Oracle State Park is a 4,000 acre wildlife refuge in the northern foothills of the Catalina Mountains. Once part of the Kannally family cattle ranch, the unique Mediterranean style ranch house in the park is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ranging from 3,700 to 4,600 feet in elevation, the surrounding landscape transitions from oak woodland to desert grassland, with sweeping views of the Catalinas and granite boulder outcrops to the south; and San Pedro River Valley and Galiuro Mountains to the north-east. The diverse vegetation, slope and elevation within the park provide habitat for a variety of animals. Oracle State Park offers day-use picnic sites and over 15 miles of trail for use by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians. A four mile section of the Arizona Trail passes through the park, connecting Mexico to Utah.
The purpose of Oracle State Park is to protect the designated wildlife refuge and act as an environmental learning center. Educational trail programs emphasize participatory outdoor learning experiences for all ages. Students learn about habitat and interrelationships between plants, animals and people. Guided walks, workshops, presentations and special events are planned throughout the year to expand awareness and deepen appreciation of natural and cultural resources. An important focus of educational programming at the park is to understand people as part of nature and to clarify options for environmentally appropriate lifestyles
Although the land has been a park for just a short while, the area has been visited and used by man since prehistoric times. This interaction between man and the park environment has played an important role in shaping the landscape we see today.
Clovis Man occupied areas along the San Pedro River 10,000 to 11,000 years ago and quite possibly visited the current park site during these early times. It is also believed that the Hohokam resided in the relatively flat, grassy areas of the park and used the adjacent woodlands for hunting and food gathering some 600-800 years ago.
In the middle 1880s the Apache Wars had ceased in central and southern Arizona. This opened up large areas to mining, ranching, farming and the settlement of small towns.
In 1902 Neil Kannally arrived in Oracle from Illinois. After moving to the area, he homesteaded the land that would later become the park. Later, other members of the Kannally family joined him. The ranch grew substantially over the next several years and eventually 1100 Hereford cattle grazed the land.
In 1976, Lucile Kannally, the last surviving family member, donated the land to Defenders of Wildlife who later transferred the property to the State Parks Board.
The park has modern, handicap accessible restrooms at the Group Use Area. There are four composting toilets, each with sink and running water.
At the Kannally Ranch House, old plumbing is a limitation so the public is asked to use the two handicap accessible port-o-toilets, with foot-pump hand-washing station.
There is one handicap accessible port-o-toilet available at the Oak-Woodland parking area, with no sink facility.
Since construction has completed, new exhibits are in the planning stages.
The adobe building houses the 1878 Territorial Pinal County Courtroom as a period room with the Judge’s Office and Chambers period room.
Future Exhibits currently planned are: Florence World War II Prisoner of War Camp exhibit, restoring the Sheriff's office to circa 1882, rebuilding the jail cells, and returning the courtroom to its 1878 appearence. Other displays will cover territorial lawmen and their various duties, the history of the area going back to prehistoric times to the present, and local Florence history during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Gift Shop is housed in the office/visitor contact station located in the upper solarium of the historic Kannally Ranch House. Items for sale include a variety of books, magnets, notecards, postcards, T-shirts, stuffed animals and educational games.
The historic Kannally Ranch House is a museum with historic photos, original artwork and unique design features including Mediterranean and Moorish architecture. Constructed between 1929-33, the house is four levels built up the hillside and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A 45-minute guided tour of the ranch house is offered to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays at 10 am and again at 2 pm. Guided tours during midweek may be scheduled by reservation. Other exhibits include an extensive plant herbarium, with laminated specimens available for viewing in the park office/gift-shop.
Kannally Ranch House patios with limited seating and four patio tables for picnic use.
Oak Woodland Area with eight picnic tables under shade trees, one handicap accessible port-o-toilet; no running water.
Five picnic tables under shade trees along Main Road across from Oak-Woodland Area.
Oracle State Park: Center for Environmental Education offers more than 15 miles of hiking trails. The Arizona Trail also offers the opportunity to extend your trek into the Catalina Mountains to the south and rolling desert hills to the north.
Granite Overlook Trail: This trail is accessed from the Oak Woodland parking area, which is the first parking lot when entering the park. It is a 1.6 mile loop. We suggest starting on the right section of the loop as this will hike you up a steep section rather than hiking you downhill. This trail goes through oaks and boulder piles. At the top are nice stands of banana yucca. From the top you also get great views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Bellota Trail: This trail is accessed from the Group Use Area parking area. It is used on our environmental education school programs during the week, so don’t be surprised to see a school bus and a reserved sign. It is a 0.8 mile loop. The trail goes through parts of the sandy Kannally Wash with large oaks. You also will hike across open grassy areas with great views.
