Cienegas National Conservation Area

After departing Kartchner Caverns we moved a short distance to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, a huge grassland dotted with Honey Mesquite. We enjoyed boondocking next to my sister and brother-in-law for a couple of days until they headed to Yuma to meet their daughter to give her some sanctuary from the New England weather which we plan on doing with one of our own daughters soon.PSX_20180207_121811

We continued to hike the grass lands for a few days, occasionally seeing Pronghorn Antelope.

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These antelope are the second fastest critters on the planet being able to reach speeds of 60 mph and sustain it much longer than the highly revered Cheetah. In a five mile race, the Pronghorn would win.

After our camping buddies left we moved a short ways to an even more remote spot and spent several more days hiking the area, then we decided to explore the Cienegas even further. So we jumped in the truck and headed for a look at Empire Ranch about 5 miles by dirt road from where we are camped. When we were almost there we encountered a huge stand of very large cottonwood trees with a pull out near one end of it. So we parked and explored.

Cottonwood Tree Stump
After a fire, a few of the trees were cut down.

This stump was near the parking area and I put my binoculars and water bottle on it for scale – big tree, especially after being in nothing but Mesquite and grass for several days! An interesting fact about these trees is that they are “self pruning” and can randomly shed half ton branches so they’re not good to camp or rest under-especially during windy weather.

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A Lush Stand of Watercress Along Empire Gulch

This area, known as Empire Gulch, has water flowing through it, making it quite unlike the surrounding desert, very hospitable for birds and other critters.  We heard a few woodpeckers PSX_20180207_122324but were unable to see them in trees such as this.

Tree Stand in Cottonwood
One of 3 tree stands we saw on our walk

It was obvious that people who live here enjoy these woods.

Empire Ranch
When we finally got to the ranch (walking through the Cottonwood stand) it was closed for rehab, but will be open later in the spring-definitely looks worth a visit!

Another advantage of this area is the night skies. There is a light dome from Tuscon on the NW horizon, but other than that the skies are dark and the view is unrestricted. In the pre-dawn hours on January 31st Lin dragged herself out of a nice warm bed to watch a total Lunar eclipse.

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Low-tech Photo of the Total Lunar Eclipse Using an Android Droid Mini on a Gorilla Mount.

…and on Tuesday evening about 7:30 at night we both observed a rocket launch (likely from Vandenburg AFB in California). Neither if us had ever seen a rocket launch before, and seeing the massive illuminated vapor “bloom” from the booster was spectacular. Just another one of the many amazing sights you can see when you’re looking for nowhere.

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