Cabeza Prieta Wilderness
Near the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Bombing Range
Cabeza Prieta Wilderness occupies almost 93% of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. At 803,418 acres, Cabeza Prieta is Arizona's largest Wilderness Area. This is some of the most isolated and near-pristine desert landscape in America: broad desert valleys peppered with lava flows and sand dunes in between stark, rugged mountain ranges. To enter this Wilderness, you need to have a permit and to sign a "Hold Harmless Agreement." The Agreement is necessary because in sections of this wilderness you will come across unexploded military ordnance.
The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge was first established in 1939, mainly to preserve and protect desert bighorn sheep and Sonoran pronghorn in this Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Conditions here are perfect for giant saguaro, cholla, ocotillo, mesquite, creosote bush and elephant tree. There's also lots of lizards and other reptiles, many species of birds and 6 species of rattlesnake.
The Wilderness is bordered by Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to the east and the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Bombing Range to the north and west. The southern boundary of the Refuge is along 56 miles of the Mexican border. Near this border is a non-wilderness corridor containing an active 4WD trail and what is left of El Camino del Diablo, an infamous trail that used to connect Sonora with California. "The Devil's Highway" got its name from all the travelers who died along its route.
Before you go anyway out here you need to stop at the visitor center (1611 North 2nd Avenue in Ajo), get a permit and sign the military agreement. The visitor center is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM, closed on holidays. You might want to watch the introductory video about the place, too. Other than the rugged, unforgiving landscape, the temperatures that regularly rise above 105°F (and stay above 90° at night) in the summer, the unexploded military ordnance, the multiple old mine shafts, and the variety and number of rattlesnakes, it's only the lack of water that'll be a problem for you: on days when the temperature stays below 100°, you'll only need about a gallon-and-a-half per person per day.
Some stories say that author (The Monkeywrench Gang) and famed environmentalist Edward Abbey is buried out here...
I've also come across reports of more than 200 miles of illegal phantom roads criss-crossing this wilderness carrying illegal aliens and Border Patrol agents. There's also a problem with illegal aliens lighting small cook fires that turn into raging wildfires in this extremely dry and fragile desert environment. The Wilderness Society estimates that there is about 2.5 million tons of garbage and litter, everything from discarded tin cans to abandoned vehicles, scattered through the desert arroyos and wide valleys of what was once a pristine wilderness.
GPS Location: 32.268056°N Latitude, -113.419722°W Longitude
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge map
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge area map