The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Self-Guided Nature Trail

Dedicated: April 14, 1990

Welcome to The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve

The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve and Cooperative Management Area consists of nearly 55,000 acres in the rugged and spectacular Galiuro Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Long known by a few for the wild and austere beauty and diversity of these vast natural lands, the Ranch was acquired by The Nature Conservancy in 1982. An incredible array of threatened, rare, or endangered species and natural communities are protected in the preserve and Cooperative Management Area.

The Muleshoe contains a mosaic (!!!) of public and private lands administered by The Nature Conservancy through a Cooperative Management Agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The spirit of cooperation has strengthened the capabilities of being active stewards of these vital natural areas.

Within the Muleshoe is found most of the watershed area for seven perennial or permanently flowing streams. The combined several miles of flowing water represent some of the best remaining aquatic habitat in Arizona. The streams protect rare examples of native fish communities, with populations of the threatened Gila chub (Gila intermedia) found in Bass and Redfield Canyons. With the serious decline of the vast majority of native fish species, the conservation of these native fish communities is a primary goal of the Muleshoe Ranch Preserve.

A number of other rare and unique species are found in the ecologically diverse southern Galiuro Mountains. The riparian or streamside forests found growing along the streams are a brilliant, lush green as compared to the austere desert uplands. The cottonwood, sycamore, ash, walnut, and several willows compose a mixed woodland in the canyons adjacent to the streams. The size and structure of these communities varies with the geologic conditions of each watershed.

In Hot Springs Canyon the riparian forests vary tremendously depending upon water availability. Some 85% of the regions wildlife species depend upon these streamside communities at some time in their lives. A significant number are totally dependent upon it. The vast majority of our threatened or endangered species in Arizona are members of a riparian community.

The importance of this area to early settlers is seen in the numerous ranches and homesteads that dotted the area in the last 150 years. They were also critically dependent upon the riparian communities for their survival in a rigorous landscape.

Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Nature Trail Guidelines

This Muleshoe Ranch Preserve self-guided Nature Trail Guide is designed to correspond with habitat symbols on posts along the trail. Enjoy the walk!

Desert Uplands

The low hills and uplands adjacent to the Hot Springs drainage support a unique desert community with species typical of either the Sonoran or Chihuahuan desert region found growing among one another. These two deserts meet in the Muleshoe region. Barrel cactus, ocotillos, and prickly pear, common much of the Sonoran desert can be found growing with the infamous "shin-dagger," or Schott's agave, a species common in the Chihuahuan desert.

All of these species demonstrate strategies for surviving the hot and dry environments of the rocky upland areas. Efficient utilization of water through unique storage cells, reduced leaf area, and short active growing seasons, has provided for a great diversity of desert plants.

Several desert animals can be observed in this area. Both the Gila monster and the Desert tortoise reach their eastern distributional limits on the western portion of the Muleshoe. The Desert tortoise has become increasingly rare throughout most of its range in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. The Gila monster is one of only two venomous lizards in the world; yet, there has never been an accidental bite. If left alone, they are essentially harmless.

In the same vein, there are several rattlesnake species at the Muleshoe. The most likely to be seen on the nature trail are the Black-tailed rattlesnake, Arizona black rattlesnake, and the Western diamondback rattlesnake. All they ask of us is to pay attention to what we are doing. If you observe one, simply walk around it - giving it plenty of room - and leave it alone. They are very important predators upon a number of small mammals including packrats (Neotoma spp.), cotton rats and kangaroo rats.

Javelina or collared peccaries, can be observed throughout the Muleshoe, but are particularly fond of prickly pear cactus and the tender heart of the Schott's agave.


A tremendous diversity of birds can be seen at the Muleshoe Ranch Preserve. Associated with the mesquite/hackberry forests are Cooper's hawks, Gray hawks, Lucy's warblers, Verdins, Black-tailed gnatcatchers, and Arizona Bell's vireos are often found nesting or foraging in mesquite or hackberry trees.

The riparian or streamside forests of Fremont Cottonwood and Gooddings willow as you see along Hot Springs, provides for an incredible diversity of birds. Nesting records from this type of habitat show that more species of birds nest in the cottonwood-willow community than in any other vegetative type in North America.

Several unique and increasingly rare subtropical birds can be seen in this area. These would include Zone-tailed, Gray and Black hawks which nest in the tall trees. These are examples of "obligate" species, those that are entirely dependent upon these riparian forests. The Yellow warbler, Summer tanager, Vermilion flycatcher and Northern beardless tyrannulet are also seen here.

Common ravens nest in the rocky cliffs adjacent to Hot Springs, and Peregrine falcons nest on the cliffs in the upper watersheds of Bass and Double R canyons. Peregrines can be seen in the skies over the nature trail.

A tremendous diversity of birds exist at the Muleshoe Ranch Preserve. The range of habitat types protected at the Muleshoe embrace a cross-section of the birds of Arizona. From Spotted owls in the higher elevations to the varied bunting on the shrubby slopes around HQ, expect the unexpected at the Muleshoe. Please report any unusual sightings to the Muleshoe staff.

