What is a Sky Island?

'Sky Island' is a term used to describe an isolated mountain range rising out of the desert, with its peaks located in a cooler and wetter biome. As you travel from the desert biome to higher elevations, temperatures decline and the amount of precipitation increases. For every 1,000 feet in elevation increase, temperatures drop about 3 degrees Fahrenheit and annual precipitation increases about 3 inches.

The Sabino Canyon Visitors' Center is located at the 2,700-foot level at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountain range, one of southern Arizona's sky islands.

Here at the Visitors' Center, where annual precipitation averages 12 inches, the Sonoran Desert surrounds us with its unique cacti and desert wildlife.

To the north, tower the Santa Catalina Mountains, which include Mt. Bigelow at 8,200 feet, and Mt. Lemmon at 9,150 feet. These peaks are 20 degrees cooler and receive an average of 27 inches of rain per year.

The ponderosa pine forest habitat resembles many areas of Canada. Much of the precipitation falls as snow, which melts in the spring to feed the headwaters of Sabino Creek.

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