Madrean Sky Islands
Ruby Road, Arizona

The Ruby Road is one of those snake-hunting roads that is mentioned in hushed tones of awe. it winds through the southern Coronado National Forest, primarily within Santa Cruz County although it ends in Pima County.

Location and route of Ruby Road (AZ 289 & FR 39), Coronado National Forest, Santa Cruz County, southern Arizona
(adapted from Google Maps)
click to enlarge map

Ruby Road, named for a mining town on its route, which was itself named for a famous inhabitant, runs westwards from Interstate 19, the Tucson to Nogales road, 8 miles north of the Mexican border. The first 9 miles (Ruby-Nogales Road or Arizona highway 289) are black-top, ideal for snake-hunting, then the road turns north towards Peña Blanca Lake while the road-cruiser turns south onto the dirt road which is East Ruby Road (Forest Road 39) and then South Ruby Road, continuing for 25 miles to just south of the town of Arivaca. A USDA Forest Service map of the route can be found here.

There are many turn-offs along the route, which is just as well as this road seems very popular with herpers, we met several car fulls enroute and noticed other cars driving slowly at night, which indicated they were herpers.

Sections of the Ruby Road, such as this above Peña Blanca Lake,
were hard hit by the wild fires of May and June and will take years to recover


We only travelled as far as Sycamore Canyon and then made the return journey. It was clear that parts of the vegetation along Ruby Road has suffered severely in the recent wild fires, damage that would take years to recover.

Chiricahua leopard frog, Lithobates chiricahuensis (brown specimen)
Chiricahua leopard frog, Lithobates chiricahuensis (green specimen)
Great Plains narrow-mouthed toad, Gastrophryne olivacea

Our first stop was at a roadside pool where we found several leopard frogs. Although the olive to brown specimens looked like Plains leopard frogs (Lithobates blairi), that species is found in Cochice County to the west and not here in Santa Cruz. We conclused they were the endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs (Lithobates chiricahuensis) We also found a single Great Plains narrow-mouthed frog (Gastrophyrne olivacea).


Sonoran mountain whipsnake, Masticophis bilineatus bilineatus

On the dirt road part of Ruby Road we encountered a group of herpetologists photographing a Sonoran mountain whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus bilineatus) and we took the opportunity to obtain a few photographs. As we left another car arrived with another field herper - it was busy out there in the desert!


Bob surveys a Sycamore Canyon pond for signs of mud turtles ie. tracks, surfacing heads, bubbles Tell searching for anything that moves
or anything that doesn't
The author wading in a pond in search of mud turtles - only just missed one!
Bob caught one on the bank, both he and the turtle remained clean and dry.

We reached Sycamore Canyon and set off on foot, searching under rocks and in creeks and ponds.


Red-spotted toad, Anaxyrus punctatus
Sonoran mud turtle, Kinosternon sonoriense
Western black-necked gartersnake, Thamnophis cyrtopsis cyrtopsis

In Sycamore Canyon we found Red-spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus), Sonoran mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense) and two Western black-necked gartersnakes (Thamnophis cyrtopsis cyrtopsis). We then drove back along the black-top Ruby-Nogales Road towards Interstate 19, to road-cruise as night fell. We were not alone, there were at least two other car-loads of herpers out cruising the same night.

Madrean alligator lizard, Elgaria kingii
Western diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox
Arizona coralsnake, Micruroides euryxanthus euryxanthus

We hoped to see the coral-banded Thornscrub hooknose snake (Gyalopion quadrangulare) which just enters the US in Santa Cruz County, but we were unsuccessful. Instead we found a Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) in the middle of the road, which I pinned with a sandal and removed from the road to photograph.

Other species found on the road were a smaller Western diamondback, a Madrean alligator lizard (Elgaria kingii) and my Holy Grail for the trip, an Arizona coralsnake (Micruroides euryxanthus euryxanthus).

Mark with the rattlesnake rescued from the middle of the road