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Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area
This remote area, jointly owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service, protects a wide variety of habitats. The plant diversity ranges from saguaro cactus to ponderosa pine forest and contains some of Arizona's best remaining native fish and ripa...
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Sulphur Springs Valley Loop and Willcox Playa Wildlife Area
Description: This 35-mile driving tour through the Sulphur Springs Valley offers access to a variety of habitats, including grassland, desert scrub, playa lakes, and farm fields. Birding is best from mid-October through March, when more than 15 species of birds of prey may be found here. The annual Wings over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival takes place in nearby Willcox each January and features guided tours. The focal point of the loop is the 28,000-acre Willcox Playa, located at the north end of the valley. The varying water levels of the playa greatly affect the wildlife viewing opportunities. When the playa contains ample water, it provides habitat for tens of thousands of migratory birds.

Wildlife to Watch: This is one of the best places in the United States to see a variety of wintering sparrows. Over 20 species can be found, including white-crowned, lark, Brewer’s, vesper, Lincoln’s, savannah, Cassin’s, black-throated, grasshopper, song, and lark bunting. Migratory waterfowl and sandhill cranes rely on the wildlife area for roosting and loafing habitat. More than 30,000 sandhill cranes can winter in this valley each year. Visitors from around the world come to witness the early morning liftoff of thousands of cranes from the wildlife area. The combined sights and sounds of this experience are spectacular. Also during winter, it is not uncommon to see over 100 birds of prey and up to 12 species in a day’s drive. Ferruginous hawks are regularly seen around colonies of pocket gophers, their favorite prey. Other birds of prey include great horned and burrowing owls, northern harrier, Harris’s hawk, prairie falcon, bald and golden eagles, and red-tailed hawk. In summer, turkey vulture and Swainson's hawk replace the northern birds of prey. Permanent residents, such as greater roadrunner, scaled and Gambel’s quail, crissal thrasher, and pyrrhuloxia, can also be seen in the area. During the summer, a unique mallard, the Mexican duck, commonly breeds in this area. Mule deer, javelina, coyote, and bobcat can be seen. In the warmer months and especially during the monsoons, many reptiles and amphibians can be found on this drive. Most common are the common kingsnake, Mohave rattlesnake, 3 species of spadefoots, green toad, and the unique Arizona striped whiptail.

Special Tips: During wet weather, highway shoulders and dirt side roads can become slick with mud; use extreme caution.

Other Activities: At the Willcox Playa Wildlife Area, a 3 mile trail to Crane Lake includes directional signs and interpretive displays. At the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO) Apache Station Wildlife Area along Hwy. 191, a sidewalk leads to spotting scopes that provide views into the distant playa. A loop drive around Cochise Lake near Willcox is another viewing opportunity.

Ownership: Arizona Game & Fish Department and others 
Size: 35 mile loop; 550 acres 
Closest Town: Willcox

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Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing:

Sulpher Springs Valley Loop and Willcox Playa Wildlife Area - photo by George Andrejko
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Driving Directions:
Sulphur Springs Valley Loop - From Tucson, take I-10 east to Hwy. 191, then south on Hwy. 191 to junction with Hwy. 181 (Sunizona). Continue south towards Elfrida and take Central Highway south to Double Adobe Road, then east back to Hwy. 191 and north to McNeal. Willcox Playa Wildlife Area - From Willcox, go east on AZ 186 for 6 miles; turn south on Kansas Settlement Road for 4 miles to the wildlife area. Apache Station Wildlife Area – Take the I-10 exit 331 south for 8.5 miles. Lake Cochise – just south of Willcox on Hwy. 186, turn into Twin Lakes Golf Course and follow signs to birding area.

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Sulphur Springs Valley Loop and Willcox Playa Wildlife Area : Wildlife Viewing Area