Sustainability and Sense of Place in the Sonoran Desert/Plains of Sonora

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Subregion Outline

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The Sonoran Plains are an area that is continuously defying expectations. People often believe that this area is almost contrapuntal to the Arizona Uplands as the superficial level of beauty achieved by that region is harshly compared to this one, however, the same amount of biodiversity, history, opportunities, and threats are a common element of this vast region. At first glance, the Sonoran Plains are nothing more than the quintessential representation of what most people believe is a desert, as there seems to be nothing more than dunes of sand. This is where the perception of humanity plays upon their ignorance as they are in front of one of the liveliest areas in the whole Sonoran Desert, an area with even more rainfall than the Arizona Uplands the vegetation is denser while the solid is deeper and finer. That rich soil allows for abundant legume trees, especially mesquite and few columnar cacti in comparison to most regions of the Desert. The Sonoran Plains are a mystery only available to those who are willing to wander beyond the simple aesthetic and devote themselves to learning about the true spirit of the Sonoran Desert, and the following areas have as an objective to introduce the reader to a never-ending journey that will not only take place on this section of the wiki book but throughout their whole lives.

A. History/Culture

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1. El Novillo

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Overview from El Novillo

El Novillo may seem like a beautiful deep blue lake, but its past historical events would say otherwise. In order to create the dam, three villages had to be evacuated: Tepupa, Suaqui, and Batuc. All of these villages are from the Sonoran, specifically Hermosillo, which makes Yaqui their native language. However, they also speak other native languages such as Cucapah, Guarijio, Kikapu, Opata, Papago, Pima, Seri, and Mayo. Due to the large and private properties of some ten thousand inhabitants of the affected towns, the work received a sizeable economic contribution to cover compensation.

A more formal name for this lake is “Plutarco Elias Calles Reservoir,” and it also happens to be near the Yaqui River. This human-made lake is located close to San Pedro de la Cueva City. It can hold up to 2,925 million cubic meters of water and generate 135,000 kilowatts of electricity. The whole dam construction began in May of 1958, but the project was formally presented in 1955. It was not until 1962 when the construction was finalized, and in 1964, operations to the generation units of the dam began.

The reason behind this was because they all disappeared because of the flood. The initial purpose of the dam was due to a project which would create hydropower. Luckily, many other functions/benefits came from the creation of the dam. Some of these benefits include national and international tourism, control of avenues, and commercial or sport fishing. In order to keep history alive, the façade for the church (San Francisco Javier de Batuc) was disassembled and rebuilt at a park name Plaza de Tres Pueblos in Hermosillo.[1][2]

2. Empalme

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The history of Empalme in Sonora is one that represents the rise and fall of one of the most prominent indigenous tribes of Mexico, Los Yaquis. This area of the Yaqui Valley was adopted in the 1950s by a fraction of the Yaqui tribe that desired to use modern agricultural techniques that required the use of pesticides and tractors that opposed the traditional simple irrigation by the more conservative of the tribe. This conflict would be the beginning of a new era for the city of Empalme.

Tiny Vaquitas in their natural environment.

As time progressed not only the Yaqui but many other groups moved to the area as they had observed the potential of this estuarine ecosystem and the number of migratory species that resided in there such as humpback whales, the endangered tiny vaquita, manta ray, and leatherback sea turtle as some examples. With more people, modernization also reached its pinnacle as larger industries from not only Mexico but the United States came to exploit the resources of the area, and put Empalme on the map while also erasing the basic values of preservation of the Yaqui tribe.

At this point in time, the rapid socio-economic growth is leading to major negative ecological changes since urbanization, agricultural and fishing intensification, and expanded livestock operations are leading to a catastrophic representation of the anthropogenic era as humanity creeps upon every inch of nature and is endangering many beautiful water species such as the tiny vaquita and the totoaba.[3]

B. Geology/Climate

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1. Mirador Presa Abelardo l. Rodriguez

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The Presa Abelardo L. Rodriguez was built in 1927. During the construction of the dam many factors were taken into consideration such as transportation for products coming both in and out the region. This was one of the main reasons why there is road on top of the dam and why it cost a little bit more than expected because they had to make sure the soil and everything else was stable enough to hold concrete and not collapse.

Presa Abelardo L. Rodriguez range in temperature can change drastically. The yearly average temperature recorded has been 63.9 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest being in the month of August was an average of 73.8 degrees Fahrenheit, while the coldest temperature in average and during the month of January was 56.1 Fahrenheit. The overall record for the hottest temperature recorded was during the month of September by being 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and the coldest temperature being recorded on the month of December by 21.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

January was the month in which recorded the most precipitation with 45.7 mm. On the other hand, the month with 0mm being the least amount of precipitation was June. Overall, the yearly average amount of precipitation is around 233.7mm. Oddly enough the month with the most amount of rain is January with 6.7 days of rain while the overall average is 39.7 days of rain.

There are trying to do some projects to help understand more of the geological aspect of the dam such as: geotechnical, geological, geophysical, hydrological-hydraulic, and scouring study. The dam is located west from this perspective. This dam is majorly connected to the Tijuana River since it is built over it.[4][5]


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  1. Untold Arizona: 50 Years Later, The Memory Of 3 Flooded Sonoran Pueblos Lives On. Fronteras. (2021, February 26).
  2. Lake Novillo. (2020, May 24). Retrieved April 03, 2021, from
  3. Entwisle, B. (2005). People, Land Use, and Environment in the Yaqui Valley, Sonora, Mexico - Population, Land Use, and Environment - NCBI Bookshelf. NCBI.
  4. W. (2021). Presa Abelardo L. Rodríguez, Sonora - Köppen Climate Classification. Weatherbase.
  5. Ayuntamiento de Tijuana | Ciudad | La Presa. (2018). Study For Abelardo L. Rodriguez.