On this day, President Bush signed the Arizona Desert Wilderness Act of 1990 into law, which established 38 new wilderness areas and expanded the Aravaipa Canyon wilderness.  The bill also established the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area featured here.

The 23,000-acre Gila Box Riparian NCA is truly an oasis in the desert. It has four perennial waterways - the Gila and San Francisco rivers and Bonita and Eagle creeks, which are the lifeline for this remarkable place. The Gila River canyon section, known as the Gila Box, is composed of patchy mesquite woodlands, mature cottonwoods, sandy beaches, and buff-colored cliffs. Bonita Creek, popular for birdwatching, hiking, and picnicking, is lined with large cottonwoods, sycamores, and willows. The perennial creek and riparian vegetation make this a cool year-round desert oasis.

Cliff dwellings, historic homesteads, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and over 200 species of birds make this year-round watery desert refuge worth the short drive from Safford, Arizona.

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM 


BLM Winter Bucket List #25: Agua Fria National Monument, Arizona, for a Natural and Historic Getaway near Superbowl 49

The 70,900-acre Agua Fria National Monument, a part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands, is approximately 40 miles north of Phoenix, just a short drive from Superbowl 49 central next week.

The area is located on a high mesa semi-desert grassland, cut by the canyon of the Agua Fria River and other ribbons of valuable riparian forest. The diversity of vegetative communities, topographic features, and a dormant volcano decorates the landscape with a big rocky, basaltic plateau. The Agua Fria River canyon cuts through this plateau exposing precambrian rock along the canyon walls, offering one of the most significant systems of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest. In addition to the rich record of human history, the monument contains outstanding wildlife and biological resources.

This habitat provides visitors with a wide variety of activities within the monument, from exploring cultural sites to viewing wildlife to hiking scenic trails.  The monument is a great natural and historic getaway less than an hour from the city. 

CLICK HERE to learn more and plan a visit.  

Photos by BLMer Bob Wick


Textures of the Sonoran Desert     

The Sonoran Desert of central and southern Arizona is one of the most biologically rich deserts on the planet.  This richness leads to an incredible variety of plant forms, colors and survival strategies.  During a day out on the BLM public lands of the Tucson Field Office, it’s hard not to marvel at the textures of the Sonoran Desert and the plants that inhabit it, as they deal with an environment that’s both inviting and imposing.  

Working for the BLM means working on a hundred different projects and uses at one time, and taking time to appreciate the resource is more challenging than outsiders might think.  But I’ve been out in the field with a lot of BLM employees; inevitably once you get us out from behind the desk and onto BLM landscapes, their natural interest to explore and appreciate comes rushing back.

The human contribution, while not dominant where we are standing, adds to the visual diversity.  Fence posts, tire tracks, even the random, ancient GLO monument market remind you that the Sonoran Desert is certainly a populated and utilized place.

-Adam Milnor, Gila District Public Affairs Specialist (Newest #MyPublicLands Employee Blogger - Welcome, Adam!)

Beautiful shot of the Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona, which contains more than 487,000 acres of Sonoran Desert landscape. The Sonoran Desert is the most biologically diverse of the North American deserts and includes an the extensive saguaro cactus forest.

The dust from a recent storm front made for interesting backlighting of the rich Sonoran vegetation at the national monument.

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM Wilderness Specialist for the BLM’s National Conservation Lands.


In a new photographic series exploring America’s natural beauty, is choosing and highlighting seven spectacular wonders from each state. The recent America the Beautiful: 7 Wonders of Arizona features the BLM-managed Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, with several beautiful photos taken by our own Bob Wick (pictured here)!

Located on the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona, Vermillion Cliffs includes the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. This remote and unspoiled, 280,000-acre Monument is a geologic treasure, containing a variety of diverse landscapes from the Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes, and Paria Canyon. 

Visitors enjoy scenic views of towering cliffs and deep canyons. Paria Canyon offers an outstanding three to five day wilderness backpacking experience. The colorful swirls of cross-bedded sandstone in Coyote Buttes are an international hiking destination. The BLM admits only 20 people a day to the monument’s best known attraction - the Wave - to preserve this unique formation.  

CLICK HERE to learn more about Vermillion Cliffs and the BLM’s National Conservation Lands.


On this day in 2001, the Carrizo Plain, Sonoran Desert, Pompeys Pillar, Upper Missouri River Breaks, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monuments were established by Presidential Proclamation. 

CLICK HERE to learn more about the national monuments managed by the BLM’s National Conservation Lands.

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM


BLM Winter Bucket List #10: Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona, for Mild Temperatures and Winter Photography

Taking its name from one of the longest living trees in the Arizona desert, the Ironwood Forest National Monument protects 129,000 acres of spectacular Sonoran Desert mountains blanketed with saguaro cacti and ironwood trees. The winter light on the photogenic peaks - plus an average January high temperature of 65 degrees F - make the Ironwood an appealing wintertime public lands destination.

Ragged Top Mountain is the biological and geological crown jewel of the national monument. Several endangered and threatened species live here, including the Nichols turk’s head cactus and the lesser long-nosed bat. The national monument also contains habitat for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. The desert bighorn sheep dwelling in the region are the last viable population indigenous to the Tucson basin. The area holds abundant rock art sites and other archaeological objects of scientific interest.

Learn more about Ironwood Forest NM:

Photos by Bob Wick, BLM

Milky Way near Butterfield Pass in the BLM-managed Sonoran Desert National Monument

This area is probably only 30-40 air miles from Phoenix, and the glow from the city is visible to the north.  However, the overhead stars and southern horizon are dark enough to clearly see the Milky Way, which makes a great backdrop to the charismatic saguaros. 

-Bob Wick, BLM Wilderness Specialist


Happy Birthday, Las Cienegas National Conservation Area! 

Designated this day in 2000, more than 45,000 acres of Arizona’s Pima and Santa Cruz counties are protected as a BLM-managed National Conservation Area.  With rolling grasslands and mountain ranges, lush riparian corridors, and the Cienega Creek, the NCA supports a diverse plant and animal community.  

Located in the heart of the Las Cienegas NCA, the historic Empire Ranch Headquarters includes a 22-room adobe and wood-frame building which dates to 1870 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The setting makes it a favorite of classic western film fans. Red River, Duel in the Sun, Hombre, Winchester 73, The Big Country, and many others were filmed on or near the Empire Ranch - still a working cattle ranch to this day.

Learn more about Las Cienegas NCA and the Empire Ranch.


Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument Makes Outside Magazine’s “Best Places for Night Sky Viewing”

Check out Outside Magazine’s list of best places for night sky viewing.  The article includes areas designated by the International Dark-Sky Association or IDA to stargaze—especially places absent the yellow haze of light pollution. Arizona’s Parashant International Dark Sky Province is the latest, in 2014, to earn the hat tip from the IDA. The providence includes the pristine, breathtaking skies above 1.05 million acres of land in northwest Arizona at Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.

A part of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands, the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument is a vast, biologically diverse landscape encompassing an array of scientific and historic objects. The BLM and National Park Service jointly manage the Monument, which was established by presidential proclamation in 2000. Valuable geological resources are located within the Monument boundaries, including relatively undeformed and unobscured Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rock layers and abundant fossils,  which offer a clear view of the geologic history of the Colorado Plateau. The Monument also contains outstanding biological resources including giant Mojave yucca, trophy-quality mule deer, California condor, desert tortoise, and southwestern willow flycatcher. 

Visit the BLM’s website to learn more about the area

Photos by Bob Wick, BLM Wilderness Specialist


Aravaipa Canyon is as close to the perfect hike as I have ever encountered.  It starts out at the trailhead as a scenic trek through  a riparian forest of cottonwoods and willows, then turns spectacular a short time later (understatement) as it enters a 1,000 ft. deep canyon in about a mile in.  While most canyons this dramatic require rope assisted descents or at least some rock scrambling, Aravaipa is… well pretty easy.  Hikers and backpackers must wear water shoes, as you’ll be crossing and wading through the clear stream constantly.  The water temperature was perfect for wading, at least this time of year… the rocks are not slippery, its flat, it just doesn’t get any better! The area would be quickly overwhelmed if the BLM had not instituted a permit system to limit use in the narrow fragile canyon.  The BLM Safford Office issues permits.  More from their website:

The 19,410-acre Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is 120 miles southeast of Phoenix, Arizona in Graham and Pinal counties.  The wilderness includes the 11-mile long Aravaipa Canyon, as well as, the surrounding tablelands and nine side canyons.  Seven species of native desert fish, desert bighorn sheep, and over 200 species of birds live among shady cottonwoods along the perennial waters of Aravaipa Creek.  Additional information is available on the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Permits page. 

-Bob Wick, BLM Wilderness Specialist



In celebration of Earth Day 2014, the Bureau of Land Management is introducing three vintage posters and postcards depicting some of the spectacular landscapes of our National Conservation Lands. As a part of a continuing series, the purpose of the campaign is to highlight these ruggedly beautiful and culturally rich places that belong to all Americans. 

The inaugural posters and postcards artistically portray three different areas, illustrating the diversity of the landscapes protected under the system. They are Eagletail Mountains Wilderness Area in Arizona, Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana and Headwaters Forest Reserve in California.  

There are now nearly 900 designated areas of National Conservation Lands spanning almost 27 million acres – or 11 percent of the lands managed by BLM. They include national monuments, national conservation areas, wilderness and wilderness study areas, national wild and scenic rivers, national scenic trails and national historic trails. 

Learn more about your National Conservation Lands:


Wishing all of you a wonderful #NPLD weekend from Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Mount Logan Wilderness Area

This 14,650-acre wilderness lies 45 miles south of Colorado City, Arizona, just north of the Grand Canyon in Mohave County.

Mount Logan is an area of interesting volcanic activity. It includes basalt ledges, cinder cones, ponderosa pine forests, pinyon-juniper woodlands, and a large, colorful, naturally eroded amphitheater known as Hells Hole. The area provides habitat for deer, turkey, and Kaibab squirrels.

Hiking, camping, scenic vistas, watching wildlife and hunting are some of the prime recreational opportunities found in this wilderness.

Photos by Bob Wick, BLM

Nature’s Mashup-Monsoon Rains

The rain came hard and fast. The sudden deluge drenched the desert and flooded the once-tame creek with an impressive mass of churning sludge and brush. The air was filled with nature’s richest aromas. The scent of a flash flood; nature’s “mash up”, blends the smell of pulverized sage and creosote, soil and sediment, with the sweet aroma of rain. Watching the desert transform by flood waters can be exciting—and foreboding—depending upon where you stand when the flood waters recede.

Storms can leave side canyons and delicate riparian zones completely unrecognizable; scouring canyons clean of even the toughest, most deeply rooted tamarisks and shrubs. Log jams some 50 feet above the canyon floor attest to the sheer volume floods deliver—especially when channeled down narrow slot canyons like Paria Canyon in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness.

This time of year, public land managers and staff have the insurmountable task of providing enough information for the public to make good, sound decisions when recreating on public lands. But one thing is crystal clear; no matter how awe-inspiring a feature or landscape may be no adventure into a natural area is worth the risk of injury or death.

When venturing out in the desert southwest between mid-July and the first of October be sure to check with the specific land management unit you plan to visit and the National Weather Service and refer to their web pages often for the most current updates and forecasts prior to departure. Leave a detailed emergency contact list and itinerary with loved ones which significantly decreases the time it takes for search and rescue efforts to reach hikers if needed. The best approach to backcountry safety however, is to take personal responsibility for your own safety and ensure every ounce of prevention is taken when planning ahead. It can mean the difference between an enjoyable and memorable trip and a disastrous one.

