The Sonoran Desert is the most biologically diverse desert in the US, and its namesake national monument in Arizona protects roughly 486,000 acres (197,000 ha) of a well-preserved section (read the Presidential Proclamation to better understand why the monument was created). The dominant feature are the extensive saguaro cactus forests on the desert floor, surrounded by three mountain ranges: Table Top, Maricopa and Sand Tank. There are three designated wildernesses within the national monument, which contain 26 miles (42 km) of trails, while many dirt roads and mountain bike trails criss-cross the area. The I-8 splits the monument in two sections (BLM map here, but for a more detailed version download here). If you want to hike the Lava Flow Trail in the Table Top Wilderness and experience a pristine part of the Sonoran Desert, this BLM online brochure might come in handy. When we visited this part of the monument in November we still found plenty of flowering plants surrounded by dozens of butterflies and bees. Due to limited time we only hiked a portion of the Lava Flow Trail and watched a beautiful sunset. It was a solitary and peaceful experience as it had been the whole day. The national monument created in 2001 by President Clinton is still a remote, wild area with very little infrastructure for visitation and with rather few people who venture here to hike or backpack. Before heading to Sonoran Desert you can stop by the Town Museum & Visitor Center in the nearby community of Gila Bend to pick up some more information about the monument and the region, or contact the BLM Field Office in Phoenix. Gila Bend also has some accommodation options if you want to use it as a base, while the city of Phoenix is located about an hour away. Dispersed camping is available in the monument, but there are no facilities, including no access to drinking water. In the north section of the monument, you can reach Margie’s Cove West Trailhead accessible by car, for a flatter hike through a beautiful country with cholla and prickly pear cacti, ocotillo and ironwood trees where you’ll spot dozens of lizards, maybe some desert tortoises, javelinas, the endangered desert bighorn sheep, or a solitary coyote. You’ll also find a small developed campground by the trailhead. Margie’s Cove intersects the Brittlebush trail for those interested in doing a loop. Keep in mind that these are very remote, isolated places with patchy cell phone reception and no drinking water in desert conditions. Read thoroughly the information given on the BLM website. This wild, beautiful country offers dozens of amazing photo opportunities and is a wonderland for desert lovers, while being in the presence of its fragile yet resilient flora and fauna gives you an insight into what local supporters of the monument have been fighting to protect.
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