One of my favorite parks in the greater Tucson area of Arizona is Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Regional Park, located at 12325 E. Roger Road. It is a Pima County park with a unique history and diverse, surprising habitats full of wildlife.
The park is not accessible by public transportation, but I’ve been fortunate enough to visit on several occasions, courtesy of friends who also enjoy the place. The Tucson chapter of the National Audubon Society operates a small nature store there, and there is a visitor center with an art gallery, too. The Rose Cottage serves as a classroom for nature programs and environmental education. Always open are the restrooms and outdoor picnic tables (with grills) on a large lawn studded with palm and eucalyptus trees.
The main feature of the park is a series of three ponds, linked by an artificial stream fed by a natural warm spring. The scarcity of permanent water elsewhere has made this a Mecca for people, and the human history of the park goes back over 5,000 years, including a Hohokam village, circa 1150 AD, that extended into the property now included in the park. A cattle ranch and orchard sprung up around the spring in 1875. Some historical buildings have been preserved and interpreted in the park, including a bunkhouse from the 1920s, when various owners ran ranches and resort spas at the site, touting the health benefits of the mineral-rich waters. The 101 acre park as it is known today opened in January, 1985, after a donation of $200,000 by local businessman Roy P. Drachman allowed for purchase of the property by the County.
Wildlife benefits from protection here, too, and birdwatchers flock to see such winged wonders as the green heron (shown above) and fledgling great horned owls.
A network of well-groomed trails meanders through a mesquite bosque and other Sonoran Desert habitats. There are interpretive signs and benches along several stretches of the trails, and all the paths are relatively short and easily walked.
Be on the lookout for herps and mammals underfoot. Reptiles such as this horned lizard (Phrynosoma sp.) are quite cryptic, and hard to spot until they move. Stand quietly along the shore of the main pond and you might be surprised by a Botta’s Pocket Gopher, Thomomys bottae, poking its head above ground.
The emergent vegetation in the ponds themselves provides perches for a wide variety of damselflies, and dragonflies like the Red Saddlebags, Tramea onusta, shown at the bottom of this page.
The park’s official website is here, and an outstanding photographic portrait of the park is presented here by Dan Conway. I highly recommend making a point of seeing the place for yourself, though, next time you are in Tucson.