Mesquite/Hackberry Woodland

The terraces above the current, active floodplain represent the remnants of former floodplain levels. They support rich and diverse woodlands of tall Velvet mesquite and Canyon hackberry trees. The mesquite has the rougher, stringy bark and the hackberry, the smoother, gray bark.

When found together, these tall mesquites form a closed canopy woodland or bosque (a Spanish term for woodland or forest). In openings where it is sunny, graythorn and wolfberry, among a variety of shrubs, may form dense thickets. Mesquite bosques are the fourth rarest plant community type of the 104 identified in the United States.

Mesquite/hackberry woodlands develop on these terraces as these level benches are removed from the influences of the stream. Mesquite trees can send roots over 75 feet down to reach water. they will often be found in drier areas of the riparian habitat. The occasional old cottonwood, ash or walnut tree tells of high water tables and stream processes and influences of the past.

Mesquite trees are members of the legume family. They produce very edible beans rich in protein, sugars and carbohydrates. It is one of the most important food resources available. The other favorite food of javelina are mesquite beans which will fall to the ground during the late summer and fall. Coyotes and packrats live off mesquite beans much of the time. Native Americans used, and still do use, mesquite beans for a variety of food products.

Packrat middens, or the large piles of sticks and other debris gathered up by the industrious packrat can be seen scattered throughout these woodlands. They are active mainly at night, and are constantly collecting seeds, odd objects and anything else that catches their interest. Called "our first curators" by those who have unraveled the secrets of a few ancient middens found in southern Arizona, they have taught us much about the evolution of the vegetative communities of southern Arizona.


The dense, marshy vegetation on the terrace above the wash bed is thriving because of a series of hot springs in this side canyon. A unique wetland community has formed at the base of the steep drainage. Deer are commomly seen in this area feeding on the lush grass.

This area was the site of the Post Office that was built in the canyon in 1890. There were numerous people living in the canyon at that time- for a brief time it turned out to be. But the springs undoubtedly contributed to the initial success.

Springs higher up in these hills provide water for the Desert bighorn sheep that dwell in this area. The bighorn herd in the southern part of the Muleshoe were re-introduced after being held for a time in the Bland pasture.

You can also see the high welded wire fence that crosses this area. It fences in what we call the Bland pasture, where an experimental herd of african antelope were kept for a short time. They did poorly on the available food resources and were not maintaining adequate nutrition, so they were moved elsewhere.

The Nature Conservancy has established several vegetation monitoring plots throughout the Bland pasture. We plan to conduct several small prescribed fires to gauge the effects of fire on the vegetation at different intensities and seasons. Several areas on the preserve, we feel, were once more dominated by grasses instead of the more shrub-dominated uplands we see today. We feel that fire may have been one of the forces that kept the shrubs from "invading" the grassland areas. This is but one facet of our stewardship or longterm biological management plans for the Muleshoe Ranch Preserve.

Stream Channel

As you enter the stream channel of Hot Springs, the dominent shrub is seep willow. It is found along all of the Muleshoe streams and helps to maintain the channel from excessive erosion as well as shelter young plants - especially cottonwood and willow seedlings - during flood episodes.

The evidence of past floods is quite apparent. Piles of debris composed of logs and branches and leaves provide habitat for a diversity of lizards and insects. Flooding is very important in the process of regeneration of the riparian tree species. It prepares sandbars and banks for the germination of seeds. Flooding also helps to recharge groundwater and recycle nutrients in the riparian system.

A number of the larger mammals such as mountain lion, black bear, coatimundi and javelina will forage in this area as well as use the stream channel as a corridor for traveling from one area to another. Look for their tracks along the trail.

Although Hot Springs in the vicinity of the Nature trail does not have the permanent flow of water necessary for the fish downstream, where it does begin to flow, several of the five native fish species in the Muleshoe stream can be found.

Native fish are by far the most threatened group of animals in Arizona. The loss of habitat and the introduction of exotic species has led to alarming declines. Of the 32 native species that lived in Arizona waters, one is extinct and four are gone form Arizona. Of the remaining 27, 21 are either threatened or endangered or are under review for possible listing as threatened or endangered.

The Nature Conservancy in Arizona has dedicated a significant effort on behalf of these native fish. The Muleshoe Ranch preserve contains some of the best remaining streams supporting only native fish species. The globally threatened Gila chub, a pool-loving species, is found in several streams on the Muleshoe.

Mesquite/Hackberry Woodland

These grassy woodlands are a favored browsing area for mule and white-tail deer. The large mesquite and hackberry trees form a more open woodland with better visibility of approaching predators.

The Canyon hackberry is also a very important tree species. It produces a berry that is a favored food of coatimundis, foxes, and a number of smaller mammals. The coatimundi, or coati, is a unique mammal found in this region. It is a relative of the raccoon and often travels in groups or troops. Commonly seen in trees, they are expert climbers through the canopy. Curious and comical, the coati is a delight to observe.