Windy Ridge Trail: This trail is across from the Group Use Area and also can be easily accessed from the Kannally Ranch House parking area. This is another environmental education/school program trail so watch for kids during the school year. It is a 0.9 mile loop. You hike along a sandy wash with great boulder piles. You will also journey on top of a ridge formed by a geologic formation called a dike.
Nature Trail: This trail is accessed at the end of the park road at the Kannally Ranch House parking area. It is a 1.2 mile loop. This is the only short loop trail that dogs are allowed on. If you start going right on the trail this is where our best springtime flowers start. You will also get great views of the areas’ history including; The Kannally Ranch House on the park, and parts of the San Manuel mining area which covered large sections of the valley in the distance.
Manzanita/Arizona/Wildlife Corridor: This combination of trails allows for about a 6 mile loop hike. It is accessed from the Kannally Ranch House parking area. You will hike a rolling terrain of oaks and open grasslands. Soaptree Yucca and desert scrub augment springtime desert flowers on the Arizona Trail section of this loop(the Arizona Trail starts near Mexico and extends to Utah).
Equestrians can access the Arizona Trail and other designated multi-use paths from the American Avenue parking lot in Oracle. Multi-use trails include the Arizona Trail, Cherry Valley Wash, Windmill Trail Loop, Gasline Road, Kannally Wash, and Cottonwood Wash. The Firebreak Road Trail connects the Kannally Wash and Cottonwood Wash near the ranch house to divert equestrians away from the park’s inner trail system used for educational programming. Park staff are working on developing limited equestrian facilities at this trailhead parking lot off American Avenue.
From the Kannally Ranch House, access the Wildlife Corridor Trail via the Nature Trail, and head out to the Arizona Trail. Return on the Mariposa Trail from the American Avenue parking lot. Bicyclists can also use designated multi-use paths including the Cherry Valley Wash, Kannally Wash, Firebreak Road and Cottonwood Wash.
The diversity of vegetation, slope and elevation provide habitat for a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and more. The most commonly sighted mammals include the white-tailed deer, coyote, bobcat, javelina, gray fox, skunks (hognose, hooded and white striped) and cottontail rabbit but many many other smaller mammals could be named. Mountain lions are occasionally seen in the park; more often they leave a sign of their presence such as a deer carcass.
Common bird sightings include the scrub jay, gambel’s quail, cardinal, great horned owl, cooper’s hawk, northern harrier, red tailed hawk, turkey vulture, gila woodpecker, rednaped sapsucker, curve billed and crissal thrashers, say’s phoebe, scott’s and hooded oriole, canyon towhee, green tailed towhee, spotted towhee, bridled titmouse, phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia, and many others depending on the time of year, including warblers, hummingbirds, sparrows and more.
Reptiles include the common western diamondback rattlesnake (pictured), bullsnake, ringneck snake, kingsnake, western fence lizard, earless lizard, Clark’s spiny lizard, ornate tree lizard and giant spotted lizards among others.
The Kannally Ranch was donated to The Defenders of Wildlife (DOW), a non-profit organization, in 1976. The will of Lucille Kannally gave the 4000-acre ranch to DOW with the stipulation that the property be perpetually used as a wildlife reserve. The DOW held this property (called the Oracle Wildlife Refuge) for ten years. For most of the time, the Oracle Education Project, under the leadership of Bob Hernbrode, utilized the Kannally Ranch House as its base of operation for a variety of environmental education programs.
In 1985, through the encouragement and efforts of Bill Roe, of the Arizona Outdoor Recreation Coordinating Commission, the DOW decided to offer the property to the State for a State Park. The Arizona Parklands Foundation (APF), a non-profit organization created by Governor Babbitt, worked with DOW and State Parks to facilitate the transfer of the property to APF for eventual transfer to the State Parks Board. In October of 1985, APF sponsored a dedication event to honor the future State Park. Governor Babbitt and the Parks Board members were in attendance. Graphic design panels, showing the name of the Park as Herberger State Park, and presenting concepts for intensive development of the property that would be a primary destination for public recreation, were exhibited at the dedication. Intended to generate enthusiasm and support for the new Park, the proposed name and developments actually generated strong opposition from the local residents.
The Parks Board held a meeting in December 1985 in Oracle to provide the people of the community an opportunity to air their concerns and to provide input and ideas for the proposed new State Park. A large number attended this meeting from the area and several volunteered to serve on a planning committee. The Parks Board accepted the offer of assistance and appointed a Planning Committee to serve as a liaison between the community and Board and to develop an acceptable park master plan.
The Arizona Parklands Foundation held the deed to the property from November 1985 until it transferred the property to the State Parks Board in March 19, 1986. The deed restrictions that came with the property prohibit hunting, trapping, off-road vehicle use, and limited development of the property to no more than 10 percent of the acreage. Mike Mayer was selected as the first Park Manager.
