The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
The San Pedro Riparian area is a stretch of some 40 miles (56,000 acres) along the San Pedro River, which flows north from near Cananea, Mexico to the Gila River. This riparian, or river, habitat is rare in the desert Southwest. It's a place where plants and animals thrive because of the availability of water, either at or near the surface of the soil. The river can be spotted from far off because of the band of cottonwood trees that grow densely along its shores, drawing migrating birds and other wildlife.
The river has long had an attraction for man as well. Evidence of prehistoric hunters of 11,000 years ago has been found at Lehner Mammoth Site and Murray Springs Clovis Site.
Interpretive signs mark the trail at the Murray Springs site.
Thousands of years later, Father Kino found Sobaipuri Indian villages along its shores, and in 1776 the Spanish attempted to establish the presidio of Santa Cruz de Terrenate on a hill overlooking the river. About the time that Mexico won its independence from Spain, several land grants established huge ranches such as the San Juan de Boquillas y Nogales. During brief intervals of peace with the Apache Indians, Mexican ranchers stocked the area with thousands of cattle, whose wild progeny startled later travelers such as the Mormon Battalion which crossed the San Pedro River in 1846 on its way to California to take part in the Mexican-American War.
But it was the discovery of silver at Tombstone that caused the most activity along the formerly peaceful San Pedro, as stamping mills clanked iron hammers along its shores and robbers lay in wait for trains and coaches carrying valuables to and from the mines. The railroad tracks along the San Pedro River to Fairbank connected the mining areas to the Southern Pacific railroad's east-west main line at Benson. Tracks were later extended to Naco on the Mexican border. Today the towns are gone, the stamp mills are heaps of rubble, and the land is quiet again, a riparian conservation area offering bird-watchers, hikers and other nature lovers a chance to enjoy the beauty of the river and ponder its eventful past. The Indian villages that Father Kino saw, the Spanish presidio where settlers desperately fought off Apache attacks, and the mill towns that flourished on the riverbanks are now only memories, but the lure of the San Pedro remains, drawing hikers, birders and nature lovers from many parts of the world to taste its treasures.
San Pedro River Trail Complex
All areas of the SPRNCA are free to visitors. Visitor information is available at San Pedro House along Hwy 90 or call the Sierra Vista Convention & Visitors Bureau (800) 288-3861, (520) 458-6940 to receive a free Birding Guide.
San Pedro House Books and Gifts