Sunday, November 29, 2015

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, 11/28/2015

Today we visited Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles north of Yuma, AZ. It is one of the 550 refuges located throughout the U.S. that are administered by the Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Imperial protects habitat along 30 miles of the lower Colorado River in Arizona and California.  Along the river are many backwater lakes and wetlands that are a shaarp contrast to the desert terrain of the area. Many migratory birds make this their home during the winter months. It consists of 25,000+ acres. 

Our first stop, as always, was the Visitor Center located off of Red Cloud Mine Road (a gravel, but well-maintained, road). 

There were lots of informative exhibits on display here about the habitats and wildlife in the refuge.  

There is an observation tower a short distance from the Visitor Center. Sadie, our doggy, always likes to accompany us for a look too! It was a lovely fall day the view was gorgeous.

I loved seeing these prickly pear cactus in bloom. 

If you turn right from the Visitor Center, you can access Meers Point where there is a boat launch and picnic area. We headed north on Red Cloud Mine Road to check out the Observation Points (there are four) and access the Painted Desert Trail.

Our first stop was Palo Verde Point along Indian Wash. It is well marked and there is a spur road that leads to the viewpoint.

Sadie loved getting a chance to run around and explore the terrain here (although dogs are supposed to be leashed at all times). There was no one else here when we pulled in.

Continuing north on Red Cloud Mine Road, the next observation point is Mesquite Point at McAllister Lake.

John spotted an osprey in the distance in cove here. 

Continuing north we stopped at the Painted Desert trailhead to hike the 1.3 mile loop foot trail. You can pick up a brochure about the trail at the Visitor Center or at the kiosk at the trailhead. The difficulty of the trail is rated as average (moderate short climbs and uneven terrain). It is well marked so just look for the white posts with directional signs or numbered ones that correspond to information provided in the trail brochure. 

The trail starts in a sandy wash that has lots of interesting rock formations.

Check out this crazy looking hoodoo. It was created by water eroding the rock from several directions. 

The trail continued up a steep incline (with steps, fortunately) with expansive views at the top.

The narrow trails seen in the photo below are created by burros that reside in the area., When miners died or left the area in the late 1880s, their burros were left to fend for themselves in the wild. Many live in this area today.

The dark areas are ones covered with rock from long-extinct volcanos. There is a wide array of colors here from pink, to green, to sand, to black. 

The trail descended again into a wash. The Sonoran Desert terrain changed yet again to pastel-colored hills.

The trail ended on the other side of the parking lot. There is a picnic table and bathroom facilities here too. 

Continuing north on Red Cloud Mine Road, we went to the third overlook, Ironwood Point, that provides expansive views of Butler Lake. The autumn colors of the vegetation was just beautiful in the afternoon light. 

A high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive, vehicle is required to continue to the fourth overlook at Smoketree Point, so we were unable to drive there (although I am told it affords a beautiful downstream view of the Colorado River).

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the wildlife refuge. In particular, the Painted Desert Trail was great. I highly recommend it as you can see an interesting diversity of the terrain in the Sonoran Desert and it is not a difficult hike. We saw lots of birds, including birds of prey, but did not get many good pictures of them. Regardless, this is a great place to visit if you enjoy the outdoors.

There are two other wildlife refuges near Yuma, Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. We will probably visit them as well during our 2-month stay in Yuma. 

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