Santa Rita Mountains
By Robert Stieve
Elegant trogons are rare. In fact, Sasquatch has probably been spotted more often than the trogon, a colorful bird that migrates from Mexico to Madera Canyon in the spring. For bird-watchers in Arizona, the elegant trogon is the Holy Grail. It’s related to the quetzal, and if you see one, consider yourself lucky. If you don’t, don’t worry. Your trip to Madera Canyon and the surrounding Mount Wrightson Wilderness Area won’t be without reward. That’s because this is one of the most beautiful places in the Southwest.
In addition to the elegant trogon — and 199 other species of birds — the area is home to black bears, mountain lions, deer, coatimundis, coyotes, bubbling springs, green grasses, big trees and panoramic views. There are hiking trails, too, including the Bog Springs/Kent Springs Loop, which offers a quick and easy introduction to the area.
The trail begins in the Bog Springs Campground at site No. 13. The parking area, however, is located around the corner at the upper end of the campground. It’s a short walk from one point to the other. From the trailhead, you’ll follow an old road lined with yuccas and junipers for about 20 minutes to the intersection of the two trails. Bog Springs goes left; Kent Springs goes right. You can go either way, but you’ll be happier going clockwise. Not because of the Coriolis effect, but because the Kent Springs Trail is steep in places, and you might prefer doing that section as a downhill, rather than as an uphill. It’s up to you.
Veering left, the Bog Springs Trail follows a shallow basin cut into the western slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains. A forest of silverleaf oaks and ponderosa pines shades the trail as it meanders between springs sheltered by gnarled Arizona sycamores. After about 40 minutes, you’ll come to a second intersection with the Kent Springs Trail, which heads right. To the left is a short spur (0.1 miles) to Bog Springs. Before continuing the loop, head to the springs, where communities of moisture-loving plants cluster around the reliable water source, including Arizona bamboo, Arizona walnuts and colorful clumps of wildflowers. It’s a nice diversion, and a great place to stop for a snack. Also, if you happen to have a Yorkiepoo in tow, it’s an opportunity for man’s best friend to get something to drink.
From Bog Springs, head back to the nearby intersection with the Kent Springs Trail and continue the loop. As you head southward you’ll climb gradually, with a few switchbacks thrown in. In all, you’ll gain about 800 feet, and along the way the trees will open up from time to time, offering great views of Mount Wrightson and Madera Canyon. On clear days, the panoramas stretch all the way to Kitt Peak Observatory.
After another half-hour or so, you’ll come to Kent Springs, which is the highest point on the hike and another great place to refuel. When you’re ready to leave, don’t be confused by the trail that continues uphill. Instead, take the Kent Springs Trail, which drops sharply to the right and follows an old jeep road that winds around to the trailhead. Heading back, if you’re lucky, you’ll see water running in the adjacent streambed. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll see an elegant trogon. But don’t hold your breath. Your chances of seeing Sasquatch are probably better.
Photo: A view of Mount Hopkins and the gnarled trunks of Arizona sycamores add interest to the verdant landscape along the Bog Springs/Kent Springs Loop. | Randy Prentice
Length: 5 miles round-trip
Elevation: 4,820 to 6,620 feet
Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 19 south to the Continental Road/Madera Canyon exit (Exit 63). Go east and follow the signs to Madera Canyon Recreation Area and the Bog Springs Campground. Turn left into the campground and drive around the loop to the trailhead.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Dogs Allowed: Yes (on a leash)
USGS Map: Mount Wrightson
Information: Nogales Ranger District, 520-281-2296 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado