Traveling through the heart of the Sonoran Desert National Monument (SDNM), while racing towards San Diego from Tucson or Phoenix on Interstate 8, travelers experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert at 70 miles per hour. Saguaro cacti, ironwood and palo verde trees in various shades of green and gray are connected by sun baked by gray, brown and black boulder covered ground. The land is dissected by tree lined desert washes carved into the ground by runoff from centuries of rains. Mountains and hills provide substrate for desert plants and animals and magnificent views to travelers. Many Americans take this natural scenic grandeur for granted. Most people are glad it there for them to appreciate, but few ever people ever wonder off the interstate and become better acquainted with this land and learn its secrets.
Fortunately there were people who did stop to smell, taste and see, feel, small and even taste the land that we call the SDNM. Not surprisingly many reported that the land was more than a stretch of desert to run a highway, or to graze a few cows, but the home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, many of which are endemic to the Sonoran Desert. That is found nowhere else on earth but the Sonoran Desert.
The Sonoran Desert
Found only in northern Mexico, southern and central Arizona and a small portion of California the Sonoran Desert is a unique biotic community characterized by plants and animals adapted to the arid conditions where temperatures range from below freezing in the winter and to 120 degrees F in the summer. The Sonoran Desert is the most arborescent (tree like) of North American deserts. The saguaro cactus is the primary keystone species and is only found naturally in the Sonoran Desert.
The Sonoran Desert National Monument
In 2001, thanks to efforts of many interested citizens including then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, President William Jefferson Clinton proclaimed 496,337-acres as the SDNM. President Clinton also signed legislation creating the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The NLCS was formed to guide the BLM’s management of our land to insure its ecological and cultural values are maximized. (Place a link to the original proclamation).
The monument offers many opportunities to explore and discover the secrets of the Sonoran Desert and includes three wilderness areas, the North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness, the South Maricopa Mountains Wilderness, and the Table Top Wilderness. These wilderness areas offer excellent opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation. The North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness has two hiking and equestrian trails, the 9-mile Margie’s Cove Trail and the 6-mile Brittlebush Trail. The Table Top Wilderness also has two hiking and equestrian trails, the 7-mile Lava Flow Trail and the 3-mile Table Top Trail. A section of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail crosses the national monument. This congressionally designated trail parallels the Butterfield Overland Stage Route, the Mormon Battalion Trail, and the Gila Trail. A four-wheel-drive accessible route follows the trail corridor for approximately 10 miles through the national monument.