(Published January 2008 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer in Tubac Villager.)
Nature photographers can take heart: the eminent organization Sky Island Alliance is progressing with a bill in Congress to protect the Tumacacori Highlands area by converting the formal status of that land to wilderness.
A “sky island” is defined as a mountain range isolated by valleys in which other ecosystems are located. Opportunities for the borderlands photographer are high and mighty in such a place.
Wilderness designation for this landscape will be an important achievement that is not accomplished every day, in Arizona or elsewhere.
As part of this effort, several artists, including me, were asked to be part of an art-in-wilderness campaign, with one of the outcomes being a 100-page book, “Art in Wilderness”, including two CDs with music and poetry.
Personally, I call myself a photographer, shying away from using the “A” word. Among nature photographers, this is a topic of some controversy, to put it politely, and not necessarily regarding me personally, of course, but regarding the profession. For a nature photographer, art comes from nature. Nature is art.
Art in wilderness, then, is wilderness as art. My borderland photos reflect, as in a mirror, what nature generously provides. They frame, as in a window, bits and pieces that happen to stand out at a particular moment.
The new book is now available by mail order from the Alliance’s website "www.skyislandalliance.org" Please support this group with your purchase and donations.
Nature is the mother of us all, and I think we treat her very poorly. The Sky Island Alliance folks are examples of humanity trying to slow down, just a little, the damage happening all around us, attempting to preserve bits and pieces - remnants - of our heritage.
Last year those talented artistic folks were brought together in the Tumacacori outback to commune with nature (a wholesome process) and discuss the fragility and momentousness of this borderlands region. In addition, communal inspiration was sought for the tasks ahead, both preservation and publication.
Tumacacori Highlands, for those of you with a map, comprises the Tumacacori Mountains, the Atascosa Mountains, the current Pajarita Wilderness, and the new Pajarita Wilderness Addition. (The Pajarita section will retain its name.) Peck Canyon separates the Tumacacori Mountains to the north and the Atascosa Mountains to the south. Pajarita exists south of Ruby Road (route 289) to the border and protects the area’s crown jewel, Sycamore Canyon.
Sound complicated? Just look westward, you Tubac residents, and that’s the place. Yes, with all of those homes sprouting up on that side with the Santa Rita and San Cayetano views to the east, there is actually going to be a boundary to that development. It’s called the Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness.
How can wilderness coexist so closely with all those homes? Ask the folks in the Tucson foothills living near designated wilderness right above them in the Catalinas. There are a lot more homes there, too.
In any case, borderlands Arizona will be graced with another such place. And yes, there’s concern from folks who’re accustomed to grazing, hunting, and off-road motoring action on that acreage.
Notwithstanding those activities, all I’m qualified to talk about is photographing the raw untrammeled beauty of the land and natural life that sits on it. For me, the significance of this area surfaced a while back when the Pueblo Colorado Zoo asked me for an image of mine for their exhibit of the “sky islands” featuring an extinct bird in these parts.
Go photo-trek the Highlands! It’s a challenging jaunt: one of the area’s few ‘formal’ trails is the one from Ruby Road up to Atascosa Peak, a good vertical workout for those so inclined. For all you bushwhackers, southern access is available along most of the length of Ruby Road, and Camino Ramanote in Rio Rico. To the north, the Puerto Canyon hunters’ access road near Tubac is a good place to start.
The Tumacacoris often appear harsh, stark and bleak, and do not display the lushness of mountains in climates farther north. But deep within them, for the hardy photo trekker, are watery secret places like Aliso Springs, Puerto Springs, Bartolo Canyon, and Pine Canyon, that support a multitude of colorful wilderness life. And somewhere, perhaps, roams a big wild jaguar cat, an iconic symbol of what can be lost here.
Rock-hopping to Mexico via Sycamore Canyon recently, I saw no big cats but was rewarded around every bend with a rugged and inspiring natural charm not yet lost in borderlands Arizona.