If you feel the need for a very remote getaway, then the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona might be a good bet. Located pretty much on the road to nowhere, it is in itself a wonderful destination for hiking, camping, wildlife viewing and photography, as 80% of the park is designated as wilderness area.
Established in 1939, it spans over 665,000 acres and protects the more than 400 desert sheep and other wildlife that live there. Interestingly, the park was created after a 1936 campaign led by Major Frederick R. Burnham, a famous frontier and military scout whose exploits inspired his friend Lord Robert Baden-Powell to create the Boy Scout movement.
Worried about the fate of the desert sheep, Burnham appealed to the Arizona Boy Scouts, who took up the cause. Two years later, thanks to the tireless advocacy of 10,000 Scouts, the lineup was formed. In 1976, the US Fish and Wildlife Service renamed it Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. (Kofa is an acronym derived from a well-known local mine: the King of Arizona.)
Palm Canyon is best known for its natural grove of native California palm trees, the only one in Arizona. The tree itself is rare; Washingtonia filifera is the only palm native to the southwest, and there are only 158 fan palm oases in all of North America. These palms typically live 80 to 90 years and grow up to 75 feet, but only thrive where there is ample water. The canyon is also home to typical Sonoran Desert plants such as ocotillo, palo verde, ironwood, and cacti such as saguaro, prickly pear, cholla, barrel, and hedgehog.
To see Palm Canyon, take the Palm Canyon National Recreation Trail. From the trailhead and parking area, follow the obvious but rocky trail into the canyon. The landscape here is made up of rhyolite, a volcanic rock.
Walk about five minutes and you will already be in the canyon and at a signed viewpoint. Look for the interesting plant called the Kofa Mountain Barberry, an endemic plant found only in southwestern Arizona. You will recognize it by its holly-shaped leaves. You may also see the Canyon Wren and hear its distinctive song, as well as White-throated Swifts, Mockingbirds and Gnatcatchers.
Keep walking until about a half mile from the trailhead and you’ll find another sign that says “PALMS,” with an arrow pointing north. Depending on what time you are in the canyon, some people need a little help seeing the palm trees as they are often shaded except around noon.
Keep an eye on where you walk, sit or put your hands as there are a lot of thorny plants and also many reptiles here. Besides the western diamondback and other poisonous snakes, the Gila monster lives in the area. Besides being venomous, it is the largest land lizard native to the United States. Other wildlife at the refuge include cougars, mule deer, kit foxes, foxes, badgers and the interesting but elusive ringtail cat.
There are no services in Palm Canyon. Be sure to bring all your water and supplies on this outing.
The elevation at the trailhead is about 2,141 feet, so temperatures will be about the same as in Las Vegas. Camping is permitted at the refuge and overnight parking is permitted at the Palm Canyon parking lot.
Palm Canyon can be found by driving 18 miles south of Quartzsite along US Highway 95, then going left on a signed and maintained gravel road. Drive 7 miles east to parking lot and trailhead.
For more information, contact the shelter at 928-783-7861 or visit www.fws.gov/refuge/kofa.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books on Southwest backpacking. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility”. Wall can be contacted at Deborabus@aol.com.