Audubon Research Ranch Service, Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, Arizona

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14450A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Learn about Arizona’s high-desert grasslands
  • Enjoy the foothills of southeastern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains
  • Visit Arizona’s wine country, Kartchner Caverns, or Ramsey Canyon


  • Dormitory housing, with linens, blankets, pillows, and towels
  • All meals, from dinner on the first day to breakfast on the last day
  • All tools and supplies, and instruction on tool safety


DatesFeb 23–Mar 1, 2014
StaffCharles Schulz

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Established in 1968 by the Appleton family, the Appleton-Whittell Audubon Research Ranch is set in a vast swath of semi-desert grassland in the foothills of southeastern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains. The 8,000-acre ranch is a cooperative partnership among the National Audubon Society, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Appleton family, and the Research Ranch Foundation. The goal of the ranch is to maintain the biological diversity of plant and animal species in the grasslands, oak savannah, and oak woodlands within its boundaries.

The surrounding area is no less fascinating. The histories of nearby towns -- Patagonia, Sonoita, and Elgin, Arizona -- are as colorful as their sunsets. Over the past 500 years, American Indians, Spaniards, Mexicans, ranchers, miners, and Jesuit priests have all inhabited this land. Today, the ghost towns of Harshaw, Mowry, Washington Camp, and Duquesne bear witness to the boom days of yesteryear. Cattle ranches, though no longer the vast spreads of the early days, remain a vital part of the economy and culture here. Fourth- and fifth-generation ranchers and miners still live in the area, as do newcomers such as artists and retirees. Wineries have sprung up around the area, making it the wine center of Arizona. Residents have restored historic buildings, and many are in use today.

The Project

Arizona is a "fence-out" state, and we will, where needed, work to make boundary fences wildlife-friendly and to repair damaged fences. Other projects may include creating erosion controls along drainages and roadways, and transplanting native plants. Our projects will provide opportunities for people with a range of physical capabilities and varying interests. No skills or experience are required. The ranch will provide all tools, supplies, and equipment, as well as instruction on tool safety.


All participants and staff will meet on day one at 1 p.m. MST (remember that Arizona does not use daylight savings time) at the Audubon Research Ranch headquarters, 14 miles from Sonoita, Arizona. We will work four days and have one day off to relax and/or explore the surrounding area. Nearby are the historic areas such as Bisbee, Ft. Huachuca, or Tombstone, Arizona, as well as natural areas like Ramsey Canyon and Kartchner Caverns.



Getting There

Participants are responsible for getting to the meeting point. Sonoita is 48 miles (approximately one hour) southeast of Tucson, Arizona, and about three hours from Phoenix. Driving directions will be provided to registered trip members. As soon as a list of participants is available, the leader will forward copies to all trip members to facilitate their transportation planning. Carpooling is encouraged and appreciated, as parking at the ranch is limited. Please e-mail any questions or concerns you may have to the leader; please do not contact the Audubon Research Ranch.

Accommodations and Food

The ranch has dormitory housing. Linens, blankets, pillows, and towels will be provided. Each participant will provide his or her own personal toiletries. A telephone is available for phone card use.

Meals will be provided from dinner on the first day to breakfast on the last day. Meal preparation will be directed by staff and assisted by trip participants. All participants can plan on one day of helping with cooking and cleanup. If you have dietary restrictions or special needs, please inform the leader well in advance. We will pack up our lunch each morning and ride or hike to our work site, where we will also eat lunch.

Trip Difficulty

Participants should be in good shape and be prepared for lots of work and fun. Each participant will work at his/her own pace and rest when necessary. The need to accomplish a goal does not preclude our doing it safely and in an orderly manner. We will be working up to eight hours per day at altitudes of 4,500-5,100 feet.

Those who haven't seen a doctor in the past five years should visit their physician, and, after a discussion with this brochure in hand, obtain his or her signature on the medical questionnaire. Most minor medical conditions should be no impediment to having a full and enjoyable experience. A current Tetanus shot is required.

Equipment and Clothing

Trip members are expected to furnish their own day pack -- comparable to a student’s bookbag, not a fanny pack. The Ranch will provide work tools. Bring and expect to carry at least three one-liter/quart water containers, and your own supply of moleskin and bandages, sunscreen, insect repellent, and lip balm. Bring clothes and boots that are comfortable. Remember, this is not a fashion show -- bring clothes that are broken-in (but not worn out) and that can be easily layered for warmth and removed as the day's temperature increases. March temperatures in this area can range from 30 degrees at night to 75 degrees in the mid-afternoon. While we hope for warm, clear days, rain can sweep in. The only special item you must bring is a good pair of gloves. Gloves, like boots, serve best when broken-in early. Bedding will be provided for you.

Please avoid the temptation to be casual about necessary items -- come prepared. Because the Ranch is located in a remote area, once we have settled in, it will not be convenient to drive anywhere for necessities. Elgin and Sonoita are small towns with limited amenities.



  • USGS quadrangle: "O'Donnell Canyon"


  • Bock, Carl E. and Jane E. Bock, The View from Bald Mountain: Thirty years in an Arizona Grassland.
  • Lowe, Charles H., Arizona's Natural Environment.
  • Elmore, Francis H., Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest.
  • Leake, Dorothy Vandyke, Desert and Mountain Plants of the Southwest.
  • Peterson, Roger Tory, Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds.
  • Hait, Pam, Day Trips from Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff.
  • Casey, Robert, Journey to the High Southwest, A Traveler's Guide.



One of the goals of the Research Ranch is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems. In particular, the refuge's work focuses on grasslands that have changed over time from the introduction of exotic plants and overgrazing by thousands of cattle. The ranch also concentrates on birds and other area wildlife. Arizona is a "fence-out" state, and fences are needed to keep the range cattle out of the refuge, but at the same time the barbed wire must be replaced with smooth top and bottom wires. This wildlife-friendly fencing helps to ensure the safe movement of wildlife from one area to the next while keeping the range cattle out of the refuge.

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.



Charlie Schulz has lived in the Southwest for more than 40 years and has hiked extensively in Arizona, Europe, and Mexico. Since retiring, hiking has become an even more important part of his day, making him a useful resource for information on hiking in the Southwest. He has participated in numerous Sierra Club service trips in the Southwest.

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