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California Gulch

 

California Gulch

N31.421117    W111.239441   Elevation 3,707
~18 miles west of Nogales
~3.5 miles south of Ruby
Santa Cruz County, Arizona, USA
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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California Gulch

MAP 

California Gulch ‎‎‎(Five-striped Sparrow)‎‎‎

 
 
HOW TO GET THERE
California Gulch is a hot, remote, desert ravine and creek bed (often with water) located about 19 miles due west of Nogales or 13 miles southeast of Arivaca or 1.8 miles from the US/Mexico border.  Those are as-the-crow-flies miles and not the more extended driving miles.  There are two routes that can be taken to California Gulch.  The Ruby Road route has 12 miles of dirt road vs. only 6 miles on the Arivaca route.  Another notable difference is Ruby Road is considerably more curvy, hilly, narrow, bumpier, and slower.  Lastly, coming from the north on I-19 and using Amado as a starting point, the route through Arivaca is 10 miles less than the route down to Ruby Road. 
 
From Amado through Arivaca, the route is 34 miles to the turn-off for the Gulch...
  1. On I-19, take Exit #48 and head west into the small town of Amado.
  2. Follow Arivaca Rd. for 23.8 miles to the center of the town in Arivaca.
  3. Turn south onto 5th Ave (aka, Fragutta) (N31.574881  W111.332348)
  4. At 0.6 miles, veer to the left onto S. Ruby Road
  5. Continue south and southwest on Ruby Road for 10.3 to the not-so-well-marked sign for California Gulch (N31.459308 W111.247954).  You will actually be turning down into a wash.  This "road" is more of a well-worn path that follows the (usually) dry stream bed for a mile before veering off near the small dam.
  6. Continue 5.4 miles down the "main" worn road.  This can be tricky.  Having topo maps or a GPS will be handy.
  7. At about 1.3 miles, you will encounter a small, silt-filled dam on the left.  (N31.444403  W111.239100).  Veer to the right at this point.
  8. At about another 0.9 past the dam, you will be met with a crossroads. (N31.438236  W111.248585).  Go left.
  9. At another 1.5 miles, you will have driven atop a ridge.  Your only path is to the right on a decent dirt road.  (N31.421853  W111.24197)
  10. Follow this road around the hill about 1.5 miles, taking you to the ravine's bottom on the SE side of the hill.  Park here.  (N31.421117  W111.239441)
From the Ruby Rd. exit, the route is 22 miles to the turn-off for the Gulch...
  1. On I-19, take Exit #12 (N31.430258 W110.965609) and head west 22 miles, pasing Pena Blanca Lake on the way.
  2. As a side note, the turn off to Sycamore Canyon is 15.8 miles from the turn-off, at N31.432236 W111.186927.
  3. Look -- intently -- for a not-so-well-marked sign for California Gulch (N31.459308 W111.247954).  You will actually be turning down (sharptly to the left) into a wash.  This "road" is more of a well-worn path that follows the (usually) dry stream bed for a mile before veering off near the small dam.
  4. Continue 5.4 miles down the "main" worn road.  This can be tricky.  Having topo maps or a GPS will be handy.
  5. At about 1.3 miles, you will encounter a small, silt-filled dam on the left.  (N31.444403  W111.239100).  Veer to the right at this point.
  6. At about another 0.9 past the dam, you will be met with a crossroads. (N31.438236  W111.248585).  Go left.
  7. At another 1.5 miles, you will have driven atop a ridge.  Your only path is to the right on a decent dirt road.  (N31.421853  W111.24197)
  8. Follow this road around the hill about 1.5 miles, taking you to the ravine's bottom on the SE side of the hill.  Park here.  (N31.421117  W111.239441) 
ROAD CONDITIONS

The gravel/dirt portions of Ruby Rd. are passable with a standard passenger car; albeit, they are very dusty and, as noted above, the route from the Ruby Rd. exit can be quite bumpy from washboards and the road snakes around a great deal.

 

NOW, A CAUTION!  The last portion of your 5.4 mile excursion down the pseudo-road of California Gulch should not be taken lightly.  The road follows and crosses a stream that is usually dry or very low with water.  However, monsoons make this a prime risk for random flash floods.  Don't cross water that is more than 10-12 inches deep.
 
The final 5-mile stretch that turns off towards California Gulch is rough.  Standard passenger cars with low clearance are guaranteed to scrape the bottom due to ruts in the road and to large, embedded rocks that cannot be moved.  Standard passenger cars will almost certainly scrape the bottom several times.  Despite being inanimate, the rocks are skilled at moving about the road during the summer (and all other seasons), meaning the road conditions can be different from what your buddy experienced, saying he had no problem driving the road last week.

 

The best vehicles to use are SUVs and pickups; or, better yet, someone else's car -- perhaps the car of your buddy who said he had no problem with the road last week. 

 

THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

I already mentioned the road conditions.  Having a spare (that's inflated) is a highly recommended.  It would be foolish to drive this route without a spare.  You will drive over many rocks.  This area is remote and I doubt any cell phone will work in the hills and canyons.  Mine doesn't; but, then, I have AT&T.

 

Most importantly, you must bring water.  This region is hot (100-115 F / 37-46 C) in the summer and water will be your savior during an unfortunate mishap.

 

Lastly, the final parking spot in California Gulch is only 1.7 miles upstream from the US/Mexico border.  Its remoteness in combination with the proximity of the border should raise your awareness of smuggling activities that can, and have, occurred in the region.

 

WHEN TO GO & WHAT TO SEE

California Gulch is "THE" spot, and basically the only spot, to find Five-striped Sparrows in the US.  Additionally, it is the most reliable location for Buff-collared Nightjar, which begin calling a dusk.  Another notable bird is the abundant Varied Bunting.  Other potential (but not certain) visitors are Thick-billed Kingbird, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Montezuma Quail.
 
As for timing, early to mid May triggers the beginning of the Five-striped Sparrows' singing.  Although the birds are present year round, they are not readily found unless they sing.  June and July, while very hot, are still a great for the sparrows; and, also for the calling nightjar.
 
Learn the sparrow's song and focus your attention on the brushy hillsides that rise up from either side of the stream (see black-and-white section marked on my map above). 

 

RELATED WEBSITES

None yet known.

 


 
 

California Gulch

 
 
Panorama (north is in the center, looking up the road)
 

31 July 1987 - 19 May 2007
 
 

 

 

California Gulch