Painted Desert Trail - Yuma, AZ - Arizona - Painted Desert Trail
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Painted Desert Trail
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Hiking is allowedBirdwatchingFishingWildlife viewingVisitor center
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The Painted Desert Trail in the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge takes 1 hour to walk at a leisurely pace. This portion of the Sonoran Desert receives only 3.2 inches of precipitation annually, and is subject to extremely high summer temperatures. Nonetheless, there are many species of plants and wildlife.
Some species of desert wildlife are poisonous and visitors should be aware they are present. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and black widows have been seen here. Use caution in walking and avoid reaching under vegetation or into cracks and crevices.
Stop 1: The Painted Desert Trail follows a wash, crosses a ridge and winds its way back to the starting point, following another larger wash. The trail leads through an area of a once active volcano. Visitors will see how time and water created the scenery. Vegetation in this part of the Sonoran Desert is sparse. When spring rains are sufficient, however, the desert wildflower bloom can be spectacular. Common to this part of the trail is scorpion weed (purple), evening primrose (yellow) and chuparosa (red-orange).Visitors are also likely to see black-tailed jackrabbits and desert cottontails feeding on emerging green shoots.
Stop 2: To the left, there are rock formations produced by water cutting through the red volcanic rock. Straight ahead there is a set of unusual mountains that almost appear to be sand dunes. Watch for beaver tail cactus, which produce a bouquet of bright pink flowers when in bloom from March to June. The fruit the cactus bears is a favorite wildlife food and may be used to make jelly. Brittlebush, with its bright yellow flowers in March and April, is very common throughout this wash.
Stop 3: The volcano which produced the lava and ash flows in the vicinity probably erupted 23-30 million years ago. The molten material contains huge amounts of water vapor, which escaped as steam through the many cracks and fissures. The water vapor sometimes steamed through the cracks long enough to alter the composition of the surrounding rock. The colors changed and some of the material was welded together around the steam vent and hardened. Now, millions of years later, erosion has taken away the softer rock and left this unusual formation.
Stop 4: Looking west, visitors can see a picturesque section of the Colorado River. To the south, are the refuge headquarters complex. The Chocolate Mountains are in the background across the river. Keep alert, there are desert bighorn sheep.
Stop 5: HALFWAY This ridge separates the two washes that combine near the trailhead. The far, jagged ridge is another type of volcanic manifestation. Here, lava pushing up through an opening to the surface probably filled with slower moving lava and it cooled in place, plugging the opening. These plugged vents are often harder than surrounding rock and do not erode as easily. Through time, the plugged vents take on the appearance of columns and spires, as additional erosion removes more and more of the surrounding rock.
Stop 6: Shady Canyon Wash This much larger wash is joined by another. The trees in this wash are much bigger, primarily because there is more moisture. The largest, grey-green trees are ironwood. Deer feed on the small branches of these and other trees, as well as on grasses forbs, and fruits. The green-barked trees are palo verde, which bear tiny yellow flowers in the late spring. Mesquite beans are a very important wildlife food. They are also a staple in the diet of many Native Americans living in the Sonoran Desert. Watch for zebra-tailed lizards, chuckawalla and desert iguana as visitors proceed down the wash.

Facilities: The Visitor Center is open from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. From November 15 to March 31, also open Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Enjoy the exhibits, native plant garden, and watch a wildlife video. Camping is prohibited.

Best Time To Visit: It does get very hot in the area, so the best time to visit The Painted Desert Trail is fall through spring.

Fees: There are no fees charged to enter this area.

Accessibility: This trail is not handicap accessible.

Rules: Certain portions of the trail may be strenuous to anyone with heart ailments or respiratory problems. Travel in wilderness areas is by foot or horseback only. Pets are permitted only if under control at all times. Vehicles are permitted on designated roads only. All off-road vehicle travel is prohibited. It is illegal to remove, deface, or damage rocks, minerals, semi-precious stones, Indian artifacts, paleontological objects, or objects of antiquity. Collecting, possessing, molesting, disturbing, injuring, destroying, removing, or transporting any plant or animal or part thereof (alive or dead) is prohibited, except for legally taken game.

Directions: Located about 40 miles north of Yuma. From Yuma, go north on Highway 95 for 25 miles. Turn west on Martinez Lake Road for 13 miles and follow signs to visitor center.

Map: Click here for a map to Painted Desert Trail

Reservations: Reservations are not needed or accepted to use The Painted Desert Trail.

P.O. Box 72217
Yuma, Arizona 85365
General: (928) 783-3371
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