Essence of Place — Cienegas National Conservation Area


Yucca at Empire Ranch © 2014 Bo Mackison

The Cienegas National Conservation Area is a unique high desert habitat. It includes five of the rarest habitat types in the American Southwest: cienegas (marshes in an arid land), cottonwood and willow riparian areas, sacaton grasslands, mesquite bosques, and semi-desert grasslands.

Yucca at Empire Ranch

Semi Desert Grassland in the Ciengas NCA © 2014 Bo Mackison

The land is in a transitional zone between the Sonoran Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert, and located about 50 miles south of Tucson. It is a mixed use area – conservation work are cattle ranching are done side by side. And yes, it works.

Empire Ranch Road

Mesquite Bosque along Empire Ranch Road © 2014 Bo Mackison

45,000 acres of land are now protected from what was once a future of housing developments and other commercial use. The ranchers work the ranch, the conservationists work to reclaim some of the grasslands that transitioned into a mesquite bosque. Hikers, horseback riders, campers all intermingle with the ranchers — not that too many people actually see each other in this spacious land.

Grasslands at Empire Ranch

Sacaton Grasslands at Empire Ranch © 2014 Bo Mackison

The not for profit Empire Ranch Foundation is dedicated to preserving the historic ranch buildings and surrounding landscape. (Ranch photos coming in next series.)

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. Remarkable! I love the color of the beautiful sandy grassland and bright blue sky – phenomenal photography, missy. Every photograph tells a story. As well, it is a pleasure reading that conservations and ranchers are working together to the benefit of both. It CAN happen…lovely!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      It is happening more and more. There is another large ranch, the Rose Ranch, I believe, that is sharing range with conservation areas. Yes! 🙂

  2. What a gorgeous landscape. Balm for the winter soul – here in the depths of grey and white winter. Thank-you!

  3. You captured the feel of the place.

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