Sonoran Desert and Sky Islands, Part II

The 57 wilderness areas of the Sonoran Desert, along with other natural lands described below, emphasize the tremendous diversity of this arid landscape and its transitional nature from the tropics to the temperate realm.  This entry completes this year-long inventory and overview of the arid lands of the Southwest US and northwestern Mexico; however, I will try to update it as new information becomes available.  Numbers refer to sites on the map included in part I.

XIX.  National Wilderness Areas

North Algodones Dunes Wilderness, BLM,California (49).  This is the part of the Imperial Dunes NNL (see) north of California Route 78.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, BLM Safford Field Office,Arizona (50).  A ten-mile-long scenic canyon is 1,000 feet deep and lined with saguaro cactus on the slopes and broadleaf riparian forest adjacent to the creek.  There are also numerous side canyons, including Cave Canyon, Parsons Canyon, Wire Corral Draw, Whitewash Canyon, Hells Half Acre, Hell Hole, Horse Camp Canyon, Booger Canyon, and Virgus Canyon.  The east and west accesses to the wilderness are part of the Aravaipa Canyon Preserve of the Nature Conservancy.  Ecoregion NA302 and NA1310.

Arrastra Mountains Wilderness, BLM Kingman Field Office, Arizona (51).  This large wilderness includes the Poachie Mountain Range, Arastra Mountain, Black Mountains, Artillery Mountains, and Signal Mountain.  The Big Sandy and Santa Maria Rivers as well as Peoples Canyon flow through the area, which is a volcanic landscape.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Aubrey Peak Wilderness, BLM Kingman Field Office, Arizona (52).  This is a large cliff-encircled mesa with brightly colored volcanic formations on the transition between the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Baboquivari Peak Wilderness, BLM Tucson Field Office, Arizona (53).  This is an isolated 7,000-foot mountain supporting oak, walnut, and pinyon pine vegetation.  It is near the Brown Canyon area of Buenos Aires NWR.  The wilderness includes the eastern slopes of the Baboquivari Mountains and Sabino Canyon.  Ecoregion NA302.

Big Horn Mountains Wilderness, BLM Hassayampa Field Office, Arizona (54).  Big Horn Peak rises steeply almost 2,000 feet above the surrounding desert.  Hummingbird Springs Wilderness is to the north.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Big Maria Mountains Wilderness, BLM, California (55).  From US Route 95 at Palo Verde Dam, this area extends northwest to include most of the mountain range.  Foxtail cactus and barrel cactus are the major plants.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Cabeza Prieta Wilderness.  See Cabeza Prieta NWR.

East Cactus Plain Wilderness, BLM Lake Havasu Field Office, Arizona (56).  Dunes dominate this wilderness area, which is nevertheless vegetated with plants adapted to dune topography.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Castle Creek Wilderness, Bradshaw Ranger District, Prescott National Forest, Arizona (57).  Rugged topography with chaparral at higher elevations and saguaro cactus at lower elevations.  Ecoregions NA503 and NA1310.

Chuckwalla Mountains Wilderness, BLM Palm Springs Field Office, California (58).  This 110,000-acre wilderness area includes the mountains between I-10 and Augustine Pass.  Included are Black Butte, Pilot Mountain, Corn Springs Wash, Ship Creek, and part of the Chuckwalla Valley.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Coyote Mountains Wilderness, BLM Tucson Field Office, Arizona (59).  An isolated mountain to the south of Route 86 at Pan Tank has bluffs and sheer cliffs with saguaro and oak woodlands.  Part of Mendoza Canyon is in the wilderness.  Ecoregions NA302 and NA1310.

Coyote Mountains Wilderness, BLM El Centro Field Office, California (60). Fossil Canyon contains a 50-million-year section of geologic history.  The Carrizo Badlands surround the Painted Gorge.  Ecoregions NA 1201 and NA1310.

Eagletail Mountains Wilderness, BLM Yuma Field Office, Arizona (61).  Natural arches, high spires, and monoliths are found along a 15-mile ridgeline of the Eagletail Mountains south of I-10.  Courthouse Rock is a monolith that rises 1,000 feet above the desert floor.  Other geographic features include Granite Mountain, Cemetery Ridge, and Nottbusch Butte.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Fish Creek Mountains Wilderness, BLM El Centro Field Office, California (62).  From the desert floor, the mountains appear to be a plateau, but this is actually a land of deep canyons and jagged peaks.  The water mark of ancient Lake Cahuilla is visible.  This area is to the south of the Salton Sea and San Felipe Creek NNL.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Fishhooks Wilderness, BLM Safford Field Office, Arizona (63).  Canyons in the Gila Mountains are vegetated with grassland, chaparral, and pinyon pine.  Ecoregion NA1303.

Four Peaks Wilderness, Mesa Ranger District,Tonto National Forest, Arizona (64).  Rising from a saguaro-covered desert at Apache Lake and Canyon Lake in the south, four isolated mountains reach over 7,000 feet and include chaparral and Douglas fir vegetation.  The four peaks are Browns Peak, Buckhorn Mountain, Camelback Peak, and Mine Mountain.  Other geographic features are El Recortado, Sheep Mountain, Blue Tank Canyon, Cane Spring Canyon, Painted Cliffs, Goat Mountain, and the Wata Ridges.  Ecoregions NA503 and NA1310.

Galiuro Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, Safford Ranger District, Arizona (65).  A mountain range, 19 by six miles, rises steeply above the Chihuahuan Desert plains.   Habitats range from grasslands through mixed conifers and aspens.  Numerous springs and riparian areas are found here.   The southern part of the wilderness is part of the Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area.  Adjoining the wilderness on the south is Redfield Canyon Wilderness.  Mountains include Maverick Mountain,China Peak, Rhodes Peak, Topout Peak, Kennedy Peak, Bassett Peak, and Sunset Peak.  Canyons include Rattlesnake Canyon, Pipestem Canyon, Powers Garden, Kielberg Canyon, and Redfield Canyon.  Ecoregion NA302.

Gibraltar Mountain Wilderness, BLM Lake Havasu Field Office, Arizona (66).  This low-elevation mountain range has alcoves and caves in volcanic tuff and is vegetated by creosote bush, cholla, and palo verde.  The wilderness includes the Buckskin Mountains and Giers Mountain, and is bounded by Osborne Wash on the east and south.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Harcuvar Mountains Wilderness, BLM Lake Havasu Field Office, Arizona (67).  The ten miles of ridgeline contain an island of chaparral habitat in the desert.  Included in the wilderness are Dripping Springs, ECP Peak, and Webber Canyon.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Harquahala Mountains Wilderness, BLM Hassayampa Field Office, Arizona (68).  Mountains rising to 5,600 feet have natural springs and islands of chaparral and desert grassland.  A trail to the historic Harquahala Smithsonian Observatory on Harquahala Peak starts on US 60 east of Wenden. This solar observatory operated from 1920 to 1925.  Other geographic features are Sunset Pass, Browns Canyon, and Arrastra Gulch.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Hassayampa River Canyon Wilderness, BLM Hassayampa Field Office, Arizona (69).  The area contains part of the Hassayampa River north of Wickenburg and a geological monolith called “the Needle.”  Other geographic features are San Powell Peak, Fools Canyon, and Jesus Canyon.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Havasu Wilderness.  See Havasu NWR.

Hells Canyon Wilderness, BLM Hassayampa Field Office, Arizona (70).  The Hieroglyphic Mountains just northwest of Lake Pleasant contain sheer cliffs rising above the surrounding desert.  Geographic features include Garfias Mountain, Garfias Wash, Cedar Basin, and Burro Flats.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Hummingbird Springs Wilderness, BLM Hassayampa Field Office, Arizona (71). Sugarloaf Mountain, part of the Big Horn Mountains, dominates this wilderness, which is vegetated with saguaro, ocotillo, and cholla.  Big Horn Mountains Wilderness borders this area on the south.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Indian Pass Wilderness, BLM El Centro Field Office, California (72).  This area in the Chocolate Mountains is known for jagged peaks and spires.  It is located between Route 78 and the Colorado River and borders Imperial NWR. Indian Pass and Gavilan Wash are the southern boundary.  Geographic features are Julian Wash and Quartz Peak, and wildlife features are desert bighorn and theColorado River toad.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Jacumba Wilderness, BLM El Centro Field Office,California (73).  Located on the dramatic descent from the peninsular ranges to the desert, the area is composed of four parallel north-south mountain ridges separated by valleys. Myers Valley is noted for fan palms and desert pavement.  The Valley of the Moon is an area of large granite boulders. Davies Valley is in the middle of the wilderness and is covered with desert pavement of cobbles. Skull Valley is the easternmost valley and contains a dry lake.  Ecoregions NA1201 and NA 1310.

Kofa Wilderness (115).  See Kofa NWR.

