As our time winds down here in Yuma one trip we wanted to make before we left was to the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge for a desert hike. Imperial National Wildlife Refuge has over 15,000 acres designated as wilderness as it protects wildlife habitat along 30 miles of the lower Colorado River on the Arizona California border.
To get there from Yuma it is about a 30 minute drive north. The first thing we noticed outside Yuma was the extensive agriculture in this area. Irrigation has allowed Yuma to become the largest lettuce producer in the USA during the winter months growing nearly 90 percent of all leafy vegetable crops in the USA during this time.
A little further north we see the Yuma Proving Grounds. This is where a wide variety of weapon systems and munitions are tested. We saw flares in the sky and large planes doing touch and go’s on the runway while driving through the are. It is mostly unfenced however, just a short way off the road about every 1/10 mile or so are signs warning you of unexploded munitions in the area. Yikes! Plenty enough warning for us not to hike in this area.
As we got closer to the refuge we saw a sign for Lake Martinez so we took a little detour to discover what appears to be a place where many RV’ers overwinter. The lake is surrounded by the Imperial Wildlife Refuge and is fronted by waterfront homes, cottages and RV spaces. On the Colorado River it also makes this area a prime destination for bird watchers. As we neared the docks we saw a Blue Heron out and about doing a little shopping… Lake Martinez looks like a great little escape for those who really don’t like to see a lot of people as it is out in the middle of nowhere but seems to have a lot of desirable features.
Leaving Lake Martinez we found the signs heading to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. We pulled into the parking lot for the Visitor’s Center only to find it closed this Monday morning. Finding a nearby trailhead we headed out into the desert along a very well laid out desert trail. A nice and easy hike traversing many desert washes as we hiked along the trail.
The habitat is your typical desert scrub but seems to be a mixture of species I have seen before in both the Mojave and Chihuahua Deserts. Creosote bushes and Palo Verdes dominate the uplands while Salt Cedar is prevalent in the wetter lowlands. We even spotted a nice Phainopepla perched atop a bush looking for a snack (photo above). After we finished our hike we stopped back by the CRV and picked up our lunch and enjoyed a nice picnic outside the Visitor’s Center at a covered picnic area overlooking the wetlands below.
It appeared as we were the only ones at the refuge so since we had it all to ourselves,after lunch we drove down a dirt round and took a stroll out on Mesquite Overlook. What a fantastic view of a pond and wetland with a wonderful desert mountain backdrop. We even spied a female Mule Deer hiding out in the shade of some desert shrubbery.
We had a great day of hiking at the refuge and especially enjoyed that we had the entire place to ourselves. We highly recommend this spot for some hiking if that is your cup of tea. Tomorrow we head to Mesa, AZ near Phoenix as Sharon has an appointment at the Mayo Clinic. We will stay at least two days to a week depending on what we decide after the appointment. After that we will stay in Deming and then Las Cruces more than likely…