Powerful, beautiful, numinous, breathtaking—the Sonoran Desert leaves people groping for words big enough to describe their impression.
There’s magic here! The transformational nature of the Sonoran Desert unfolds, inspires, and saturates the senses. This diverse and dramatic environment offers each individual what they seek for renewal, refreshment, challenge, growth, and lifelong learning. The desert environment and climate gives us new perspectives, and like the desert flowers that have adapted to thrive on precious resources, Green Valley residents bloom bright and bold, too.
First-time visitors to the Sonoran Desert often remark, “It’s so alive!” It is nothing at all like the expanses of empty sand and rock you remember from the Sunday morning cartoons. It is, in fact, one of the most biologically rich regions on earth.
Rising from expanses of desert, grasslands, and ribbons of riverside trees are scores of small mountain ranges some low and soft in profile, others heavy, jagged, dramatic and very tall. From river corridor to mountain top, the soil composition, degree of slope, elevation, presence (or non-presence) of water and shade—all combine in different ways to create a wide array of environmental niches. The result is a biological wealth that astounds and entrances first-time visitors and life-long desert-dwellers alike.
From late February to May, more than 60 species of cacti bloom in a long, slow-motion firework display of exotic color and form. Among those cacti, leguminous trees, enormous cottonwoods and sycamores, thorny shrubs, tiny-leaved oaks, pines, firs, and a profusion of wildflowers bloom and set seed whenever the rains come. And among those plants, lizards, beetles, butterflies, birds, snakes, rodents, bobcats, peccaries, and rabbits scurry and pause in a ceaseless parade, dismantling the new visitor’s TV-informed image of a desert wasteland.
This is a land of surprises. Hot. Dry. Severe. But then drenched, gorgeous, soft, and delicate. Every aspect of the desert is a wonder: the geology, the weather, the wildlife, the botanical diversity—even the night skies.
In this dramatic and unexpected setting the new visitor comes slow to the recognition of how dynamic and rich the human presence is in this same landscape. The fusion of cultures in the borderlands of Arizona is unparalleled in the US. Native Americans have been growing crops here for 4,000 years and in residence for more than 10,000. The Spaniards, who brought with them the flavors and designs of Morocco and image- and ritual-rich Catholicism, were the first Europeans to arrive.
Spanish culture remained the singular dominating European presence in the borderlands for more than 300 years until the US bought the southernmost portion of Arizona from Mexico about 160 years ago. Americans were a completely new breed of European on the scene. Adventure-seeking and civil-war battered, these people brought their cattle, their mining tools, their railroads, and their love of open, unsettled places where the law had a spare presence and a person could do as they pleased, if they could survive the conditions. Local Apaches who had held ground for 300 years against the Spanish invasion, were eventually overcome by the addition of this new adversary’s army.
All these influences endure today, in a tapestry of culture that continues to collect new threads. Large military bases, “Optics Valley,” several astronomical observatories, and Tucson’s youthful, hard-working-yet-easy-going, festival-loving vibe have all added to the rich social complexity of the region.
There is no place like southern Arizona. All of these environmental characteristics plus the incredible recreational, social, leisure and academic opportunities in Green Valley, merge to create an unsurpassed quality of life for active adults.