The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge covers 860,000 acres of beautiful desert land.  The name comes from the Spanish word for blackhead, referring to the black lava granite peak within the refuge.  The refuge is the third largest refuge in the contiguous 48 states and is the largest designated wilderness area in the contiguous 48 states.   It was created in 1939, for the conservation and development of natural wildlife resources and to protect endangered wildlife.  The refuge has a 56-mile common border with Mexico.  

The land inside the refuge is mountainous and includes valleys, sand dunes, and lava flows. The area has a wide variety of plant life.  There are saguaro, creosote, ocotillo, and ironwood.  This is amazing because the area’s annual rainfall averages about 9 inches in the eastern section of the refuge; it dwindles to 3 inches on the western side.  There are places within the refuge that can go an entire year without a single drop of rain.

The refuge protects endangered desert bighorn sheep, an endangered lesser long-nosed bat, and a herd of pronghorn antelopes.  Visitors might also see kangaroo rats, pocket gophers, jackrabbits, bobcats, desert tortoises, kit foxes, Gila Monsters, sidewinder snakes, and lizards.  There are seasons when migratory birds pass through the refuge.  During this time, you might see swallows, prairie falcons, and quail.  

It is important to note that part of the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range airspace is located over the refuge.  This requires visitors to obtain a permit before gaining passage into the wildlife refuge.  Visitors may obtain a permit at the visitor center.   When traveling through the refuge, it is recommended that a four-wheeled vehicle be used.  Visitors are encouraged to come prepared for the desert drive.  A summertime drive can be dangerous.  The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge prohibits firearms and campfires are limited.

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is located in the town of Ajo.  It is at 1611 North Second Avenue.  The signs for the refuge are evident from State Highway 85, which goes through town.







Cabeza Prieta NWR, in the Sonoran Desert of SW Arizona, is an area of low, rugged mountains and broad valleys dotted with sand dunes and lava flows. The refuge is the third largest refuge in the contiguous 48 states, in addition, it the largest designated Wilderness area in the contiguous 48 states. 

The refuge has the lead for recovery of the endangered Sonoran pronghorn. The wide variety of flora and fauna also includes saguaro, creosote, ironwood, ocotillo, bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lion, bobcat, kit fox, desert tortoise, Gila monster, sidewinder, a wide variety of birds, and the endangered lesser long-nosed bat. 

Archeological evidence of early human presence includes foot trails, petroglyphs, shells, and pottery. Part of the Camino del Diablo or "Devil's Highway" passes through the refuge. This historic route to California was traveled by early missionaries, explorers, and prospectors and is still open to 4WD visitation. 



Cabeza Prieta NWR

Fish and Wildlife Service

National Wildlife Refuge System

1611 N. Second Ave.

Ajo, AZ 85321

Phone: 520-387-6483




Educational Programs



Visitor Center

Wilderness Area


Cabeza Prieta NWR Web Site 

National Weather Service Forecast 

Map It!- National Atlas 



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