Oracle State Park, Arizona

Arizona - Oracle State ParkOriginally ranch property owned by Lucille Kannally, the 4,000 acre section was donated to The Defenders of Wildlife (DOW) in her will, with the stipulation it become a wildlife reserve. The property was offered to Arizona for a State Park in 1985. Oracle State Park was established as both a wildlife refuge and an environmental education center.

The original ranch road traversed gentle terrain within canyon-like drainage and steep hills. It was constructed in harmony with the natural pattern of parallel washes crossing the property. This access road also affected the vegetation and wildlife minimally. A walk-in entrance was added to the plan in order for visitors to park outside the area and hike in access.

A new visitor’s center and limited picnic sites, a residential environmental education facility along with a dining hall and bunkhouses, a group use area, maintenance facilities, and residences for staff were constructed. Less than 1% of the Park’s acreage was altered by development. Wildlife watering sites were constructed to enhance wildlife habitat. The facilities could be reserved for environmental education programs throughout the year.

A portion of the Office/Visitor Contact Station in the upper solarium at the Ranch House is set aside for a gift shop. An extensive plant herbarium with a wide variety of specimens is available for viewing and laminated samples may be purchased in the gift shop.

A variety of flora may be observed in Oracle State Park. Scrub oak, mesquite, prickly pear, cholla cactus, fields of wildflowers, and some juniper and occasional piñon pines. A solitary saguaro cactus resides within the park boundaries. Some cypress trees were planted near the ranch house and still thrive there.

The diversity of animal life in the Park is a reflection of Arizona as a whole. Birdwatchers can view red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons, black-throated sparrows, golden eagles, cactus wrens, Gambel’s quail, northern mockingbirds and flickers, common poor wills, northern cardinals, pyrrhuloxia, and great horned owls. A large mammal population also creates photo opportunities for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Ringtails, javalina, rock squirrels, desert cottontail deer, black-tailed jackrabbits, mule deer, white tailed deer, and mountain lions are only a sample of the local fauna. There are also reptiles and amphibians (which may seem out of place) in the area. These include the Arizona alligator lizards, western box turtles, Colorado river toads, bull snakes, and western diamondback rattlesnakes.

The Arizona Trail writhes through the state coming from Mexico into Utah. It travels through deserts, canyons, mountains, and a variety of communities and peoples. The trail is more than 94% complete and makes a wonderful day hike or a master trek if you want to follow the entire route. It offers a unique encounter with the land in this area as does the portion that goes through Oracle State Park.

The Oracle Ridge Trail guides the trekker along one of the earliest known routes winding to the top of Mt. Lemmon. Although this trail is old and well-used, it can be difficult to follow in several areas. Use of a topographical map and compass, or GPS device is recommended. There are no sources of water along the trails, so be sure to take plenty with you while hiking. Don’t hike alone; carry a cell phone, and be sure others know your route and when you expect to return. This area was a center of prospecting and mining so it is criss-crossed with bulldozer paths and mining roads which tend to obscure the actual trail.

For Arizona history buffs, the old mines they encounter along this route provide a personal connection with historical events on these sites. Old mining shafts are unsafe; entry is not recommended. Local natural vistas extend north, east and west. Oracle Ridge Trail takes hikers near the summit of Rice Peak and Apache Peak. This offers viewers fine panoramas of Mt. Lemmon and the Santa Catalinas. This historic mining district around the old town of Oracle provides excellent sights of the basin and mountain range landscapes beyond.

Granite Overlook Trail , Bellota Trail, Windy Ridge Trail, the Nature Trail (the only one dogs are allowed on), and the Manzanita/Arizona/Wildlife Corridor are also great hiking areas. Equestrians may access trails designated as multi-use paths, as can bicyclists.