Little Chuckwalla Mountains Wilderness, BLM Palm Springs Field Office, California (74).  This includes the east-west mountains east of Graham Pass.  The low mountains and adjoining valleys are good desert tortoise habitat.  Ecoregion NA1310

Little Picacho Peak Wilderness, BLM El Centro District, California (75).  This area is spires and peaks, including Little Picacho Peak, at the southern edge of the Chocolate Mountains.   Prominent washes providing canyons in the wilderness are Ferguson Wash, Marcus Wash,Senator Wash, and Mission Wash. The area is known for a wild horse herd, and wild burros are also found here.  The slopes are covered with desert pavement.  The area adjoins the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge and Picacho State Recreation Area.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Maricopa Mountains, North, Wilderness, Sonoran Desert National Monument, BLM Lower Sonoran Field Office, Arizona (76).  The wilderness contains extensive saguaro-paloverde-ironwood vegetation and creosote bush-covered flats. Sheep Mountain, Margies Cove, and the Maricopa Mountains north of Butterfield Pass are included.  The Magies Cove and Brittlebrush trails are maintained.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Maricopa Mountains, South, Wilderness, Sonoran Desert National Monument, BLM Lower Sonoran Field Office, Arizona (77).  The wilderness contains extensive saguaro-paloverde-ironwood vegetation and creosote bush-covered flats covering the Maricopa Mountains.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Mazatzal Wilderness, Payson Ranger District,Tonto National Forest,Arizona (78).  Canyons of the Verde and East Verde River are vegetated with Sonoran Desert shrubland rising to grassland, chaparral, pinyon-juniper, and ponderosa pine.  The 252,000-acre area is one of the original wildernesses designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act.  The 29-mile Mazatzal Divide Trail, part of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, traverses the wilderness.  Ecoregion NA503 and NA1310.

Mecca Hills Wilderness, BLM Palm Springs Field Office,California (79).  This badlands area north of theSalton Sea contains Painted Canyon, Sheep Hole Oasis, and Hidden Springs Canyon.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Miller Peak Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, Sierra Vista Ranger District, Arizona (33).  This 9,000-foot peak supports pine, fir forests and 14 species of hummingbirds, as it is adjacent to Ramsey Canyon NNL in he Huachuca Mountains.  The Arizona NST crosses the area.  Also included in this wilderness are the upper end of Ramsey Canyon, Sunnyside Canyon, Lone Mountain, Granite Peak, Rattlesnake Peak, and Sutherland Peak.  Ecoregion NA302.

Mount Wrightson Wilderness,Coronado National Forest, Nogales Ranger District, Arizona (14).  Mountains to 9,000 feet support ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.  The wilderness surrounds the Madera Canyon birding area and includes Pete Mountain and McCleary Peak.  The Big Casa Blanca, Chino, Florida, and Madera Canyons cut into the Santa Rita Mountains.  Ecoregion NA302.

Muggins Mountain Wilderness, BLM Yuma Field Office, Arizona (80). Muggins Peak, Long Mountain, and Klothos Temple are noted for colorful geologic strata just to the east of Dome Valley and the city of Yuma.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Needle’s Eye Wilderness, BLM Tucson Field Office, Arizona (81).  Bordered by the Gila River on the south, a 2,500-foot rise of Paleozoic limestone is included in this wilderness.  Geographic features are Mescal Warm Spring and Spring Canyon.  The wilderness is downstream of San Carlos Reservoir.  Ecoregions NA302 and NA1310.

New Water Mountains Wilderness, Yuma Field Office, Arizona (82).  Dominated by 1,000-foot tall Black Mesa inn the Plomosa Mountains, this area adjoining Kofa NWR includes a sparse saguaro cactus forest.  Other geographic features areTwin Peaks, The Eagles Eyes, and Gunsight Notch.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness (3). See Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument under Man and the Biosphere Reserves.

Orocopia Mountains Wilderness, BLM Palm Springs Field Office, California (83).  The valleys, ridges, long deep canyons of this wilderness are located north of the Salton Sea.   Included are the Orocopia Mountains between Hidden Spring Canyon and Red Canyon, along with part of the Maniobra Valley.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Pajarita Wilderness,Coronado National Forest, Nogales Ranger District, Arizona (16).  The high mountain forest supports 17 endemic plants in Sycamore Canyon and is a place to sight the five-striped sparrow amid small waterfalls.  The wilderness also includes Manzanita Mountain, Flat Top Mountain, Tonto Canyon, and Penasco Canyon.  Ecoregion NA302.

