Monument Monday: Sonoran Desert National Monument Turns 13
Designated by President Clinton on Jan. 17, 2001, the Sonoran Desert National Monument of south-central Arizona was established as “a magnificent example of untrammeled Sonoran desert landscape.” The monument is vast – nearly a half million acres in extent; wild – it includes three federally designated wildernesses and another 107,800 acres managed to protect wilderness characteristics; and secluded – it retains a palpable sense of remote isolation despite being only a one- to two-hour drive from the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area.
Extensive “forests” of columnar saguaro cactus, paloverde and ironwood trees, and meandering desert riparian vegetation provide excellent habitat for a diverse array of wildlife, including mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, javelina, and desert tortoises. During the winter and spring, crisp nights and warm days greet the visitor, while during the sweltering heat of summer, towering thunderstorms build and roll across the desert floor, flooding normally dry sandy washes.
Despite its apparent isolation and hostility to visitors, the Sonoran Desert National Monument has been the scene of much of Arizona’s history, from Native American settlements and Spanish missionary expeditions to fur trappers plying the adjacent Gila River and gold rush ‘49ers—not to mention the countless groups of American settlers moving to and from California. The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail bisects the monument, commemorating the Spanish expeditions that passed in 1775-1776 to eventually found San Francisco. The Mormon Battalion, a volunteer army unit recruited during the Mexican-American War, and the Butterfield Overland Mail also clattered across the Sonoran Desert National Monument during the mid-1800s.
For the modern explorer, there are 26 miles of hiking trails and 410 miles of primitive vehicle routes, although these require high clearance and four-wheel-drive to safely access and negotiate. Back-country driving by off-highway vehicle, dispersed camping, hiking, hunting, and equestrian use are the primary opportunities offered to visitors at the scenic and historic Sonoran Desert National Monument.
The Sonoran Desert National Monument is one of 19 national monuments in the National Landscape Conservation System, or National Conservation Lands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Learn more about the National Conservation Lands: http://on.doi.gov/19NBFQl.