U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logo A Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System
Banner graphic displaying the Fish & Wildlife Service logo and National Wildlife Refuge System tagline

Cabeza Prieta
National Wildlife Refuge

1611 North Second Street
Ajo, AZ   85321
E-mail: Margot_Bissell@fws.gov
Phone Number: 520-387-6483
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Gray horizontal line
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
A journey into the third largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states takes plenty of water and desert survival skills. Almost all of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is designated wilderness. Seven rugged mountain ranges cast shadows above valleys dotted with sand dunes and lava flows. The 1,000-square-mile refuge shares a 56-mile international border with Sonora, Mexico.

Temperatures may top 100 degrees for 90 to 100 straight days from June to October. Summer thundershowers and winter soaking rains average about 7.5 cm on the western part of the refuge and up to 20 cm on the east side, 60 miles away. The winter and summer pattern of rainfall in the Sonoran desert stimulates the growth of more plant species than in most deserts. You'll find creosote bush flats, bursage on the bajadas, mesquite, palo verde, ironwood, and an abundance of cacti, including ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro.

Endangered Sonoran pronghorn and lesser long-nosed bats call this parched land home, as do desert bighorns, lizards, rattlesnakes, and desert tortoises. Elf owls peer from holes carved in saguaros by Gila woodpeckers. Every plant and animal has adapted to life we would find uninhabitable. Far from a barren desert, Cabeza Prieta NWR harbors as many as 420 plant species and more than 300 kinds of wildlife.

Cabeza Prieta, Spanish for "dark head," refers to a lava-topped, granite peak in a remote mountain range in the western corner of the refuge.

Getting There . . .
Cabeza Prieta NWR refuge office/visitor center is in Ajo, in southwestern Arizona.

From Phoenix: Take I-10 west to exit 112, follow Highway 85 south to Gila Bend, continue south on 85 approximately 40 miles to Ajo.

From Tucson: Take Highway 86 (Ajo Way) west across the Tohono O'odham reservation to Why, follow Highway 85 north to Ajo.

From Yuma: take I-8 east to Gila Bend, follow Highway 85 south approximately 40 miles to Ajo.

The refuge office is on the west side of the highway at the north end of town.

Get Google map and directions to this refuge/WMD from a specified address:

Your full starting address AND town and state OR zip code

Google Maps opens in a new window

NOTE: When using this feature, you will be leaving the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service domain. We do not control the content or policies of the site you are about to visit. You should always check site policies before providing personal information or reusing content.

These driving directions are provided as a general guide only. No representation is made or warranty given as to their content, road conditions or route usability or expeditiousness. User assumes all risk of use.

horizontal line

Wildlife and Habitat

Sonoran wildlife possess a chest of tools to beat the desert's heat and hang in there for months without rain. The only water sources around are natural rock basins, called tinajas, that catch rainwater, a few artificial water storage areas, flowing washes after rains, and one intermittent seep.

Burrowing, nocturnal living, and astonishing water conservation techniques are just a few of the many ways animals adapt to life here.

Learn More>>

The prehistoric Indians who survived here as hunters and gatherers knew how to reap the riches of the desert. They collected cactus fruit and mesquite beans and hunted bighorn and small game.

Learn More>>

    Recreation and Education Opportunities
Environmental Education
Wildlife Observation
Learn More >>

Management Activities
Refuge staff haul water to artificial catchments and guzzlers throughout Cabeza Prieta NWR to give desert bighorn and other wildlife a little more water than what nature provides.

The refuge also takes the lead role in Sonoran pronghorn recovery. This endangered species with international significance ranges across the Sonoran desert in small, scattered bands.

Learn More>>