Palen/McCoy Wilderness, BLM Palm Springs Field Office, California (84).  This 259,000-acre area to the east of Joshua Tree National Park contains all or parts of five mountain ranges, the Palen, McCoy, Granite, Little Maria, and Arica ranges.  A lush ironwood forest is found in the wide valley between the Palen and McCoy Ranges.  Also included is the desert valley surrounding Sand Draw.  The McCoy Springs National Register District contains concentrations of petroglyphs.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Palo Verde Mountains Wilderness, BLM El Centro District, California (85).  To the west of Route 78 south of Blythe is this mountain range, containing Palo Verde Peak, Flat Tops, and Thumb Peak.  Clapp Spring is a palm oasis.  This area contains saguaro cactus, which are rare in California.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Picacho Peak Wilderness, BLM El Centro District, California (75).  The area contains Indian Pass in the west and a rolling benchland in the south. Gavilan Wash and Carrizo Wash are the boundaries to the northwest and southeast.  TheColorado River is to the northeast. Carrizo Falls, a 40-foot cascade into a pool of cattails, is within the wilderness, but Picacho Peak is not.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Santa Catalina Ranger District, Coronado National Forest, Arizona (86).  Pine, fir, aspen, and maple forests overlook Tucson from a 9,000-foot vantage point.  The wilderness includes Romero Canyon, Pima Canyon, Sabino Canyon, Bear Canyon, and Wilderness of Rocks trail.  Mountains include Pusch Ridge, Window Rock, Cathedral Rock, Finger Rock, and Gibbon Mountain.  Ecoregion NA302.

Rawhide Mountains Wilderness, BLM Lake Havasu Field Office,Arizona (87).  This area preserves the 600-foot deep gorge of the Bill Williams River, Ives Wash, Spenser Wash, and Mississippi Wash, all just downstream of Alamo Lake.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Redfield Canyon Wilderness, BLM Safford Field Office,Arizona (88).  Steep cliffs and caves along a red-walled canyon are part of the Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area.  Adjoining Redfield Canyon on the north is Galiuro Wilderness.  Geographic features include Sycamore Canyon, Swamp Springs Canyon, and Redus Canyon.  Ecoregion NA1303.

Rice Valley Wilderness, BLM,California (89).  Part of the Rice Valley and its sand dunes, along with part of the Big Maria Mountains, are included in this wilderness north of Blythe.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Rincon Mountain Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, Santa Catalina Ranger District, Arizona (90).  Surrounding the eastern unit of Saguaro National Park, desert grasses, pinyon-juniper, and oak woodlands are found in canyons descending from Rincon Peak.  Major canyons included are Joaquin, Tres Pipas, Bolt, Espiritu, Miller, Distillery, and Posta Quemada.  Ecoregion NA302.

Riverside Mountains Wilderness, BLM Palm Springs Field Office, California (91).  The Riverside Mountains along theColorado River and Big Wash are included in this area to the west of the Colorado River Indian Reservation.  The rugged interior is known for foxtail and barrel cactus, along with burro deer.  Ecoregion NA1310.

San Gorgonio Wilderness, San Bernardino National Forest and BLM, California (92).  The eastern slope of the San Bernardino Mountains at Bighorn Mountain descends to the desert at the Whitewater River valley and Morongo Canyon.  Ecoregion NA1203 and NA 1310.

Santa Rosa Wilderness, San Bernardino National Forest and Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument, California (93).  Rising out of the desert from sea level to 7,000 feet, this area is part of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.   The largest herd of peninsular bighorn sheep is found here.  Access is by the Cactus Spring Trail.  Included are the western Coachella Valley, Rabbit Peak, Martinez Canyon, Devil Canyon, Little Pinyon Flat, Martinez Mountain, and Deep Canyon.  Ecoregions NA1201 and NA1310.

Santa Teresa Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, Safford Ranger District, Arizona, and North Santa Teresa Wilderness, BLM Safford Field Office, Arizona (94).  Rugged mountains, caves, eroded cliffs covered with chaparral.  North Santa Teresa protects Black Rock, a geologic formation rising 1,000 feet from its base.  Other geographic features in North Santa Teresa Wilderness are Beauchamp Canyon, Holdup Canyon, Jackson Canyon, and Black Rock Canyon.  Geographic features in Santa Teresa Wilderness include Mud Spring Mesa, Rocky Top, Cottonwood Mountain, Cobre Grande Mountain, Pinnacle Ridge, Fourmile Canyon, and Cottonwood Canyon.  Ecoregion NA302.

Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness, BLM El Centro District,California (95).  Finger ridges overlook the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  Features include Storm Canyon, The Portrero Valley, the Inner Pasture, Canebreak Canyon, and Tierra Blanca Mountains.  Ecoregions NA1201 and NA1310.

Sierra Estrella Wilderness, BLM Lower Sonoran Field Office, Arizona (96).  Knife-edge ridges and rocky canyons of Butterfly Mountain and Montezuma Peak rise 2,600 feet in less than two miles, adjacent to the Gila River Indian Community. Ecoregion NA1310.

