Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, originally established in 1939, is administered by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Its 860,010 acres make it larger than the state of Rhode Island. More than 275 different species of animals, including desert bighorn sheep and Sonoran pronghorn, and almost 400 species of plants inhabit this lower-elevation section of the Sonoran Desert. The refuge is administered in Ajo where we registered for a Visitor Permit. Because the military used the refuge as a gunnery and bombing range, many types of ordinance remain, some buried and some on the surface. Thus, registering for a Visitor’s Permit requires signing a number of waivers. One copy of the permit must be displayed in the vehicle and another copy was kept in our possession while in the refuge. Before leaving the Visitor Center, we watched an informative video about the work of the refuge.

Cabeza Prieta Windmill

Cabeza Prieta Windmill

There are three public-use roads to access the refuge. We traveled about 2.9 miles from the Visitor’s Center on Highway 85, Rasmussen Road, and then BLM 8112 to a kiosk where we registered our entrance to the refuge. A 4-wheel drive vehicle with two Fish & Game employees headed into the refuge while we were at the kiosk. We traversed about 10 miles of the unimproved single track Charlie Bell Road’s 12.4 miles before finding the road becoming ever narrower so that paloverde trees could scrap the side of our vehicle. The Sonoran Pronghorn are an endangered species that the refuge is attempting to support. We saw an employee at a management site near Pack Rat Hill. There appeared to be an observation site on the hill and a tall blind on the flat. It also looked like there was some sort of fencing between the refuge and this road. We were aware that this road can be closed between mid-March and mid-July while the pronghorn are fawning. We found a wider section of road so that this employee could pass us. The only other visitors that we saw were in a Jeep at the windmill and Little Tule Well which is about 3.6 miles from the refuge entrance. They exited while I took pictures. The only wildlife that we saw were birds and a squirrel. One small area was bright orange with the globemallows in bloom. Our short time in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge was probably the most desolate experience I have had.

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