South of Tucson is a wildlife refuge that is also a working cattle ranch. There are a ton of camping spots, but you kinda have to know where they are. Initially we started looking around, and couldn’t find any decent spots. I had to practice turning around on single lane dirt paths as we ran out of road. This was not ideal. So we found a small campground and dropped the trailer there so we could check out spots and come grab the trailer if we found a better one. I thought we had already found the best spot. I was wrong.
A little ways north of the Empire Ranch historical site is a little offshoot to the left. This dirt road winds back to a couple camp sites, and then there is a cross road. We turned right, and there was a massive oak tree. We knew this was the spot. My sweetie hopped out to save the spot from any would be spot snaggers. I hauled tail back to the spot I unloaded the trailer, and jerked it back to the new spot. There are a couple spots where the trailer touched the bed of the truck, but I made it in, and the spot was worth it.
After getting the trailer all set up, we set out to explore the rest of the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. It really is a working ranch with real cattle wandering about. It’s free range and they simply wander about all day munching on the vegetation. We traveled down the road and came across even more campsites that would be phenomenal to set up in. There are several places where you could easily pull off and camp, though some spots seemed to be a little tough to stuff the RV in.
The views though, were spectacular. You could really get a sense for why people would move out west and risk everything. You can see for miles. The rolling hills unfold in front of you and go on forever. After checking out a few more sites, we headed off to see the other camp sites we saw on the map. Unfortunately the sun started setting and we wouldn’t be able to see the spots we were going to look at. Though with a sunset as gorgeous as we witnessed, it’s hard to call it too much of a shame. We turned around and headed back to the RV, and made dinner.
The next morning we awoke to a bit of rain… leaking onto the bed. Apparently when I replaced the vent the prior week I didn’t seal it up properly. And it let me know by dripping water on us. I didn’t want to sleep too late anyway. While I made breakfast, Aida tried to capture a picture of a pretty bird that had found our camp site. She really couldn’t get a great picture of him, but at least she caught him. resting on a branch. It’s a Vermilion Flycatcher. Apparently people from all around come to see this bird. We’ve seen several on our trips(or maybe it’s one that follows us around everywhere). He was there with a female, so it’s possible they had a nest nearby.
After breakfast, we went off for a drive to check out the other sites. While many were pretty good, the best sites were down the road we were on. We ran across a ranger who was kind enough to give us a map which helped us realize I passed one of the areas with camping the prior day. Don’t get me wrong though they are all gorgeous sites. I just think the ones known as the oak camp sites are that much better. On our way back we checked out the group site, and a pronghorn antelope was standing in the field. So I didn’t feel the drive was wasted.
We stopped by the old Empire Ranch headquarters. It’s a self guided tour and there’s actually a whole lot to see. What amazes me is something my wonderful woman pointed out. Despite there being nobody watching, and no cameras(that I saw), and nothing to prevent you from taking things, everything is still on shelves and counters. It’s pretty nice to see that once in a while. Wandering through the house we got to see the bits that got added over the years. and how the ranch house evolved into what it was.
While there I learned an important lesson. Cottonwood trees are not a good choice for shade trees. Apparently they are “self pruning” and will drop their branches during heavy wind. These branches can weigh up to and above a thousand pounds. Consequently there is no camping by the creek here. Well there’s no camping anywhere on the Empire Ranch Headquarters land, but now that I know I will make sure to avoid parking my RV under a cottonwood tree. She’s tough, but a thousand pounds dropping on the roof could do some serious damage.
We left the Empire Ranch HQ and headed down the road to the final camp site, and learned that the roads were pretty slick. The back end of the truck started to kick around a bit, and I was feelin her trying to come around on me. The rain had turned the dirt road into a muddy mess. Of course, there was that little kid in me that really enjoyed it. It’s that little kid that loved to play in the mud and didn’t care that he messed up his school clothes… Bigger kid, with a bigger toy to play in the mud with now. Locked it in 4 high and ran with it. I ain’t gonna lie, I was havin fun.
Las Cienegas means marshes, and while it seems odd for a desert, this area is spring fed marsh. We drove along the road and never could find the campground, but did see where the wetland was. It’s always fun to see a contrast of the desert with a marsh.
We returned to the RV to grab some food, and we finally got a good picture of the vermilion flycatcher that had been at the camp site the entire time. It was about time too. We stayed around the camp site until it was time to pack up. After getting everything ready, I decided to make smoothies for the ride home rather than go with some heavy meal. It’s much better than being loaded down the whole way back.
We have lots more pictures here