Signal Mountain Wilderness, BLM Lower Sonoran Field Office, Arizona (97).  Volcanic peaks of the Gila Bend Mountains, canyons, and desert bighorn sheep may be seen.  The area is to the north of and adjoins Woolsey Peak Wilderness.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Superstition Wilderness, Mesa Ranger District,Tonto National Forest,Arizona (98).  The dramatic peak Weaver’s Needle is found in the Sonoran Desert landscape of this wilderness, which includes cliff dwellings and canyons.  Vegetation ranges from palo verde at lower elevations to chapparal, grasslands, and pockets of ponderosa pine.  Notable geographic features are Two Bar Ridge, Tule Canyon, Castle Dome, Fish Creek Canyon, Geronimo Head, Battleship Mountain, Picacho Butte, Sawtooth Ridge, Pinto Peak, and Granite Mountain.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Swansea Wilderness, BLM Lake Havasu Field Office,Arizona (99).  This wilderness includes Black Mesa and eroded volcanic dikes to the north of the Bill Williams River and the Buckskin Mountains to the south.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Table Top Mountains Wilderness, Sonoran Desert National Monument, BLM Lower Sonoran Field Office, Arizona (100).  Saguaro cactus and creosote bush-covered flats cover Antelope Peak, Indian Butte, Black Mountain, and Table Top.  A grassland is on the Table Top.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Tres Alamos Wilderness, BLM Kingman Field Office, Arizona (101).  This area adjoins and is to the south of the Arrastra Mountains wilderness and includes Sawyer Peak.  It is covered with vegetation of saguaro, Joshua tree, and palo verde.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Trigo Mountain Wilderness, BLM Yuma Field Office, Arizona (102).  This wilderness encompasses theTrigo Mountains just east of Imperial NWR and Wilderness, just east of the Colorado River. Colorado River tributaries Lopez Wash,Clip Wash, and Red Cloud Wash are included.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Upper Burro Creek Wilderness, BLM Kingman Field Office, Arizona (103).  The perennial stream falls 1,500 feet in one-half mile, providing water in the desert landscape. Geographic features include Goodwin Mesa, the Aquarius Cliffs, Granite Ridges, Cornwall Canyon, Pinky Canyon, Trot and Holler Canyon, and Francis Creek.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Wabayuma Peak Wilderness, BLM Kingman Field Office, Arizona (104).  The Hualapai Mountains rise 5,000 feet above the desert floor and support both Sonoran and Mojave Desert vegetation, including the northernmost population of saguaro cactus.  Geographic features include Willow Creek, Boriana Canyon, and Whiskey Basin.  Ecoregions NA1308 and 1310.

Whipple Mountains Wilderness, BLM, California (105).  This area is north of the Colorado River Aqueduct and contains mountains, natural bridges, and spires.  Vegetation is creosote bush, ironwood, smoke tree, and cacti.  Ecoregion NA1310.

White Canyon Wilderness,  BLM Tucson Field Office, Arizona (106).  Saguaro and chaparral grow on 800-foot canyon walls to the north of the Gila River and south of the Tonto NF. Walnut Canyon is on the eastern border.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Woolsey Peak Wilderness, BLM Lower Sonoran Field Office, Arizona (107).  The Gila Bend Mountains, visible in much of southwestern Arizona, are included in this area, which is the north of Painted Rock on the Gila River.  Lava flows and mesas are covered with saguaro vegetation.  Other geographic features are Woolsey Wash, Woolsey Peak, and Bunyan Peak.  Ecoregion NA1310.

 XX.  National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System

Bill Williams River NWR, Arizona (108).  This refuge is home to clapper rails and other wetland birds and extends nine miles up the Bill Williams River from Lake Havasu.  It is an IBA.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Buenos Aires NWR, Arizona (109).  The refuge was established to restore the masked bobwhite, but there are three other species of quail, waterfowl, mule deer, and pronghorn found in abundance here.  Arivaca Cienega and Creek are an IBA for riparian species.  The streams and canyons provide oases in the desert grasslands.  A natural bridge is in Brown Canyon and accessible by guided tour.  Ecoregion NA1303.

Cabeza Prieta NWR, Arizona (110).  Together with Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, El Pinacate Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Preserve, and the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range of the Department of Defense, this refuge protects the largest contiguous tract of Sonoran Desert.  Also present are desert bighorn sheep, Sonoran pronghorn, and numerous lizards.  It is an IBA for the LeConte’s thrasher and is a unit of the Sonoran Desert Borderlands IBA.  There are seven mountain ranges, crossed by the 120-mile long El Camino del Diablo, an unpaved four-wheel-drive road.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Cibola NWR, Arizona and California (111).  This Colorado River refuge is a migratory bird refuge, supporting 85 percent of the wintering geese in Arizona, along with willow flycatcher and Yuma clapper rail.  It is part of the Lower Colorado River Valley IBA.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Coachella Valley NWR, California (112).  Sand dune habitat provides a sanctuary for the endangered Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.  There are 11 oases, including the Thousand Palms Oasis with the second largest concentration of fan palms in California.  Ecoregions NA1308 and 1310.

