Peppersauce Canyon, Oracle, Pinal County, Arizona

Black Friday, November 25th
Maybe it's the unusual name that made me want to explore Peppersauce Canyon, but its location fascinated me, too.  And, I'm always up for an adventure.

An early miner at what is now a forest service campground claimed that his hot sauce disappeared one night. I imagine that story went around among the tungsten miners enough times to become part of the history of the place. Apparently, no one ever confessed to the "take" or no one else was around to have taken it. 

Located in the Coronado National Forest, Peppersauce Canyon is accessed from the town of Oracle where you turn onto Mt. Lemmon Road. Normally, I drive all the way into Tucson to use the south route up Mt. Lemmon on Catalina Highway but have noted there the junction that leads to Peppersauce Canyon, on the north side of the mountain, that appears to be very steep.

A brisk 48°F when I began birding with fourteen other birders from Tucson Audubon, including Bob and Trudy Bowers, our leaders, the sun was just hitting the tops of the very large and broad Arizona sycamores in the campground at 8:15 a.m. Elevation: 4700 feet.
The campground is located next to Peppersauce Creek, running dry this time of year but water must be underground considering the size of the sycamores.

Their leaves, brown and yellow, as big as my hand were falling gently to the ground. RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS were smaller than the leaves and looking very yellow this morning.
Top of an Arizona Sycamore, too broad at the base to photograph

Only a few campers were present of whom, a young couple (strong British accent) told us that the wild turkeys had already passed through. But the place was quiet and we spent more than an hour tracking down desert birds (ROCK WREN, PHAINOPEPLA, VERDIN, CACTUS WREN, CANYON TOWHEE) in and around the hackberries, shrubs, agave and prickly pear.  A RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER and a couple RED-SHAFTED NORTHERN FLICKERS got our attention while many ACORN WOODPECKERS busied themselves in the live oaks and sycamores. 

Acorn Woodpecker

From the campground, we walked up the gently-rising slope of Rice Peak Trail, a road accessible to high clearance vehicles with 4-wheel drive and, as it turned out, a couple "quads". By the time we reached the spring, a mile above the campground, we had seen many more birds than I was able to photograph.

On the upward trail, we saw more NORTHERN FLICKERS, a couple RED-TAILED HAWKS, 

Among the best sightings were a HERMIT THRUSH that perched on an open branch and a RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW that did likewise.

Hermit Thrush (above and below) 

As we approached the spring, I was surprised to see cows in the area.

The Spring is tapped to send water down Peppersauce Creek
As we turned to head down the trail, three horseback riders showed up. We enjoyed a good chat with them.

Arizona Velvet Ash

Arizona Velvet Ash
Returning from about 5,000 to 4,700'

Best and unexpected bird sightings for me included PRAIRIE FALCON, NORTHERN HARRIER and WESTERN BLUEBIRDS.  (all too distant for photos).

Having spent over four hours exploring and birding Peppersauce Canyon, I was thrilled with what I found there. So, thank you Bob and Prudy for the trip (and the ginger cookies).

Now, I just need to find someone with a four-wheel drive who wants to take on that northern dirt road to its high point junction on Mount Lemmon!!

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