Casa Petra Vera

How well can we look after our most unusual wildlands while we enjoy and study them? That effort is the objective of Casa Petra Vera, a haven at which to learn and sojourn in the North American Sky Islands. If you can’t imagine an island or archipelago rising from something other than sea, let us introduce you to the region where that concept was defined.

At the southeast corner of the State of Arizona, is a super-convergence of activity: animal, vegetable, mineral, astronomical, and cultural.

Between the temperate Rocky Mountains and subtropical Sierra Madres - where a marriage of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts parts the otherwise nearly unbroken geological range of the Americas’ entire Pacific hem - a dry archipelago vaults layers of biomes, from desert basin to subalpine peaks, into lucid sky.

Unlike the panoramic wonder of places such as the Grand Canyon, monumental hallmarks of the Sky Island Archipelago are less evident to untrained eyes - a systemic complexity best revealed by patient observation.

The area’s wealth of life, including species evolving on soaring mountains isolated by arid expanses, evokes Galapagos and Amazonia-like paradigms of rarity and diversity in a compact desert nucleus. The region is populated by more mammal species than any proportionally sized region north of Mexico. A less than 145 mile length of the San Pedro River alone contains more native vertebrate species than the nearly 3,500 square miles of Yellowstone National Park.

Evidence suggests there may be a greater diversity of ant and bee species in the region than anywhere else on our planet. It provides both the southernmost spread of pure spruce-fir forest on the continent, and the northernmost territory of endangered jaguars from the south.

The Sonoran Desert, underpinning this unusual archipelago, has evolved the most varied botanical architecture of any arid habitat on earth - an exemplar of strategies for coping with scarce water and intense heat. Here, over 50% of local flora are found nowhere else at all, and a dozen wildflower species may be identified in a single square meter.

It is the only place in the United States reached by a member of the trogon bird family, which includes Mesoamerica’s mythologized quetzal. One in four of all bird species breeding north of Mexico, from Alaska to Greenland, nest in the area - more than half in the Chiricahua Mountains alone; including at what are presumed to be the avian breeding grounds most densely utilized by the most diverse raptor population on the planet.

Humans are members of this extraordinary confluence. Tucson, the region’s urban center, has evolved upon the longest known continuous history of agricultural cultivation in the United States, over 4100 years - our nation’s origin site of historic civilization.

The region is home to at least twenty-two federally recognized tribes, as well as Latin-American, Anglo, and numerous more recent immigrant cultures. Its luminous setting has fostered science and art across eons - from fingertips that wedged stones in crevices millennia ago to cast shadows precisely marking the equinoxes on petroglyph murals, to Vladimir Nabokov’s work on one of the most lauded novels of the 20th century in the Chiricahua foothills during days too windy for his field lepidopterology. From enduring science, artistry, and activism of local Native Nations’ community members, to diverse efforts of other research and contemplation, interwoven throughout.

With exceptional darkness and vantage points for celestial view, Sky Islands are also foundations for two globally prominent observatories frequented by astrophysicists from around the world - the US National Observatory at Kitt Peak and UOA’s International Observatory at Mount Graham.

Atmospheric clarity, archeological sites, habitat, migration routes, breeding grounds, and food and water security throughout this unparalleled hotspot - entrusted by history within the borders of the United States - are profoundly vulnerable to habitat and climate disruption, resource extraction, physical barriers, unmindful commercialism, and pollution of every kind.

As the world’s biodiversity is rapidly declining, anything other than determined conservation of the Sky Islands would be negligence. Casa Petra Vera is a refuge here, sheltered by the Chiricahua Mountains in an environment of singular biodiversity and celestial view; where we aim for such stewardship to illuminate study, projects, and accommodations.

Focused on the junction of arts and science, Casa Petra Vera is an effort to further productive solace and objective research in the cradle of this environment, preserved for common peace of mind.

— Mariano Spina Novoa & Melinda Matson Spina

Resources and citations:
Biologist/Ecologist Richard C. Brusca
Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment
Sky Island Alliance
IUCN World Heritage Coverage Gaps
Tucson City of Gastronomy