Havasu NWR, Arizona and California (113).  The refuge protects waterfowl in a 30-mile section of the Colorado River, including 20 river miles of the scenic Topock Gorge, and is surrounded by desert vegetation of creosote bush, ocotillo and saguaro.  Desert tortoise and Gila monster may be found, along with desert bighorn sheep and willow flycatcher.  Most is designated wilderness.  The area is part of the Lower Colorado River Valley IBA.  Ecoregions NA1308 and NA1310.

Imperial NWR, Arizona and California (114).  This migratory bird refuge protects ducks, geese, and shorebirds and is a restoration area for willow-cottonwood riparian forests.  It is an IBA.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Kofa NWR, Arizona (115).  Arizona’s largest bighorn sheep population roams the Kofa and Castle Dome Mountain Ranges.  Most is designated wilderness. A small grove of California fan palms is found in Palm Canyon.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR, California (7).   See description under WHSRN.  Ecoregion NA1310.


XXI.  Other Federal Sites

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, BLM, California (116).  This desert oasis contains riparian woodland of cottonwood and willow, along with alkali meadow, and is an IBA for brown-crested flycatcher, summer tanager, and long-eared owl.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Lower Colorado River Gadsden Riparian Area, Arizona (117).  This area south of Yuma extends to the Mexican border and receives leakage from the Morelos Dam, which diverts water to Mexican agricultural areas.  It is an IBA forYuma clapper rail and southwestern willow flycatcher.  Ecoregion NA1310. 

Barry Goldwater Air Force Range, Arizona (118).  This area is a unit of the Sonoran Desert Borderlands IBA and is noted for LeConte’s thrasher.   See discussion in the overview of elephant tree and gray’s vireo.  Ecoregion NA1310. 

Fort Huachuca, Arizona (119).  Trails lead through forests of oak, pine and Douglas-fir at Garden Canyon.  This area is part of the Huachuca Mountains IBA.  Ecoregion NA302.

Milpitas Wash, BLM,California (120).  The desert stream is part of the Colorado Desert microphyll woodlands IBA and is noted for long-eared owl, elf owl, and Gila woodpecker.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Vidal Wash, BLM, California (121).  The desert stream is part of the Colorado Desert microphyll woodlands IBA and is noted for long-eared owl, elf owl, and Gila woodpecker.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Walnut Gulch Experimental Watershed, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Arizona (122).  This facility centered on the town of Tombstone was established in the 1950s to research the influence of upland conservation practices on downstream water supply.  A number of hydrologic models resulted.  Today it is the most densely gauged and monitored rangeland in the world, with research programs in water quality, rangeland, pasture, and global change.  Ecoregion NA1303.

 XXII. State and Local Sites

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona (38).  A reservoir recreation area also has hiking in desert mountains. See Alamo Lake under federal recreation lakes.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Sierra a los Ajos, Buenos Aires y las Purvia National Forest Reserve and Wildlife Refuge, Commission on Ecology and Sustainable Development of Sonora, Mexico (123).  This sky island has maintained a natural fire regime and is used as a model for how the sky islands further north should be managed.  The woodlands of mixed conifer, chaparral, and pine-oak are on outcrops of limestone (Fishbein, Felger, and Garza 1995).  The Ajos-Bavispe reserve includes eight sky islands, protecting threatened species.  Ecoregion NA302.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California (28).  Part of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts biosphere reserve.  See description under National Natural Landmarks.

Boyd, Phillip L., Deep Canyon Research Center, University of California Riverside, Palm Desert, California (25).  Known as the ‘Yosemite of the Desert,’ this area is part of the University of California Natural Reserve System, is included in the boundaries of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument, and is also part of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Catalina State Park, Arizona (124).  On the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains, trails lead up canyons and into Pusch Ridge Wilderness (see).  Ecoregion NA1310 and NA302.

Fort McDowell Indian Reservation (40).  TheVerde River through the reservation is part of the Salt and Verde Riparian Ecosystem IBA.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Gilbert Riparian Preserves, City of Gilbert, Arizona (125).  This wastewater treatment area is an IBA for shorebirds.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Imperial State Wildlife Area, California (126).  This is an IBA for mountain plover, burrowing owl, heron, and ibis.  It is a wintering area for snow geese and a nesting area for clapper rails.  The area is also known for its geothermal mudpots.  Ecoregion NA1308.

Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona (127).  This pristine cave was discovered in 1974.  Fossils of a ground sloth 80,000 years old were found in the cave.  Ecoregion NA1303.

