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Sonoran Desert National Monument

Sonoran Desert area in Arizona. Bureau of Land Management.
Sonoran Desert area in Arizona. Bureau of Land Management.
Established: 2001
Location: South-central Arizona; 60 miles from Phoenix
Size: 408,646 acres

Special Features

Of all the North American deserts, the Sonoran desert is the most biologically diverse and surely one of the most spectacular. Some of the best of this arid landscape makes up the Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona. These lands contain important archaeological sites and a spectacular diversity of plants and animals, including the giant saguaro cactus and the majestic desert bighorn sheep.

Major threats

Power line rights of way, development fueled by the state's booming population growth, dirt bike and other ORV use, and overgrazing are serious threats to the Monument's health and the integrity of its landscapes.

More about the Monument

The Sonoran Desert National Monument covers half a million acres of magnificent desert landscape, much of it remote and undisturbed. The Monument is home to the famous and spectacular saguaro cactus, a giant species that can grow to 50 feet and live more than 200 years. The saguaro forests, along with palo-verde trees, ironwood, mesquite, desert honeysuckle, prickly pear and jumping cholla, fill wide valleys which separate desert mountain ranges. After a wet winter, the seemingly harsh landscape of the desert bursts into bloom with wildflowers and brilliant yellow of the brittlebush and saguaro fruit.

Important natural waterholes, called tinajas, provide oases in the Monument for the natural desert dwellers like mule deer, javelina, mountain lion, gray fox, and bobcat. Numerous bat species populate the Monument, including the endangered lesser long nose bat. Over 200 species of birds make their home in Sonoran Desert Monument, including raptors, the elf owl and the western screech owl. Numerous amphibians and reptiles roam here, including the Sonoran desert tortoise and the red-backed whiptail.

Human History in the Stark Sonoran

The Sonoran Desert National Monument contains many rock art sites, lithic quarries and scattered artifacts of ancient human history. Vekol Wash is believed to have been an important prehistoric travel and trade corridor between the Hohokam and tribes located in what is now Mexico. Signs of large villages and permanent habitat sites occur throughout the area, particularly along the bajadas of the Table Top Mountains. Occupants of these villages were the ancestors of today's O'odham, Quechan, Cocopah, Maricopa and other tribes.

The Monument also contains a much-used trail corridor twenty miles long with remnants of several important historic trails, including the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, the Mormon Battalion Trail, and the Butterfield Overland Stage Route. The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail is the first National Historic Trail, established by Congress in 1990; Juan Bautista de Anza, a Spanish commander, led a group of soldiers and their families to found a presidio and mission near the San Francisco Bay. Plans are underway to include 600 miles of the route that lie within Mexico, thereby making the Trail the first International Historic Trail in the world.

Monument Management Planning

The BLM is developing a management plan for the Sonoran Desert National Monument. In March 2004, the BLM will hold workshops to form a range of management alternatives. It's important that the BLM's plan includes a sound transportation plan that provides reasonable access while defending Monument purposes-specifically, the protection of its extraordinary array of biological, scientific, and historic resources.

To learn more about how to participate in efforts to protect outstanding wilderness resources in the Sonoran Desert National Monument and in adjoining public lands via the public planning process, visit the planning site or contact the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection.


Bureau of Land Management, Arizona
Bureau of Land Management, Sonoran Desert National Monument
Center for Biological Diversity
Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection
Defenders of Wildlife
The Nature Conservancy, Arizona Chapter: Stephanie Weinstein
The Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter
Sky Islands Alliance
Sonoran Institute
Southwest Center for Biodiversity
The Wilderness Society, Four Corners Office - 303-650-5818

Updated: December 2003