The Web of Life Sabino Canyon  
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The History of Sabino Canyon
(This timeline is not drawn to scale.)
12 million
5 million


300 -1400
1854 1887 1905 1930s 1978
_______________ ______________ __________ _________ _________ ________ ______ _______ _______ _________
Santa Catalina Mountains
begin to form
Mountain Range
and Tucson
Basin form
(end of mountain

First Saguaros in Sabino Canyon

Trees in Sabino Canyon
Hohokam People
in Sabino
part of
Big Earth-
quake in

Service created - Sabino Canyon comes under its super-

Roads, dams, bridges, and picnic tables built in
Sabino Canyon
First Shuttlebus Service - cars
eventually banned

Sabino Canyon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest.The canyon is located just outside the city limits of Tucson, Arizona. The Coronado National Forest is in the Sonoran Desert.

The Santa Catalina Mountains began forming 12 million years ago. The movement of the mountains created the mountain peaks as well as the basin, or bowl-shaped land, on which the city of Tucson is built. This movement of the mountain range stopped about 5 million years ago. The land formation is called Basin and Range.

8,000 years ago the first saguaros began growing in canyon; about 4,000 years ago the first paloverde trees took root in the canyon. There is evidence in pieces of pottery, or shards, and pit house foundations that the Hohokam people lived in the canyon between 300 and about 1400 AD. With the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, Sabino Canyon became part of the United States.

In Tucson's early days, people took picnics to Sabino Canyon. In 1887, there was a big earthquake in Mexico, 150 miles away from Sabino Canyon. Many of the huge boulders you see in the canyon fell from the canyon walls or were moved in that quake. In 1890, the Forest Preservation Act was passed by the United States Congress and in 1905 when the Forest Service was created, Sabino Canyon came under its supervision.

Map showing Sabino and surrounding canyons

The road that leads toward the top of the canyon was begun in 1933. Later in the 1930s, the bridges over Sabino Creek and the Sabino Dam were built. The "lake" that was created by the dam became a popular fishing spot. Over the past 50 years, the lake has filled with silt (fine dirt) and sand. Today, when the creek is flowing, that "lake" is the size of a pond.

In 1978, the first shuttlebus service began in the canyon. Soon after cars were no longer allowed. Today, trams take Sabino Canyon visitors to the end of the road. In addition to riding the tram, people hike, bike, swim, and picnic in the Sabino Recreation Area.

The area is managed by the Forest Service. Their jobs include maintaining the canyon as a recreation area and learning center, protecting the creek, soil,and wildlife, and managing the relationship between Tucson and the canyon, including controlling fires and floods. Sabino Canyon is a treasure for Tucson residents and tourists alike.
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What are some things you can do to help protect and show respect for Sabino Canyon?


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© 2001-2017 Judi Moreillon