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Western Desert Region

Heartland of America's Desert

Species Diversity | Geological Significance | Recreational Opportunities | Our Regional Work | What's Happening Here NOW?

Joshua trees are common in some parts of Arizona's
Western desert. Photo by Jason Williams.

Western Arizona is the heartland of the Southwest American desert. This spectacular expanse of Arizona contains what some may consider the "crown jewel" of North America's arid regions—the Sonoran Desert—which spans Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the Barry M. Goldwater Gunnery Range, and the Sierra Pinacate Biosphere Reserve.

The Sonoran Desert is proclaimed to be the most species-rich and biologically diverse arid land on Earth. The rest of the Western Deserts region contains a rich mixture of arid rocky lands and plunging canyons green with life. Each ecosystem teems with a multitude of well-adapted desert species of plants, animals, and birds. Wilderness-quality lands abound in the Western Deserts--come explore!

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Species Diversity

Providing habitat for pronghorn, coyote, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, desert tortoise, peregrine falcon, and numerous species of rattlesnakes, the Arizona desert offers vast breathtaking arid landscapes. Amidst a spattering of classic western cities and towns, Joshua trees, Palo Verdes, and saguaro cacti color the landscape and host hundreds of bird species. When the desert rains, these creatures present a multitude of life!

Rattlesnake photo.
Rattlesnakes are common in the backcountry wilderness of the Western Desert. Credit: Bill Sloan, Arizona Herpetological Association
Antelope photo.
Pronghorn antelope.
Credit: National Wildlife Federation

The diverse vegetation types represented by the Mojave, Lower Colorado, Lower Sonoran, and Great Basin deserts magnifies the incredible species diversity that intersects in western Arizona. In fact, the Arrastra Mountain Wilderness—including Black Mountain, Ives Peak, Tres Alamos, the Santa Maria River, and Ferruginous hawk. Photo by Mark Miller.Burro Creek—represents a convergence of all of the vegetation associations mentioned above, and is the largest BLM wilderness area in Arizona. Bringing together these different communities of life creates a truly unique, fragile place.

Numerous perennial streams and springs in this otherwise arid region represent vulnerable ribbons of life that are essential for migrating birds and mammals, as well as “residential obligate species” (they have to live only in that place).

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Geological Significance

In northwestern Arizona, the transition zone between the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Province creates a unique geomorphological feature connecting the Great Basin, Sonoran, and Mojave Deserts. The geologic features that are created out of this ancient landscape are great mesas, deep canyons, wide flats, and a general rugged landscape cut deep by seasonal rains. The western mountains are truly some of Arizona’s most beautiful features.

The Colorado River flows along Arizona's western border below Lake Mead. Numerous dams, diverting almost all of the Colorado River's water before it reaches Mexico, interrupt remnant riparian ecosystems. The river and its surrounding lands are forever changed. For better and for worse, it is often referred to as "Arizona's West Coast".


Recreational Opportunities

Many Americans would be timid to visit western Arizona, but not the Arizonan. It can reach up to 160° on the ground in the summer; hikers generally rest during the day and carry plenty of water. Countless stars illuminate the desert night, where one can lay under the vast universe of twinkling lights and allow the cool night air to sooth and refresh after the daytime heat.

Winter weather and springtime blooms draw worldwide attention and brings many snowbirds from cooler parts of the United States. Hiking and camping increases dramatically in the winter, as does off-road vehicle use surrounding Arizona’s wilderness Areas. Motorized impacts are one of our biggest threats to Wilderness in Arizona.

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Our Regional Work

Inventory volunteer. Photo by Jay Krienitz.
Photo: Jay Krienitz.

Is there a place that you love in Western Arizona and think should be designated as wilderness? We always need volunteers to conduct on-the-ground roadless area inventories.

Summer inventories will be limited to preliminary road surveys and to field inventories, with only the most dedicated, heat-resistant individuals. Winter temperatures allow for more intensive forays into new potential wilderness areas to complete roadless inventories. This is one of the most enjoyable volunteer experiences available for the naturalist.

While surveying areas for potential wilderness, volunteers experience landscapes that are little traveled, beautiful, and remote. We need active members who will repeatedly let the Bureau of Land Management managers know that we support interim and lasting protection of our wild lands.

Find out about these major regional issues and how you can participate:

To learn more and to get involved, please contact Sam Frank in our Central Arizona office: 928-717-6076.

-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement