The Betty’s Kitchen National Recreation Trail winds through dense riparian vegetation past a fishing pier and over a rugged metal bridge. The site is next to historic Laguna Dam, the first dam built on the Colorado River.
Imperial National Wildlife Refuge
|Description: The Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is a significant wildlife viewing area, attracting nearly 150,000 visitors each year. It was established in 1941 to provide habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife along 30 miles of the lower Colorado River, including the last unchannelized section before the river enters Mexico.
The river and its associated marshes contrast sharply with the surrounding desert, some of the hottest and driest in the west; this portion of the Sonoran Desert receives only 3.5 inches of rain annually and is subject to extremely high summer temperatures. More than 15,000 acres of the refuge is managed as wilderness.
At one time, the banks of the Colorado River were lined with cottonwood and willow forests, sustained by the river’s natural periodic flooding. Refuge staff works with other agencies and organizations to restore native fish, wildlife, and plants within and along the lower Colorado River.
Follow the scenic Red Cloud Mine Road through the Sonoran Desert landscape to access the observation points and the Painted Desert Trail. If you intend to drive further than the Painted Desert Trailhead, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended. Check with the Visitor Center for road conditions.
Paloverde, Mesquite, Ironwood, and Smoke Tree Observation Points offer beautiful views of the Colorado River valley. Often, both desert and wetland wildlife may be seen. All of the observation points can be reached by vehicle. Mining history and artifacts are scattered around the refuge in the mountainous areas, and petroglyphs can be found along the Colorado River.
Meers Point offers a quiet place to canoe and fish with shaded tables, toilets, and a boat launch. Here, the refuge surrounds one of the few remaining "wild" places on the Colorado River, highly valued by boaters for its remote scenery.
Wildlife to Watch: Waterfowl is most abundant during winter, when large numbers of cinnamon teal, green winged teal, gadwall, mallard, and northern pintail use the refuge; other winter species include Canada goose, snow goose, sandhill crane, and a variety of herons, egrets, and other waterbirds. Glossy ibis are almost always present. Shorebirds such as snipe, willets, sandpipers, yellowlegs, stilts and others are common on mudflats following water fluctuations. During the summer months, look for resident species such as Gambel’s quail, Clark’s grebe, great blue heron, mourning dove, and muskrat. Osprey and other birds of prey can be found year round. Burrowing owls are very common here; look for their burrows along the irrigation ditches that feed the wetlands within the refuge. In the upland areas, wildlife such as black-tailed jackrabbit, bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyote, tiger whiptail, desert spiny lizard, common side-blotched lizard, common kingsnake, western diamond-backed rattlesnake, and a variety of other reptiles can be viewed. Feral burros are also common to the site. Watch at dawn and dusk for bighorn sheep and mule deer heading to the river for a drink.
Special Tips: Observation points are accessible by car; the observation tower near the visitor center provides universal accessibility. Kiosks provide interpretive information about the refuge; guided hikes are offered during the winter.
Other Activities: The self-guided Painted Desert Trail, a 1.3 mile moderately strenuous loop, has outstanding views of the Sonoran Desert, ancient volcanic activity, and the Colorado River. This scenic trail leads through a rainbow of colors left by 20-30 million year-old volcanic activity and features a panoramic view of the Colorado River valley. While vegetation is scarce, if winter rains are sufficient, wildflower bloom can be spectacular during late winter and early spring. Plants can include white-stemmed milkweed and brittlebrush, as well as ironwood and paloverde trees
Ownership: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Size: 25,768 acres
Closest Town: Martinez Lake
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: