Corbitt's National Parks
      Ironwood Forest
                National Monument


2000: National Monument

Size: 189,731 acres

2013 visitors: ?

Stamp: No

Rating (1-5):

About the Site

The Ironwood tree serves as an important protector of species diversity in the Sonoran Desert. The Ironwood Forest National Monument in the Silverbell Mountains protects an important desert ecosystem, and aids the recovery of the endangered pygmy-owl and other threatened and endangered species. It also has one of the fullest concentrations of Ironwood trees in the Sonoran Desert.
Ironwood is one of the longest-lived Sonoran Desert plants, reaching 45 feet in height and living as long as 800 years. It is a single or multi-trunked evergreen tree that displays lavender to pink flowers in May. By early summer, the pods mature. Each 2-inch pod contains one to four shiny brown seeds that are eaten by many Sonoran animals, from small mammals and birds to humans. Its iron-like wood is renowned as one of the world's densest woods.

Birds can't make holes in the tough wood of the tree, but the cacti that grow beneath them provide opportunities for nesting. Insects abound and attract birds and reptiles. Its seeds provide a protein-rich resource for doves, quail, coyotes, and many small rodents.

The Ironwood is found only in the Sonoran Desert, in the dry locales below 2,500 feet, where freezing temperatures are uncommon. Ironwoods function as oases of fertile and sheltered habitat within a harsh and challenging desert landscape.

Humans have inhabited the area for more than 5,000 years. More than 200 sites from the prehistoric Hohokam period (600 to 1450 AD) have been recorded. Two areas within the monument have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Los Robles Archeological District and the Cocoraque Butte Archeological District. The area also contains the remnants of the Mission Santa Ana, the last mission constructed in Pimeria Alta (a region in the Southwest and northern Mexico, chiefly southwestern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, which was inhabited by the Pimas and was the scene of the missionary labors of Father Eusebio Kino in the late 17th and early 18th centuries).

What You're Going to See

A desert. Saguaros are the classic cacti on display, but there are many more species as well, including cholla and prickly pear. For a desert that doesn't get a lot of rainfall, this Monument supports an amazing variety of life. This ironwood-bursage habitat in the Silver Bell Mountains is associated with more than 674 species, including 64 mammalian and 57 bird species. Whew! Good luck finding them all.

Personal Observations

I finally drove through the Monument in July of 2005. This is another new Monument, established in 2000 and operated by the Bureau of Land Management, not the National Park Service. As far as I know (and I'm still looking), there is no nearby visitors center, and no stamp. I'll update this if I learn differently. All I spotted on my drive was one nice Monument sign, and another smaller one.

The best views of the mountains and the best views of cactus can all be found on the west side of the Silverbell mine, in an area apparently outside of Monument boundaries. You must drive through the Monument to get there, however, and the best 15-mile stretch of road is unpaved and bumpy. I was lucky to average ten miles an hour in my Suburban. To get there from exit 226 (see below), just take that road straight west. It will lead you right past the mine, and around the back and up either to exit 236 or 232. You can take exit 232 and go west, and it will loop around to exit 226. If you want to split the Monument down the middle, take exit 236 at Marana. Immediately at the exit stop sign turn right (southwest), and 30 feet later turn right again (northwest) onto Marana road. Follow that deep into the Monument.

Getting There

From Tucson, take I-10 north to exits 242 or 236 (or, for a dirt road, 226). All three lead directly into the Monument, and all three eventually become dirt roads. From Phoenix, take I-10 south to the same exits.

Nearby Attractions

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is about 80 miles to the west southwest. Tumacacori National Historic Park is about 65 miles south. Saguaro National Park is practically next door, to the east, next to Tucson. Kartchner Caverns State Park is about 70 miles east southeast, and it's worth the drive. Tonto National Monument is about 80 miles to the north. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is about 40 miles to the north. Hohokam Pima National Monument is a mysterious 45 miles to the northwest, but is closed to visitors.

Visited July 2005.

Additional Photos