Sustainability and Sense of Place in the Sonoran Desert/Lower Colorado River

Introduction edit

The Lower Colorado River area is home to a myriad of specimens, ranging from the iconic barrel cactus to the venomous rattlesnake. While this region is known specifically for its scorching hot temperatures, and its long river, this following information will explore the specifics behind life in this region.

Biodiversity edit

Animal in the Lower Colorado Region edit

Colorado River Toad edit

The Colorado River Toad ranges from 4.3 to 7.4 inches (110 to 187 mm). Its skin is leathery and can range from olive brown to black, with bumps and glands on their eyes and limbs. Female toads are distinguished by red warts in straight lines on their back. Tadpoles have a brassy color, rounded tail, flat body, and can reach 2.2 inches (57 mm) in length. Although the Colorado River Toad is listed as secure in Arizona, it is endangered in New Mexico and considered locally extinct in California.


Melanerpes uropygialis edit

One animal in the Lower Colorado Region is the Gila Woodpecker. The wings of the bird are spotted and have zebra-like pattern, they also have a grey and tan color neck, throat and belly. The difference between male and female Gila Woodpeckers is males have a red cap on their head and females and younger birds do not have the red cap. Many of these birds can be found in low desert scrubs in the Sonoran Desert. Many of these birds make their homes in Saguaros or in Honey Mesquite trees. Breeding for these animals occurs in a hole in the Saguaro or Honey Mesquite. Typically they lay about three to four eggs and this occurs usually about two to three times a year. Interestingly both males and females feed and incubate the eggs. The Gila Woodpecker usually feeds on insects but it will occasionally feed on fruits, nectar, seeds, lizards, worms and sometimes they will even eat young chicks. In California the number of Gila Woodpeckers has dropped drastically but in Arizona the number is remaining constant. it is believed that the drastic drop in number in Gila Woodpeckers in California is due to climate change. The Saguaro, which also houses Gila Woodpeckers, has been drastically effected by climate change and doesn't grow as fast as it usually does. So if one of the habitats aren't available for these birds they will go somewhere else or just wont survive.


Panthera onca edit

Humans are having a continual impact on these plants, along with other endangered animal species. According to Joe Zentner, the distribution of the Jaguar (Panthera onca) is all along the southwest of the United States (Zenter, n.d.). It's rare to see one of these animals because they are currently an endangered species. Just like the Organ Pipe Cactus, humans have become a significant threat. For example, with the construction of the border wall and hunting of the jaguar, their population is decreasing (Kutz, 2019). Since jaguars prey on livestock, farmers kill these animals to prevent this from happening. The development of the border wall is affecting the habitat and population of both these species. The wall will take over some of the lands that the organ pipe cactus covers. The effect that this has on the jaguars is that it's limiting their travel movement. Joe Zentner mentions in his article, " jaguars today are found in this country only in southern Arizona, and their existence there is precarious" (Zenter, n.d). To protect these animals, the United States put them under the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act is encouraging farmers to try to conserve their livestock, so Jaguars don't feed off of them.

Pylodictis olivaris edit

Flathead Catfish resemble cats due to their whiskers and sly way of moving about the sea floor. These fish also vary in size and length. Majority of catfish species in live the Americas. A lot of them live in freshwater and shallow water habitats including the Colorado river. This catfish can grow to about 155cm (61 inches) and can weigh about 56kg (126lb). They are also known to be the second largest catfish in North America. The average length is roughly 25-46in (64-117cm). It maximum lifespan that has been recorded is about 24 years. Male catfish tend mature at about 4 years old and female catfish mature at about 5 years old. The Flathead Catfish prefers live prey. It feeds on other fish and insects as well. The habitat for this animal is west of the Appalachian Mountains.


Mule deer edit

The mule deer is considered to be a deer that is indigenous to western side of North America and is known for its ears which has come to be large like those of the mule. Furthermore, the deer is only found in the western area such as the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains in which one of the biggest difference between the white tailed deer and the mule is their appearance is the color of their configuration of their antlers and the size of their ears. The mules deer's tail is also black tipped when the whitetail is not. Their antlers are bifurcated in which they fork as they grow rather then branching from a single main beam.


Plants in the Lower Colorado Region edit

Apricot Mallow edit

One type of plant is the apricot mallow which grows to 3 feet in height and spreads up to 2 to 3 feet in width. The leaves are fuzzy with white hairs on both sides, lobed, palmately veined, and on long stems, the number of which increase in age. The fruit is a brown capsule containing many seeds with it first being quite spherical as implied by its original name, and later flattening to a disk. The flowers are bowl-shaped, five-petaled, apricot to orange in color, and bloom in the spring. It grows well in alkaline soil, both sandy or clay with it usually being in the company of the creosote bush scrub and desert chaparral habitats. It is a larval host to the common checkered skipper, northern white skipper, painted lady, small checkered skipper, and west coast lady.


