Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area protects one of the most significant riparian (streamside) zones in the Southwest. It offers tremendous scientific, cultural, scenic, and recreational values and is one of only two riparian NCAs in the United States.
Four perennial waterways - the Gila River, Bonita Creek, Eagle Creek and San Francisco River--feed the diverse wilderness of Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area (RNCA) and provide water, food, cover and travel corridors for a variety of species. The RNCA includes a 15-mile segment of Bonita Creek and 23 miles of the Gila River. Bonita Creek is popular for birding and picnicking, with more than 200 species of birds, including the Bell's vireo, bridled titmouse, canyon wren, golden eagle, and an abundance of hummingbirds.
Many of the larger mammals of the Box hide from human spectators; it is unusual to see the mule deer, kix foxes, mountain lions, and bobcats that reside here. Reptiles, however, are unafraid and have full run of the Box. Be careful when traversing the surrounding desert areas, because you may come upon rattlesnakes or even the beautiful but poisonous lizard known as the Gila monster.
Thousands of years before Safford, Arizona was established as a town in 1874, the land was home to many native tribes. First were the Anasazi. Next, the Hohokam tribe arrived to farm and build canals for crop irrigation. Mysteriously, sometime in the 13th century the Hohokam people disappeared from the area. The 1700's came and went with the Apache inhabiting the not yet "established" Safford.
The Gila Valley saw its share of military battles. In 1846 General Kearny's army battalion camped here following the capture of New Mexico during the Mexican-American War. One lieutenant described the trek along the Gila River as "The Devil's Turnpike" due to the rough terrain. Confederate soldiers hid out here during the Civil War, until California's Union Soldiers sniffed them out. These same soldiers returned to the area and were among Safford's first settlers.
Historic walking tours are a wonderful way for the environmental, cultural and historical importance of the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area to truly resonate with any visitor.
The Bureau of Land Management completed its final management plan for Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area in 1998. Prior to the plan's finalization, there were active, ongoing threats to this riparian wonderland. Cattle grazed along the pools and trampled and eroded delicate grasses. Off-road-vehicles were well on their way to destroying much of Gila Box. The plan, as it now stands, bans all off-highway vehicles on designated roads and has protected lush bottom lands by relegating cattle to less sensitive upland areas.