Gila Bend, near a sharp bend in the Gila River, is on a
desert plain in southwestern Maricopa County.
Gila (pronounced “hee-la”) Bend, at an elevation of 735 feet, was a
prehistoric Hohokam Indian village for centuries before it was visited
by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1699. Kino found the fertile
banks of the Gila River abandoned by an early Indian Tribe called the
Opas. The Opas had established an Indian rancheria and raised two
grain crops annually, drawing irrigation water from the Gila River.
The same rancheria was visited by Spanish Captain Juan Bautista de
Anza, commander of the presidio at Tubac and founder of the City
of San Francisco, and Father Francisco Tomas Garces in May 1774.
They named it Pueblo de los Santos Apostales San Simon y Judas.
Now a busy travel center in a rich, agricultural area, Gila Bend was
established on an overland stage route in 1858 and was incorporated
Agriculture, with 90,000 acres under cultivation in the trade area, is
the mainstay of the Gila Bend economy. Cotton heads the list of
crops grown, along with alfalfa and grain.
Gila Bend is located on Highway 85, to Rocky Pointe, Mexico, and
on Interstate 8, one of the major routes connecting Phoenix and
Tucson with the Pacific Coast. These heavily traveled roadways make
the city a popular overnight stop, offering travelers many facilities,
including hotels and motels, restaurants, service stations and
Directly south of Gila Bend is the 2.8-million-acre Gila Bend Air
Force Auxiliary Field and the Barry M. Goldwater Gunnery Range,
which employs about 125 contract workers. Recreation on the
range is available by permit.
Low picturesque mountains enclose this scenic oasis on the desert.
Remnants of other civilizations that have inhabited this basin during
earlier times are still in evidence, some of which are on display in the
San Lucy, an Indian village north of Gila Bend on the Tohono
O’odham Indian Reservation, dates to 1883. Painted Rocks, a historic
feature of the Bureau of Land Management Park, has nearly a
full acre of petroglyphs, complete with a winding trail through the
huge rock mound. Camping and picnicking areas are surrounded by
desert landscape and the historic Gila Trail.
Nearby is Painted Rocks Dam, the largest flood control reservoir in
Arizona. The Gila Trail was a major thoroughfare for travelers
through Arizona in the 18th century. Among the most famous of
the pathfinders and soldiers who followed this route were
Christopher (Kit) Carson, General Stephen W. Kearny, leader of the
so-called “Army of the West,” and the Mormon Battalion led by
Captain Philip St. George Cooke in 1847. Also, Gila Bend is in the
process of developing the Gatlin Archeologist site, which is just
north of town. A tourist information center and the Gila Bend museum are located
at the town office, 644 W. Pima Street.