Where We Work
The Cienega Watershed is situated in southeastern Arizona, just outside of Tucson, and is the basin bounded by the Whetstone Mountains to the east, the Santa Rita Mountains to the west, the Rincon Mountains to the north (near the small town of Vail, AZ), and the Canelo Hills to the south (near the small towns of Sonoita and Elgin, AZ). Ciénega Creek is the riparian ribbon at the heart of this watershed.
The upper elevations of the watershed include forested lands managed by the Coronado National Forest. Lower elevations comprise a high desert basin of oak-studded hills and rolling grasslands given lifeblood by the lush riparian corridor along Cienega Creek.
The Cienega Watershed is rich in diversity of species and habitats. This high biodiversity of this region is due to the confluence of Grassland, Temperate Deciduous Forest, and Desert biomes. In addition the region contains a blend of tropical and temperate species, with influences from the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre Occidental. The Cienega Watershed is part of the “Sky Islands” complex, a region of international importance because of its outstanding biological diversity.
Overall the Cienega Watershed has played a significant role in the cultural history of the region and continues to form an important wildlife corridor connecting the Sonoran desert/grassland regions of the Southwest and northern Mexico.
The Cienega Corridor
The Cienega Corridor (outlined in yellow) is defined as the area linking Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest-Rincon Wilderness to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area to the south. It includes most of the Sonoita Valley Acquisition Planning District. Most of this area is State land, with some Pima County lands along the Cienega Creek. Privately held land is concentrated around the town of Vail, AZ.
The Sonoita Valley
The Sonoita Valley (outlined in red), located just 50 miles southeast of Tucson, is the name used by local residents for the rolling grasslands around the communities of Sonoita and Elgin including the upper watersheds of Cienega Creek, Sonoita Creek, and the Babocomari River. A significant portion of this area is designated as Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. As a whole, the Sonoita Valley is a mosaic of Federal, State, and private land ownership and has traditionally supported ranching and mining. More recently, the area has seen a surge in growth by people who desire a rural lifestyle. New economic pursuits focused on tourism and wineries have also contributed to local growth.