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Esperanza’s World – Arizona Geography Center – Sky Islands

Esperanza’s World – Arizona Geography Center – Sky Islands

Activities / Teacher Resources


Sky Islands of Southeastern Arizona Facts Sheet

  • The Sky Islands are a series of forested mountain ranges surrounded by “seas” of desert and grasslands.
  • The term, “sky island” was “coined” by Weldon Heald in 1967 to describe mountain ranges that were isolated and separated from one another by vast valleys of grasslands or desert.
  • The valleys act as barriers to the movement of some woodland and forest species, in the same way that saltwater seas isolate plants and animals on islands located in the world’s oceans. That is why sky islands are comparable to the ocean’s archipelagos (chains or clusters of small land masses or islands separated by sea water).
  • The Sky Islands region includes a 70,000 square mile region in southeastern Arizona, northwestern Mexico and southwestern New Mexico.
  • Plants and animals from four ecosystems: the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Madre Mountains, Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts, can be found in the Sky Islands.
  • There is great biological diversity of flora and fauna species and habitats within the region. Some rare species are not found anywhere else in the United States.
  • Black bears, jaguars, ocelots, mountain lions, Arizona white-tail deer, coati-mundis, snakes, lizards, bees, butterflies, and ants are found within the region. Over 50% of North America’s species of birds, 29 species of bats, 104 species of mammals and 3000 species of plants can be spotted in the Sky Island region also.
  • Southeastern Arizona is known worldwide for its magnificent bird watching opportunities. Birdwatchers from around the world, seek out five-striped sparrows, blue grosbeaks, Mexican chickadees, over 18 species of hummingbirds and others.
  • Major Sky Island ranges in Arizona include the Baboquivari Mountains, Chiricahua Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, Pinaleño Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains and Santa Rita Mountains.
  • Three climate zones – temperate, sub-tropical and tropical, intersect and blend within this large region. Desert scrub, grassland, chaparral, woodland and forest biomes occur within the region.
  • The higher, cooler and wetter elevations include numerous flora and fauna species not seen in the deserts and grasslands areas that surround the mountains.
  • Unfortunately, the Sky Island wilderness areas and their plant and animal life are being threatened by accelerating human interaction, land development, climate change, fire control, recreational vehicle use and removal of resources.
  • The Coronado National Forest covers 1,780,000 acres of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Elevations range from 3000 to 10,720 feet in twelve widely scattered mountain ranges or “sky islands” that rise dramatically from the desert floor in a nearly parallel pattern.

Chiricahua Mountains