on their own.

In addition to the Sandhill Cranes there were dozens of other bird species, both native and visitor, that Jeff was able to identify for us.  A partial list, compiled by Deborah H., follows. The trip was rewarding and fun so we’ll probably try and arrange it again next February. Thanks to Pete Pfeiffer for the great photos.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.

— Izaak Walton

hiking up trail