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Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
A landscape of long, sweeping vistas of rippling grasslands flanked by mountains and their everchanging colors and shadows mark the Buenos Aires Refuge in the Altar Valley. Majestic Baboquivari Peak, an ancient volcano that is sacred to the Tohono O’odham Nation, dominates the western mountains e...
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Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
Description: Among the largest refuges in the country, the Cabeza Prieta NWR lies along 56 miles of the international border in the heart of the Sonoran Desert and portrays excellent examples of the region’s plants and animals. Originally established in 1939 to protect a dwindling population of bighorn sheep, the mission of the refuge has since grown to include protection of an entire desert ecosystem and its associated unique wildlife, like the Sonoran pronghorn. Over 90% of the refuge was designated as wilderness during 1990, and vehicle access through the area is limited to three unimproved roads that require high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. Located in one of the driest locations in the state, the refuge experiences summer temperatures which can easily exceed 115 degrees with up to a hundred continuous days of over 100 degree temperatures. Late summer thunderstorms can be unpredictable and cause desert washes on the refuge to fill rapidly and become small, dangerous, raging rivers. Due primarily to its remoteness and difficult vehicle access, the expansive refuge offers good but limited opportunities for viewing a variety of desert wildlife. The Child’s Mountain Watchable Wildlife Area near refuge headquarters offers visitors an excellent overview of the refuge and is accessible to visitors with 2-wheel drive vehicles, but a locked gate limits access to refuge-sponsored activities.

Wildlife to Watch: This refuge offers good opportunities for viewing a variety of Sonoran Desert plants and animals, with spring offering the best time to see migrating birds and wildflower blooms, which can be spectacular following adequate winter rains. The taller trees and denser vegetation found along dry washes often attract an amazing variety of desert migrating songbirds from March through early May. Common wildlife includes the Gila woodpecker, curve-billed thrasher, cactus wren, white-winged dove, verdin, and an occasional Harris’s hawk. A variety of migrating birds of prey can be abundant, especially during autumn. Commonly seen reptiles include the zebra-tailed lizard, desert iguana, tiger whiptail, western patch-nosed snake, coachwhip, and sidewinder. Bighorn sheep and rare Sonoran pronghorn are present on the refuge but are difficult to find and observe. Most of the refuge is closed from March 15-July 15 to protect the fawning pronghorn. A small pond at refuge headquarters provides an opportunity to view the unique Quitobaquito pupfish, a fish having remarkable abilities to survive hot water temperatures and high mineral concentrations.

Special Tips: All visitors must obtain a free permit to enter the refuge because of its association with the adjoining Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range; military aircraft train adjacent to and in the airspace over the refuge. Visitors should contact staff at the refuge headquarters in Ajo for area information, current conditions, and visitor permits. Also check with refuge headquarters for information concerning staff and docent-led trips conducted on the refuge during the winter season. Office hours are 7:30 AM to 12 PM and 1:00 PM to 4:30 PM Monday through Friday, closed on weekends and holidays.

BORDER NOTES: The refuge borders Mexico for 65 miles of remote, wild lands. Over the last several years the refuge has experienced a large upsurge in illegal activity, including drug smuggling and illegal immigrant crossings. Border Patrol and other agency law enforcement officers patrol the refuge and engage in interdiction operations. Refuge visitors are advised to use caution and common sense when camping, encountering unknown individuals, or when leaving a vehicle for extended periods.

Other Activities: Short, gravel-surfaced trails are located at refuge headquarters and on Child’s Mountain. Camping and backcountry hiking are permitted on the refuge, but no improved trails exist through this wilderness. This is rugged country requiring backpackers to be exceptionally physically fit, knowledgeable about desert travel, and to carry ample water. Potable water is unavailable on the refuge.

Ownership: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 
Size: 860,010 acres 
Closest Town: Ajo

RestroomsParkingVisitor CenterDrinking Water

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Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge - photo by William Radke
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Driving Directions:
From Tucson take Exit 99 on I-19 and drive 115 miles west on State Route 86 to Why and then 10 miles northwest on State Route 85 to Ajo. From Gila Bend take Exit 115 on I-8 and drive 42 miles south on state route 85 to Ajo. Refuge headquarters is located in Ajo at 1611 North Second Street, where entry permits, regulations, current conditions, and further directions may be obtained.

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Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge : Wildlife Viewing Area