A Drive through Box Canyon, Sky Island View

Open Space

Open Space © 2012 Bo Mackison

The Box Canyon Road passes through the norhthern part of Madera Canyon from Arizona Highway 83, north of Sonoita, to White House Canyon Road, near the entrance to the Madera Canyon Recreation Area. This road was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps which was also responsible for building some of the original roads in Madera Canyon, and the original campgrounds, bridges and hiking trails.

The road passes through range land for several miles,. Horses are grazing behind secure fencing and cattle are both grazing on the ranch land and wandering on the roads. (Sorry – no pic. I was driving, well, skirting around cows in the middle of the road!)

Sky Island Layers

Sky Island Layers © 2012 Bo Mackison

The road eventually hugs the mountain side and climbs upward, offering views of the layers of sky island habitats. Here, a riparian corridor including sycamores and cottonwoods a leafy green near the river bed, though the river is dry. In the higher elevations, a mixture of evergreen oaks, Alligator junipers and Pinions are in the oak-pine woodland. The furthest peaks are covered with Douglas fir, Gambel oaks, maples in the middle elevations,  white fir and a few aspens at the highest elevations.

Road, Vintage CCC

Road through the Canyon, Vintage CCC © 2012 Bo Mackison

The dirt road clings rather snugly to the rising topography, but the views are beautiful. If you want to get a good look at the scenery and snap a few photos, one either needs to stop frequently — there are a few wide spots, but otherwise the road is lightly traveled and visibility is good. I could always see if cars or trucks were driving towards me or following me, so I often stopped mid-road, but I was VERY careful! Another option, and the one I recommend, is having both a driver and a passenger/photographer so that the roles are well defined.

If you look far in the distance, in the valley between the Santa Ritas, one are looking at Green Vally and Continental , Arizona, small towns south of Tucson, and beyond the towns, on a very clear day, you can make out eh multiple observatories on Kitt Peak, 70 miles away.

Rocky Seat

Rocky Seat, Long View © 2012 Bo Mackison

I love the rippling habitats of the sky islands. I sat on this rock formation for awhile, very comfy, and took a few notes, snoozed a few minutes — it was so warm and I swear the sun sang me a sweet sunny lullabye — and did a few sketches. I am practicing a few plein air techniques with some basic supplies — pencils, colored pencils and watercolors, but they are definitely in the practice stage at this point.

Green Lichen on Rocks

Green Lichen Colony © 2012 Bo Mackison

These rocks, and many of the rocks throughout the sky islands in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico, are covered with a lime green living crust called lichen. Lichen is a multiorganism, part fungus, part either green algae or blue-green algae. (The fungus is the house; the algae provides the nutrients. Lichen can grow in the most hostile places, including bare rock in cold places.

The amazing thing about lichen is that it is not scientifically classified as either a plant nor an animal. DNA analysis shows lichen is very different from a fungal make-up, which is in the animal kingdom, but it is also very different from the algae make-up which belongs to the Bacteria kingdom.A sort-of combination of animal-bacteria, but not a plant.

I guess lichen has a kingdom all its own.

See the Road Constructed by the CCC?

See the Road Constructed by the CCC? © 2012 Bo Mackison

On the way out of the canyon, I crossed a bridge, and was able to take this photograph of a dry rocky wash which appears to now be the home of lots of prickly pear (more on the edges, not in the middle sandier area.)

Out of the Mountains

Coming Out of the Mountains © 2012 Bo Mackison

And leaving the mountain pass, I came out into another thorn scrub with quite a few prickly pears, yucca, and barrel cacti spread amidst the mesquite. The cattle guards appeared on the road again and I noticed signs for open range. I didn’t see any roaming cattle on the west side of the pass, but they had been on the road earlier in the day.


How Many Habitats can you See?

How Many Habitats Can You See? © 2012 Bo Mackison

And finally, I reach the road that leads away from the Santa Ritas. I pulled off on the side of the grasslands, and took one last photograph of the Santa Rita Mountain Range and its highest mountain, Mount Wrightson (9453 feet).

I think it takes me about twice as long to take the shortcut through the mountain pass compared to taking Arizona Highway 83 north to Interstate 10 West, drive through Tucson, and then take Interstate 19 south to Madera Canyon. But the shorter drive, though interesting and with great views at times, just can;t compare to a mountain pass drive through the Santa Rita Wilderness. (And a some ranch lands at the beginning and end — just to add a bit more variety, I suppose…)


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC, living and photographing in southern Arizona. There are days the wanderlust bug bites Bo and then she wanders the roads to see what she can see.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. I just happily spent quite a few minues wandering through your blog and catching up on posts. So many gorgeous pictures…love the color and shape post along with the wilderness one…and more! THis one brought back happy memories of a couple of summer trips to Utah, and dealing with some cows, and one angry bull in the middle of the road. It gave me a healthy respect for their sheer bulk!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      How lovely! I am so glad you enjoyed the photos. I have many loves when it comes to photos — colors, shapes, wilderness, botanicals… And, I too have learned that there isn’t a good way to take on a bull boasting sitting rights in the middle of the road!

  2. I sure enjoyed these photos! Back in the late 60’s I hunted for the Coues Whitetail in the Santa Rita wilderness, ending up by carrying one for seven miles back out.

  3. What a stunning landscape. Love seeing this part of the country thru your eyes and lens.

  4. love the photos

  5. I love traveling the great southwest through your eyes, even snoozing a bit with you on that rock. Didn’t know that about lichen. You teach me so much. XO!

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