Mayflower County Park, Riverside County, Blythe, California (128).  Located on the Colorado River, this park is noted for songbird migration and is part of the Lower Colorado River IBA.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Mittry Lake State Wildlife Area, Arizona (41).  Downstream from Imperial Dam on the Colorado River, this area is an IBA forYuma clapper rail and California black rail.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreational Area, California (129).  Bordered by California Routes 86 to the east, Route 78 to the south, Imperial County Route S22 in the north, and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the west, this 85,000-acre area contains a shell reef of four-million-year-old oyster deposits and mud pots of bubbly liquid.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona (31).  This reservoir recreation area is part of the Sonoita State Natural Area/Patagonia Lake IBA for wintering waterfowl and marsh birds.  Ecoregion NA1303.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona (130).  The peak rises 1,500 feet above the desert floor and a hiking trail encircles the peak.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Picacho State Recreational Area, California (114).  Noted for beavertail cactus, wild burros and migratory waterfowl, this area on Imperial Reservoir adjoins Little Picacho Wilderness and Picacho Peak Wilderness.  It provides opportunities for hiking in a desert landscape. Picacho Peak is a volcanic outcrop formed when lava hardened around a vent.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Quigley State Wildlife Area, Arizona (131).  This area near Tacna is along the riparian corridor of the lower Gila River.  It is an IBA for water birds such as the Yuma clapper rail.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Salt/Gila Riparian Wildlife Management Areas, Arizona (132).  The perennial flow from sewage treatment plants in Maricopa County produces an important bird area between 83rd and 115th Avenue and Gillespie Dam.  Eagles, herons, and cormorants are common.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Salton Sea State Recreational Area, California (133).  The lowest spot on earth at -227 feet elevation, it is known for snow geese and provides hiking and kayaking opportunities.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, Arizona (31).  This area protects the endangered Gila topminnow.  It is an IBA for riparian birds including green kingfisher, black-capped gnatcatcher, and elegant trogon.  Ecoregion NA1303.

South Mountain Park, City of Phoenix, Arizona (134).  The park offers 58 miles of trails in the Sonoran Desert.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Thompson, Boyce, Arboretum State Park, Arizona (135).  Trails lead to displays of Chihuahuan and Sonoran Desert plants.  The area is an IBA for land birds.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Tucson Mountain County Park, Pima County, Arizona (136). Adjacent to the Saguaro NP, this area preserves additional stands of saguaro cactus.  Ecoregion NA1310.


XXIII. Other Natural Sites

Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, National Audubon Society, Arizona (29).  Located at Elgin, this is a partnership project of the Audubon Society, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Swift Current Land and Cattle Company.  An 8,000-acre area that has excluded livestock since 1968 provides opportunities to study grassland ecosystem conservation.  The area is an Important Bird Area for grassland birds.  Ecoregion NA1303.

Cajon del Agua, Sonora (137).  A scenic and steep canyon which contains the northernmost Sinaloan thornscrub vegetation, located on the north side of the Sierra Cucurpe and east of Santa Ana.  Ecoregion NA302.

El Aribabi, Sonora (138).   This 10,000-acre private tract on Route 2 east of Imuris has been designated as a “natural protected area” by the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP).  It contains desert, river, grassland, and mountain oak savanna habitats with mountain lions and breeding Sinaloan wren.  Ecoregions NA302 and 1303.

Aravaipa Canyon Preserve, The Nature Conservancy, Arizona (50). See Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness.

Coachella Valley Preserve, Center for Natural Lands Management, California (112).  This 14,000-acre preserve provides dune habitat for the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.  There are 11 fan palm oases which protect the desert pupfish and provide habitat for other animals that benefit from water in the desert.   Ecoregion NA1310.

Los Fresnos Ranch Preserve, Naturalia organization,Sonora (139).  This site on the Arizona border contains large marshes (cienegas) and high quality native grassland that was not overgrazed in the past.  Ecoregion NA1303.

Valley of the Giants (Gigantes), Baja California (140).  The world’s largest cardon cacti are found south of Punta Estrella.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Guadalupe Canyon, Baja California (141).  This area east of Constitution of 1857 National Park contains granite cliffs, thermal springs, waterfalls, and rock art.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Hassayampa River Preserve, The Nature Conservancy, Arizona (142).  For five miles, this desert river surfaces and provides lush riparian habitat for 260 species of birds and desert fish.  Ecoregion NA1310.

El Humo Range, Sonora (143), is a western sky island located 70 km southwest of Sasabe which hosts oak woodland in north-facing canyons.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area, Arizona (144).  BLM, The Forest Service, and the Nature Conservancy share supervision over seven streams which create oases of riparian habitat in the desert grassland.  The Nature Conservancy operates a visitor center.  Ecoregion NA 1303.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, The Nature Conservancy, Arizona (31).  See description under National Natural Landmarks.

Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center, Arizona (134).  Located in downtown Phoenix, this area preserves Sonoran Desert riparian habitat.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Sonora (145).  Known as Arizona’s beach, the desert meets the sea and is interpreted at the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO).  Ecoregion NA1310.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve, The Nature Conservancy, Arizona (11).  See description under National Natural Landmarks.

Laguna Salada, Baja California (146).  This lake is the northern extension of the Gulf of California when there are floods.  Ecoregion NA1310.

San Pedro River, Arizona (147).  The area downstream from the National Conservation Area (see under National Landscape Conservation System) is a unique mesquite woodland community as well as a cottonwood-willow gallery forest.  The area between Pomerene and Mammoth is an IBA for southwestern willow flycatcher and other riparian birds.  Ecoregion NA1303.

Sierra Madre Occidental, Sonora (148).  The sky islands of Sonora are recognized as an IBA by BirdLife International.  Ecoregion NA302.

Sonoyta River, Sonora (149).  West of Sonoyta city are patches of perennial flow in the desert.  Ecoregion NA1310.

Tajo Canyon, Baja California (150).  The boulder-strewn and palm-lined canyon is at the foot of a 1,950-foot monolith.  Ecoregion NA1310.


XXIV. Further Reading


Arnett, John.  2011.  Gray Vireo Finds Important & Unique Winter Habitat on Arizona’s Military Lands.  Steppingstones, Newsletter of the Department of Defense Partners in Flight Program, Fall 2011.

Bowden, Charles.  1994.  Desert Dreams.  Nature Conservancy Magazine 44(5):16-23.

Bureau of Land Management.  2010.  Plan Amendment/Final EIS for the Genesis Solar Energy Project.  Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office. Available at

Cohn, Jeffrey P.  2005.  Joint Ventures:  A Different Approach to Conservation.  BioScience 55:824-827.

Cohn, Jeffrey P. 2001.  Sonoran Desert Conservation.  BioScience 51:606-610.

Coronado Planning Partnership.  2008.  State of the Coronado National Forest:  An Assessment and Recommendations for the 21st Century.  Available at

Fishbein, Mark, Richard Felger, and Florentino Garza.   1995.   Another Jewel in the Crown:  A Report on the Flora of the Sierra de los Ajos, Sonora, Mexico.  Pp. 126-134 In DeBano, Leonard H. et al., eds.  Biodiversity and Management of the Madrean Archipelago:  The Sky Islands of Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico.  USDA-Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Experiment Station General Technical Report RM-264.

Frasier, Gary W. and Kathryn A. Holland.  2004.  Rangeland Hydrology Research:  Lessons We Have Learned in 40 Years.  Pages 263-276 In George G. Ice and John D. Stednick, eds.  A Century of Forest and Wildland Watershed Lessons.  Society of American Foresters, Bethesda, Maryland.

Gibbons, Bob.  2011.  Wildflower Wonders:  The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World. Princeton University Press.

Mohlenbrock, Robert H.  2011.  Desert Wanderings.  Natural History, October 2011, pp. 38-39.

Mohlenbrock, Robert H. 1986.  Peralta Canyon, Arizona.  Natural History, December 1986, pp. 29-32.

Mohlenbrock, Robert H.  1984.  The Field Guide to U.S. National Forests.  Congdon and Weed, Inc.

Noble, John et al.  2010.  Mexico.  Lonely Planet Publications.

O’Gara, Geoffrey.  2000.  Guide to America’s Outdoors:  Far West.  National Geographic Society,Washington,DC.

Sahagun, Louis.  2012.  Discovery of Indian Artifacts Complicates Genesis Solar Project.  Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2012.

Sonoran Desert Naturalist. (accessed12/23/11).

Trabish, Herman K.  2012.  EnergySource’s New Geothermal Plant is Online Near the Salton Sea. (March 22, 2012).

UNESCO-Man and the Biosphere Reserves Directory. (accessed5/30/11).

Vidal, R.M., H. Berlangia, and M. de Coro Arimendi.  2009.  Mexico. In C. Devenish, D.F. Diaz Fernandez, R.P. Clay,I. Davidson, andI. Yepez Zabala, eds.  Important Bird Areas Americas—Priority Sites for Biodiversity Conservation.  Quito, Ecuador.  BirdLife International.  BirdLife Conservation Series No. 16.

Waldrop, M. Mitchell.  1990.  The Long, Sad Saga of Mount Graham.  Science 248:1479-1481.

White, Mel.  2000.  Guide to America’s Outdoors:  Southwest.  National Geographic Society.

World Heritage List. (accessed 5/22/11).