For more information on hiking slot canyons during monsoon season go to:

For updates on regional river flows in Northwestern Arizona such as the Paria River go to:

For minute by minute weather updates and forecasts go to:

-Story by BLMer Rachel Tueller and photos by Stephen Matera 


BLM Celebrates National Public Lands Day with Condor Release

Managing public lands for healthy ecosystems, including diverse plant communities and viable wildlife populations, is an important part of BLM’s work related to the Endangered Species Act. The California condor recovery program is an important part of BLM’s mission.  As a wildlife biologist, father and grandfather, I would like my children and grand children to always have this unique vulture species abundant and soaring in the skies over the Arizona Strip. -Tim Hughes, BLM Arizona State Office Threatened and Endangered Species Specialist

Tomorrow, Sept. 27, the BLM, The Peregrine Fund and partners will release three California condors in the BLM-managed Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The condors were hatched and raised as part of The Peregrine Fund’s captive breeding program at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, and will be transported to Arizona for the release.

As of June 30, 2014, 72 of the world’s total 439 birds live in the wild throughout northern Arizona and southern Utah. Recovery efforts have successfully helped the species recover from the brink of extinction when numbers fell to just 22 condors worldwide in the 1980s.  Success is due to the efforts of contributing partners, including the BLM Arizona, The Peregrine Fund, Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park.

The annual release coincides with National Public Lands Day and results in approximately 300 participants. Join the celebration on social media! You can follow the fun tomorrow using the hashtags #CondorsOnTheRise, #WelcomeCondors and #NPLD on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Flickr.


Birding through new eyes!

As I pull into the park and throw on my jacket, I realize the cool morning air doesn’t have the icy edge of winter I’d been bracing for. Having grown up at the foot of the Sierra Nevada’s, February’s frigid temps were customary. But in the desert southwest, warmth and sunshinepermeate the sage-studded valley floor, even in the dead of winter.

I walk quickly to the Tonaquint Nature Center, anxious to meet Brian Bock, Ann McLuckie and their two girls Phoebe and Robin, my friends for years. The family is unique; they’ve traveled to Costa Rica, Hawaii and Panama—all for the joy of birding.

“It’s really amazing birding out here this morning—there’s ring-neck ducks and hooded mergansers,” says Ann, pointing across the mossy pond.

As the family guides me through the park, I appreciate the easy way they engage me in their style of birding. Robin and Phoebe take the lead.  

Robin wows at the cluster of snowy-white Great Egrets perched high in a leaf-less cottonwood tree. Phoebe guides us through the underbrush to watch a gorgeous, colorful, male peacock.  

My excitement grows as I see birding through their bright, young eyes. And I appreciate the power of this family’s culture of learning and discovery. 

By Rachel Tueller Carnahan, BLM Arizona 



I love Arizona Wilderness.  It offers that special something which non-wilderness areas can’t match. I should know because I came from Illinois where I hiked many miles of forest and meadow trails.  The hiking was a lot of fun, but I never knew how great hiking could be until I discovered the Arizona Wilderness.

I am blown away by the plethora of Wilderness areas in Arizona.  I can drive from Phoenix in any direction and be in a Wilderness area within an hour.  What is more surprising is how fast one can disappear into these areas and be surrounded by the most amazing scenery anywhere in the United States.

I have hiked Eagletail Mountains Wilderness where I have seen mule deer, wild horses and ancient petroglyphs. I have spent time in the Superstition Wilderness where Gila monsters wander. I’ve walked the Upper Burro Creek Wilderness where wild burros will keep an eye on you while you hike. I have been lucky enough to see the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, where the number of hikers is limited to 50 a day.  I have spent time in the Hassayampa River Canyon Wilderness, where one can hike in the river all day admiring Mother Nature’s magnificence.

Arizona Wilderness allows me to explore areas rarely hiked, make new discoveries with every step, immerse myself into the wilderness and experience the wonderment of canyons, rivers, deserts and mountains less traveled.  When I am in Arizona Wilderness I feel the child come…  I get to play all day.  What a great feeling!

-Larry Zuiker, Arizona Wilderness Visitor