Friday, March 4, 2011

Gila Box National Riparian Area, Safford, Arizona

Backroads Destination—Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area

This is the second Riparian National Conservation Area we have visited in Arizona.  The first, the San Pedro is a broad, riparian flat wandering through the desert floor.  The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area features the Gila River cutting a canyon through desert highlands.  The river is actually big enough that float trips are possible.

This area features unique geology, history, and wildlife.  It has plenty of area to explore for a day or a couple of weeks.  We only explored the lower reaches of the area that are easily accessible from Safford.  You can also approach the eastern portion of the area by driving in on the  Black Hills Back Country Byway.  There is a good brochure for the Gila Box Riparian area as well as the Balck Hills Back Country Byway.

There is one campground in the lower half of the unit and dispersed camping is allowed where not posted as closed.  However, we would recommend the campground at only five dollars a day for garbage, water, toilets and a campground host.    That is $2.50 with a discount pass!  More on the campground in our next posting.

The Gila Box area incorporates some of the new Riparian management strategies that are being implemented by all Federal agencies.  That is, the river is now fenced to prevent motorized vehicles from driving down to the river.  There are access points to the river, but they are generally DAY USE only.  The campgrounds, such as Riverview, as now placed on benches above the river corridor.  We did drive around the campground looking for the Riverview, but we could only see the river corridor without water.  Get use to it this is the future of camping on Federal land.

The day use access spots provide great access to the river and Bugaboo appreciated the opportunity to cool off in the cold waters of the Gila River.  Being German, Bugaboo is a cold weather dog.  I am not sure that he appreciates the warm, sunny days that are winter in southern Arizona. 

At Bonita Creek there is a historical cabin that has been restored.  Here Bonita Creek flows into the Gila River.  This alluvial fan has large cottonwoods that provide welcome shade in the summer.  They are just starting to break bud now, so as the temperatures creep into the 80’s the cottonwoods will once again make this a cool oasis. 

There are birds and other wildlife in this area including big horn sheep.  There is a watchable wildlife stop just above the day use area that is probably worth visiting early or late in the day.   A mourning cloak butterfly did accompany us as we explored the area.

The area is accessible via a five mile good gravel road.  Any vehicle can easily negotiate the road into the campground.  If you are towing you might want to drive the road first to scout it out.  It is a good one lane road on the washboard sections you might want to put it into four-wheel drive to help keep you on the road.

The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is well worth the stop if you are in the Safford area.  Next posting we will cover the campground and other facilities.

No comments: