Red Rock Canyon Proposed Wilderness

Location: Within the Gila Bend Mountains National Conservation Area
Size: 22,984 acres

Just six miles north of the Gila Bend community, these mountains rise 1,200 feet above the Gila River, with steep drainages that expose dramatic granite geology and offer visitors a multitude of opportunities to find solitude and enjoy primitive, unconfined recreation like hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, hunting, star gazing, and camping.

One of the most significant values of this mountain range is the core area of roadless habitat the mountains provide for wildlife, especially the Sonoran desert tortoise, a species of concern for both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Wilderness Protection

Wilderness designation for the Gila Bend Mountains would provide the most protective and long-term tool available for the Bureau of Land Management to better protect the fragile archaeological sites and critical wildlife habitat of this region on a landscape-level. The mountains and their surrounding cultural landscape meet the criteria for designation under the Wilderness Act, including naturalness and outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive, unconfined recreation.

As part of the larger Gila Bend Mountains National Conservation Area (NCA), the Gila Bend Mountains designated wilderness would create a strong core of ecologically significant protected public lands — for human access, cultural enrichment, and wildlife longevity — just a stone’s throw from millions of people in metropolitan Phoenix and its West Valley.

Wildlife

Wildlife, plants, and unique geologic features radiate out from the Gila River into the lowlands and mountains. The region is home to a variety of amazingly adapted plants, considering the high temperatures and scant rainfall annually. Creosote, bursage, ironwood, and chollas share the bajadas and plains, while saguaros, palo verde, and prickly pear cactus are found in higher elevations.

The region also includes iconic Sonoran Desert wildlife such as desert bighorn sheep, Sonoran desert tortoise, Yuma clapper rail bird, banded Gila monster, lowland leopard frog, and several types of bats.

Archaeology

Two of the major prehistoric cultural traditions, the Hohokam and Patayan, overlap in space and time in this area of the Gila River. The area known as Red Rock Canyon in the southeastern portion of the unit contains several outcrops of Arkosic sandstone that include a concentration of Hohokam and Patayan style petroglyphs that span thousands years of human history up to recent historic times. In the middle portion of the proposed wilderness is a canyon that contains over 140 room-sized, rock rings and another 140 features including rock shelters, partial rock rings, cleared areas and rock alignments. Twenty-nine sites in the canyon include petroglyphs and both Hohokam and Patayan pottery have been found there.