The Planning Committee worked throughout 1986 and invested a great deal of time and effort in their charge. The large group, divided into five subcommittees, sought technical input and held numerous open meetings and site visits. Many of the development ideas presented at the dedication were eliminated from further consideration during this process.
Concurrent with the activities of the Planning Committee, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) contracted on January 16, 1986, for design improvements of the Mt. Lemmon Road and the Kannally Ranch House Road. The Planning Committee questioned whether the existing entrance road was the most suitable for the Park and on February 3, 1986, requested that the consultant’s scope of work be revised to analyze three alternate routes listing the advantages and disadvantages of each. The final selection would be made in conjunction with the master plan. In January 1987, the Ad Hoc Planning Committee presented its recommendations to the Arizona State Parks Board. The Board agreed with the recommendations in principle, including the recommendation that the Park have a dual purpose of serving as both a wildlife refuge and as a learning center for environmental education. In March, after reviewing the Committee’s recommendations in full, the Board formally approved the report.
In November 1987, a complete site resource inventory was initiated. This research integrated studies of the Park vegetation, wildlife species, wildlife resources, geology, soils, watersheds, hydrology, topography and several other aspects of the site and surrounding vicinity.
In early 1988, the development of a Park master plan was initiated. State Parks informed the planning consultant, McGann & Associates, Inc. of Tucson, that certain basic issues related to the development of the Park had already been established. First and foremost was that Oracle State Park would be developed and managed as both an environmental education center and wildlife preserve. Also, the Ad Hoc Planning Committee had already determined the required facilities.
A Technical Advisory Committee was organized to assist the consultant and State Parks in the master planning process. This group included members of the previous Ad Hoc Planning Committee, community representatives, resource professionals and environmental educators. During the planning process, there were numerous additional opportunities for public input through the Committee members and through open public meetings.
A question that still concerned State Parks and the Committee was where to locate the Park entrance road and new facilities. All of the alternative routes were studied and all had some disadvantages. However, the end result of the exhaustive analysis by McGann was that the ranchers who had chosen the original road into the site knew the area well. That road traversed relatively gentle terrain in an area of steep hills and canyon-like drainage ways. A road in any other portion of the Park would require extensive earthwork (moving large amounts of fill and leaving exposed cut bands). Also, the original road was in harmony with the natural drainage pattern of parallel washes crossing the property. When biologists determined that the effects on the vegetation and wildlife would be minimized utilizing the existing ranch road, this route was chosen for the Master Plan.
Throughout the master planning process, public input significantly affected plans for the Park. A walk-in entrance was added to the plan so that visitors could leave vehicles on the periphery of the site and hike in. It was decided that signage would direct visitors to the main entrance but that the public would be encouraged to use the pedestrian access as much as possible. At the request of local citizens, the name of the Park was changed to Oracle State Park - Center for Environmental Education.
The State Parks Board approved the Oracle State Park Master Plan in February 1990. The Plan outlined general description and design criteria for a new visitor center and limited picnic sites, a residential environmental education facility with bunkhouses and dining hall, a group use area, a maintenance area and staff residence area. When all facilities, roads and areas impacted by construction were combined, less than one percent of the total Park acreage was to be altered by development. The Master Plan also called for construction of wildlife watering sites to enhance the wildlife habitat. As shown on the Plan, the entrance road and most of the new facilities are sited near the edge of the oak zone, just before the elevation drops in the mesquite scrub. The majority of the oak grassland habitat in the Park would remain undisturbed.
In February of 1993, ADOT entered into a contract with another engineering consultant to complete the design for the roads and parking areas as described in the Park Master Plan. During the early part of this design process, public input raised the concern that when the walk-in entry was added (late in the master planning process), the capacity of the internal parking lots should have been re-evaluated. As a result, the total number of parking spaces within the Park was reduced from 128 in the Master Plan to 77. The only parking lot not significantly reduced was the one for the walk-in entry. A proposed one-way loop road within the Park was eliminated. Finally, a proposed divided alignment for a portion of the entrance road was deleted from the Plan as a result of comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment for the project.
In May 1993, a public meeting was held to provide the public with the opportunity to review and comment on the proposed road improvements. Seventeen individuals attended the meeting and comments were received from 10 individuals. The focus of these comments was on the master plan and the access route to the Park.
In February 1994, a final Draft Environmental Assessment was made available to Oracle area residents. Comments were received from 5 individuals. These comments again dealt mainly with the master plan and access route issues. ADOT replied to these comments and made some minor revisions to the Environmental Assessment and revised one section of the interior Park road. On May 23, 1994, The Environmental Assessment was accepted by ADOT. The road design and the project specifications were finalized. Construction was completed in 1996.
The Park was continually available for environmental education programs on a reservation basis. Oracle State Park was officially dedicated and opened to the public October 1, 2001.
Oracle SP, 3820 Wildlife Drive, Oracle, AZ 85623More Info