Bill Williams River NWR
With its majestic rock cliffs; its ribbon of cool
water running through classic Sonoran Desert; and its cattail-filled marsh harboring rails
and waterfowl, Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge offers a little bit of
everything for both wildlife and people.
century ago, cottonwood forest was widespread along the Colorado River. In their journals,
western explorers such as General John C. Fremont noted miles-thick stands of cottonwood
and willow along the banks. They also mentioned the presence of abundant mesquite on the
In 1935, the 726-foot Hoover Dam was
built on the Arizona-Nevada border, followed by twenty smaller dams over the following
decades. As the water backed up into a series of lakes, many of the riparian forests along
the Colorado River were drowned. The construction of Alamo Dam on the Bill Williams River
in 1968 changed the old flood cycle, which reduced stands of native cottonwood and willow
Fortunately, Bill Williams River NWR holds one of the last stands of natural
cottonwood-willow forest along the lower Colorado River, creating a unique ecosystem that
provides good habitat for resident and migratory wildlife.
Lush Living in the Desert
The rare riparian habitat of Bill Williams
River NWR draws a variety of neotropical migratory birdswinging their way from
Central and South America to their breeding grounds in the north. Bright colors from birds
like the yellow warbler, vermillion flycatcher, and summer tanager flash like sparks in
the desert sky as they flit across the riverbed.
About a dozen endangered Yuma
clapper rails spend the summer months in the cattails of the marsh and may overwinter.
More likely heard than seen, their dry kek-kek-kek echoes at dusk and dawn. Another
endangered bird, the southwestern willow flycatcher, nests on the refuge in the willow
trees lining the river.
Crisscrossing tracks in the sand chronicle
the nighttime excursions of cottontails, javelina, and deer, as well as predatory coyotes,
bobcats, and the less common cougars.
Rattlesnakes are highly mobile at dawn and
dusk and may be active during any month. In daytime heat they recede to cooler spots, such
as rodent burrows or crevices.
See Bill Williams
River NWR bird list for a list of birds at the refuge and
Watching Wildlife for suggestions to make your visit more enjoyable.
Fish Get a Finhold
below refuge headquarters lies a cove where razorback suckers and bonytail chubs are
raised. The two species are among 31 native Arizona fish, 28 of which are either
endanger-ed, threatened, or candidates for listing.
At Bill Williams River NWR, biologists from the Fish and
Wildlife Services Arizona Fishery Resources Office receive young razorback suckers
and bonytail chubs from Dexter National Fish Hatchery, a New Mexico facility that produces
endangered fish. The fish are introduced into the cove, where theyll grow to around
10 inchesa size that offers them a chance against predators. At that point
theyre released into Lake Havasu and other areas, where theyll be monitored to
determine their survival. In the future, these fish will also be released into stretches
of free-flowing river.
Refuge staff use various management techniques to protect
and restore the native plants and animals at Bill Williams River NWR. Cottonwood and
willow trees are planted and maintained, salt cedar is controlled, and native fish are
being reintroduced. The refuge is also working with the Army Corps of Engineers, the
agency in charge of water releases from Alamo Dam, to return water flows in the Bill
Williams River to a more natural state.
Mystic Ties to Mythic Past
lower Colorado River region is within the ancestral boundaries of the Mojave and
Chemehuevi, tribes whose legacies date back many thousands of years. Descend-ants of these
tribes still use willow stems from the refuge for traditional Native American basket
The river that flows through the refuge gets its name from
Bill Williams, a mountain man who traveled through much of Arizona in the early 1800s.
Williams came west from St. Louis, serving as a missionary to Native Americans. He
eventually gave up the life of a missionary and spent the rest of his life traveling the
west as a trapper.
The year and cause of his death remains a
mystery, but legend has it he is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere on Bill Williams
Mountain near Williams, Arizona.
Things to do at the Refuge
The delta area, including much of the cattail marsh,
can be viewed from several turnouts off Arizona Highway 95.
The riparian area along Bill Williams River is best seen by driving
the road that begins approximately .3 of a mile south of the river
bridge and ends approximately 3 miles east of the highway. Please note that this road is closed until further notice.
Most of the road was washed out by flooding in 1993, but driving is
still possible for approximately 3 miles from Highway 95. Visitors
are welcome to explore the rest of the refuge on foot. A 1/4-mile
long, informative nature trail is open during office hours.
Hunting is permitted for dove, quail, cottontail, and desert bighorn sheep, but is
confined to the area south of the road. All hunting activities must comply with State of
Arizona and federal regulations.
The hunting of mourning dove, white-winged dove, Gambel's quail, and cottontail rabbit
on designated areas of the refuge is subject to the following conditions:
- In the field, hunters shall possess and use only nontoxic shot.
- Only shotguns are permitted.
- Cottontail rabbits will be hunted only during the dates coinciding with quail season.
Fishing for striped and largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, and other fish is permitted
on Lake Havasu according to Arizona Game and Fish Department regulations. Please use
catch-and-release techniques with any native fish captured and report captures to refuge
Boating is permitted only at NO WAKE SPEED. Water skiing and personal watercraft are
prohibited. All applicable Arizona boating regulations must be followed.
Camping, fires, firearms, trapping, and off-road vehicle operation is prohibited. All
vehicles, including other forms of transportation including but not limited to bicycles,
horses, mules, and motorcycles are confined to the La Paz County road right-of-way. The
maximum speed is 25 mph. Travel beyond the road is by foot only.
Domestic animals must be kept under control (such as on a leash). This includes dogs
used for hunting. All vehicles and drivers must be licensed.
All plants, animals, and minerals are protected. Removal or undue disturbance of any of
these (except for those species legally taken by hunting or fishing) is prohibited. No
prospecting, metal detectors or rock hounding is allowed.
Please leave only your footprints; take all litter with you.
There are many volunteer opportunities at the refuge, including maintenance work (carpentry, plumbing, "handyperson" skills, welding, etc.); biological work (if qualified); photographers (landscape or nature and wildlife); clerical (filing, typing, answer phone); artists (crafters, painters, carvers); educators;
and someone with a flair for creative writing or design to help design displays for
the visitor center.
One gravel trailer pad (with water, electricity, and sewer) is available for
volunteers; arrangements must be made at least 2 months in advance. Please contact the
refuge for more information.
See Arizona Links for more information about natural areas and
tourism in Arizona.