The berries provide food for a host of birds such as the phainopepla. In good years when berry production is quite high, the berries will provide critical winter food for bluebirds, waxwings and robins.

A number of vines can be seen in this woodland. Canyon grape, passion flower, and clematis vines droop from the trees, forming dense pockets of vegetation.

Another conspicuous plant found in this area is the cane cholla. The flowers are a bright magenta and are visited by native solitary bees, and "joints" or segments of the cactus can be seen in packrat middens.

Broadleaf or Deciduous Trees

The riparian forests along the Muleshoe streams are composed of several species of broadleaf deciduous trees. The Fremont cottonwood and the Goodding's willow are dominent along this stretch of Hot Springs with a number of large Velvet ash trees as well. The cottonwood-willow riparian woodland community is the rarest forest type in North America. And yet, as we saw earlier, it supports and extraordinary diversity of breeding birds and other kinds of animals.

This community, as do all riparian communities, depends on water to sustain its moisture dependent plant and animal species. The Muleshoe is one of the best-watered areas in southern Arizona with a large number of springs with perennial or permanent flow. We are working with the BLM and USFS to protect these vital water resources. The ability to manage the watersheds of several of these streams for the riparian resources - the rare communities and species - is one of the great opportunities and conservation goals of the Muleshoe Ranch Preserve.

Along Bass and Redfield canyons are found the mixed broadleaf deciduous forests composed of sycamore, alder, walnut, ash, Bonpland willow and occasional cottonwood. Some 75% of Arizona's wildlife depends upon these communities at some critical point in their life-cycles.

These lush, and rich forests provide immense relief from the rigors of the hot and rocky uplands. One can think of these riparian forests as sub-tropical forests, and a large number of the obligate bird species are sub-tropical such as the Zonetail, Gray and Black hawks. their fate depends upon the successful protection of these sub-tropical habitats - both here and in their wintering grounds in Mexico.


Hot Springs Creek, which headwaters in the Winchester Mountains to the east, flows northwesterly through the Preserve in the southern tip of the Galiuros. In northwestern Cochise County, about a mile to the north, the creek swings westerly through Hot Springs Canyon, and the southwesterly into the San Pedro River at Cascabel.

All rocks visible in the hills and cliffs in view from the Ranch Headquarters are volcanics that are less than 65 million years old and overlie much older rocks, some of which are exposed to the north, and on the east side of this part of the range. Younger (recent) rocks border the Hot Springs Creek bottom. These are both recent (0 - 10 million years - perhaps) debris eroded from the older rocks (volcanics and older debris), partly indurated (compacted) through the action of water-bourne minerals such as silica and gypsum. The water collected by Hot Springs Creek is constantly rearranging these recent gravels and either expose or cover portions of the older Galiuro volcanics in the Muleshoe area.

Outpourings of the different ages of volcanics has been intermittent and interlayered with gravels and conglomerates eroded from the earlier volcanics and probably even older sediments. These older interlayered gravels and conglomerates are very similar to those being deposited today by Hot Springs Creek. We are witnessing currently a probably very short interval following uplift of the older rocks being eroded and eventually to be followed by additional vulcanism.

Buried volcanics are thought to be furnishing the heat that converts percolating surface water to the hot water now issuing from Hooker Hot Springs. A fault under the Muleshoe very likely is acting as a conduit for the spring water and continues downward far enough to penetrate and be heated by the earlier volcanics.

The "Gila Conglomerate" found in the northern portion of the Galiuro Mountains and farther north in the Globe-Superior mining areas, may be represented by some of the similar-appearing conglomerates seen in the southern Galiuros. It is not known that that such a correlation has been made.

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is an international membership organization committed to the global preservation of natural diversity. Its mission is to find, protect, and maintain the Earth's rare species and natural communities by preserving the lands they need to survive.

To date the Conservancy and its over half million members have been responsible for the protection of over 5.7 million acres in 50 states and Canada. It has helped like-minded partner organizations to preserve millions of acres in Latin America and the Caribbean. While some Conservancy-acquired areas are transferred for management to other conservation groups, the Conservancy owns and manages some 1100 preserves - the largest private system of nature sanctuaries in the world.

The Conservancy uses a pragmatic three-step approach to conservation:

  1. Scientific identification of the nation's rarest and most threatened natural areas.
  2. Protection of carefully selected sites, usually through acquisition by direct purchase or receipt of land donations.
  3. Stewardship (long-term biological management) of those lands by a small staff and over 6,000 dedicated volunteers.
The Conservancy's vital work is funded entirely by the private sector, through donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. It is estimated The Nature Conservancy alone is now responsible for over half of all critical habitat acquisition in the United States, including both private and public sectors.

Won't you join us? Membership begins at $15 per year. If you are already a member, would you consider a donation to the Muleshoe Ranch Preserve to assist in the on-going operations and management of this vast and rich natural area?

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