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Top Ten: Wildlife Refuges

“But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” ~Job 12:7-10

In the Southwestern U.S., national wildlife refuges protect some of the most varied wildlife and spectacular landscapes found anywhere in the world. Arizona is home to nearly two million acres of national wildlife refuges, from lush wetlands along the Colorado River to the arid beauty of the southern deserts. These regions are havens for diverse flora and fauna including migrating birds, bighorn sheep, and the state’s only native palm trees. In most places, nature rules and tourists are scarce, making these areas peaceful sanctuaries for people as well as wildlife.

1. Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge

Bill Williams River NWR holds one of the last stands of natural cottonwood-willow forest along the lower Colorado River, creating a unique ecosystem that provides good habitat for resident and migratory wildlife. With its majestic rock cliffs; its ribbon of cool water running through classic Sonoran Desert; and its cattail-filled marsh harboring rails and waterfowl, Bill Williams River NWR offers a little bit of everything for both wildlife and people.

2. Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Buenos Aires NWR provides approximately 118,000 acres of habitat for some of the region’s most imperiled species of plants and wildlife. Visit a landscape of rippling grassland flanked by mountains, and riparian zones rich in bird life. The semidesert grassland supports the reintroduction of masked bobwhite quail and pronghorns. Prescribed and natural fires play a major role in maintaining and restoring the sea of grass that once filled the Altar Valley of southern Arizona. Riparian (wetland) areas along Arivaca Cienega and Creek attract an abundance of birds. A sycamore-lined stream meanders through oak woodland in Brown Canyon nestled in the Baboquivari Mountains. Buenos Aires NWR has a unique opportunity to protect remnants of a fragile desert ecosystem. Unfortunately, due to its location along the international border with Mexico, at least 25 illegal immigrants have died while crossing refuge lands, where temperatures average in the mid-90’s during summer months.

3. Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Boundless desert surrounds you in Cabeza Prieta, the third largest national wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states. Here, seven rugged mountain ranges cast shadows over barren valleys once swept by lava. Saguaros loom in stark profile above the baked earth. A 56-mile shared border with Sonora, Mexico, might well be the loneliest international boundary on the continent – if it weren’t for all of the illegal immigrants crossing the border. Imagine the state of Rhode Island without any people and only one wagon track of a road. Cabeza Prieta NWR is that big, that wild and also incredibly hostile to those who need lots of water to live. El Camino del Diablo, “the Devil’s Highway,” crosses the Refuge. Jesuit Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino pioneered the route, which stretched from Caborca, Mexico to California, from 1699-1701. It earned its name from many travelers who died along the route. The military has used this area as a gunnery and bombing range since World War II. Many types of ordnance remain on the Refuge, some buried and some on the surface. You may encounter unexploded ordnance.

4. Cibola National Wildlife Refuge

5. Hassayampa River Preserve

6. Havasu National Wildlife Refuge

7. Imperial National Wildlife Refuge

8. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

9. Ramsey Canyon Preserve

10. San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area

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