Altar Valley Wildlife Habitat, Arizona

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14452A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Work with environmentalists from around the country to improve Southwestern desert habitats
  • Explore, hike, or just observe the majesty of the Baboquivari Peak surroundings
  • Read, relax, and enjoy the comforts of our beautiful lodge nestled into Brown Canyon


  • All tools and equipment related to our service project
  • All meals and snacks
  • Comfortable lodging with hot showers, soft beds, and a cozy fireplace


DatesMar 2–8, 2014
StaffGordon Olson

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Sacred Baboquivari Peak stands guard over Altar Valley, an impressive expanse of grasses, woodlands, and mesquite groves that encompass over 118,000 acres of what today remains Arizona’s largest ungrazed grassland. Altar Valley, located in southwest Arizona, was once home to vast herds of pronghorn, wolves, bear, and the elusive jaguar, as well as numerous bird species, until human encroachment disturbed the delicate, balanced ecosystem in the mid-19th century.

The Project

In 1985, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service purchased most of this vast region and created the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) with a mission to reestablish a breeding population of the endangered masked bobwhite quail and to restore ecological balance to the Altar Valley for other important flora and fauna. Our Sierra Club Service trip will work with BANWR staff to help with projects that recreate critical habitat essential to a healthy regeneration of this magnificent landscape. Past projects have included removing fencing and abandoned homestead debris, and repairing irrigation systems, but there may be other tasks that require our attention. Budget and staff cuts have impacted regularly scheduled maintenance duties in the refuge, so our volunteer assistance will be a positive contribution on any assigned project.


We will be housed in a beautiful and rustic lodge nestled into Brown Canyon within easy distance to our worksites -- yet it's private, quiet, and secluded. Our group will meet on the afternoon of day one at the BANWR Visitor’s Center for introductions and orientation prior to establishing our home base in Brown Canyon a short distance away. Our work projects will keep us busy on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesday is designated as a day for participants to explore and enjoy as they please. Saturday morning will involve cleaning our lodge and sharing a final breakfast together. A detailed itinerary for the week and information regarding recommended clothing and equipment will be provided to approved participants prior to the service trip.



Getting There

Approved participants are responsible for getting to the BANWR Visitor Center, located approximately 55 miles southwest of Tucson. The Sierra Club advocates carpooling to this location by encouraging phone and/or email communication among approved participants.

Accommodations and Food

The Brown Canyon Environmental Education Center is a two-story lodge that includes a large kitchen, dining area, reading room, and fireplace lounge on the main floor. The second floor consists of six comfortable bedrooms -- each with patios and decks looking toward the Baboquivari Mountains. If you are looking for a service experience that includes moderate work, good food and company, hot showers, and a great place to rest and kick back, then this is your golden opportunity!

Towels, comfortable beds, blankets, and pillows are furnished. To conserve water, participants are required to bring a light sleeping bag or their own bag liner to minimize washing of linens by BANWR staff upon our departure.

Meals included on the trip begin with Sunday evening dinner on the first day and conclude with a shared breakfast the following Saturday. Reasonable requests for special diets should be written on your application forms when applying for this trip. We will all be expected to help with kitchen responsibilities on a rotating basis throughout the week.

Trip Difficulty

Working at altitudes of 3-4,000 feet in warm, dry, desert conditions makes this a moderately strenuous trip. Participants will be urged to hydrate often, take frequent breaks, and work at their individual comfort levels throughout the week. If you are in reasonably good physical condition, you will have no problem with any of the tasks we will be assisting BANWR staff with during our service experience. Each volunteer must have a current tetanus shot prior to the trip departure date.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed list of recommended gear will be sent to approved participants. Basics will include a day pack to carry water, leather work gloves, sunscreen, raingear, simple first-aid needs, and a plastic container for your lunch and snacks for the day. Desert temps can vary significantly from hour to hour, so dressing in layers that can be added or easily removed usually works best. Work clothing and boots should be broken in, worn, comfortable, and protect the wearer from plants that want to jump out and stick to you…which includes about 98% of desert plants!



  • Brown, David and Neil Carmony, Aldo Leoplod’s Southwest.
  • Larson, Lane and Peggy, The Deserts of the Southwest: A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide.



We will be working closely with the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge staff to improve, protect, and conserve the ecological balance of this unique Southwestern environment.

The plants and wildlife of the desert grasslands feature a fascinating array of fine-tuned adaptations for survival. Livestock grazing, fire suppression, and human demands on water supplies have altered the ecological balance of the Southwestern grasslands. Recent crossings by illegal immigrants have reached over 1,000 per day during winter months, causing further habitat damage by foot traffic and trash left behind. Law enforcement practices create additional pressures on already fragile desert and grassland ecosystems. Concerned volunteers, like us, who partner with conservation agencies in land stewardship, help ensure this legacy of wildlands will continue for future generations.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



From the heights of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the expanses of Patagonia or Antarctica, Gordy Olson has visited all seven of the world's continents and enjoys sharing work and travel experiences with enthusiastic Sierra Club Service Volunteers.


For two decades Phyllis Singleton's Dutch ovens and ranch-style cooking have fed volunteers on service trips in the National Parks and Monuments of Utah, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico. Phyllis has seen a lot of the same country from the back of her horse. As a breeder and member of the American Paint Horse Association, there is very little she does not know about bloodlines and horseflesh. Living on a ranch means that as often as possible eggs from her chickens and grass-fed, free range beef will be part of our menus.

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