Parkinsonia aculeata edit

The Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) can either be a spiny shrub or a small tree. It can grow to be between 6 to 26 feet tall. The leaves can grow to be 15 to 20 centimeters long and grow about 25 tiny oval leaflets (WIkipedia, 2020). About eight of the yellow-orange flowers grow on the tree and this occurs between March and April or September and October. In certain areas this plant can be one of the worst weeds of all and that is due to its thickness. It prevents animals from wandering through the area, as well as blocking waterways which can cause major problems over time ( Wikipedia, 2020). The Mexican palo verde is not endangered and is very successful in this environment. This plant can thrive in almost any environment which works in its favor so it can adapt to any environment it lives in.


Phacelia crenulata edit

Also known as scorpion-weed and heliotrope phacelia. It is native in the Colorado and Baja California areas. It grows up to 80 cm tall and the leaves are 2 to 12 cm long. In terms of human interaction, the plant is secure and not endangered.


Salix exigua edit

Coyote Willows are considered endangered[citation needed], but are native to North America. Their branches have been used as flexible poles and many Native Americans used to use them years ago. They were especially used for building huts and different types of shelters. The flowers that blossom from these plants allow for bees to pollenate, but only the male plants provide this feature. This plant can reach 4-7 meters (13-23ft). The leaves are very narrow grow to about 4-12cm (1.6-4.7in) long and 2-10mil (0.079-0.394in). They are very green and with silky white hairs when they are beginning to grow.


Stenocereus thurberi edit

The Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) is essential to our ecosystem. This plant is also commonly called the Organ Pipe Cactus due to its resemblance to a pipe organ. This plant comes from the kingdom Plantae, Phylum Anthophyta, the class is the Dicotyledoneae, Order Caryophyllales, Family of the Cactaceae, Genus Stenocereus, and the species is Stenocereus thurberi. The Organ Pipe Cactus is known as "sweet pitaya or the sweet cactus fruit. It helps store water to help protect itself against the heat and the desert droughts (Wikipedia, 2019). They also offer proteins and some oils to the soil. Humans are having a continual impact on many different species, especially these plants. The development of the border wall is affecting the habitat and population of manyspecies. The wall will take over some of the lands that the organ pipe cactus covers. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument helps protect the organ pipe cactus to flourish in ideal conditions.

Geology and Climate edit

Climate Changes edit

With the droughts that are affecting this region, it's impacting the population of many animal species. Chris McCreddy, Charles van Ripper III, Todd Esque, and Abigail Darrah mention that the threat that this drought is having on the bid population is being underestimated (McCreedy, 2015). The average number of birds that do their nesting in this refuge has decreased over the years. With the frequent studies that Chris McCreddy, Charles van Ripper III, Todd Esque, and Abigail Darrah have been doing; they suggest that that the droughts will cause these nesting decreases to occur more frequently. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that "climate change poses one of the greatest conservation threats of the 21st century" (System, 2020). This article mentions that with the seawater rising, it's having an effect on the species that surround that area. Along with other environmental changes like wildfires, water shortages, and invasive species, it's causing harm to places like Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Climate change is having a continual effect on many areas in the Lower Colorado River, and humans are not helping.

Cultural use of Minerals edit

The Lower Colorado Region is home to many mines across multiple cities and towns. For example, Yuma Arizona is home to 156 active mines and 6,357 closed mines, and the primary commodities are gold, silver and copper.Lake Havasu City is smaller in comparison to the Yuma area, therefore they only have about 100 active mines. Also, in Lake Havasu City, rockhounding (hobby of collecting rocks and minerals from their natural environment) is a very popular activity as the area holds many different rocks and minerals. Rockhounding is also done in Yuma, however it is not as popular of an activity as it is in Lake Havasu City.


Geology edit

Geology deals with continents that break "apart, collide and re-form or slide beneath one another, with rivers and oceans that appear and disappear, with mountain ranges whose battered remnants have been carried away and now lie buried on some other continent." During the Cretaceous period, which was about 100 million years ago, part of western North America was still connected to the Pacific Ocean. About 20-30 million years ago volcanic activity led to the "Mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up that created smaller formations, such as the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona and left a significant amount of volcanic ash and debris." The Basin and Range started about 20 million years ago and Sierra Nevada began forming about 10 million years ago that caused the Colorado to flow south towards the Gulf. As the Colorado Plateau continued to rise around 2.5-5 million years ago the river would stay its course still. In the last 1 million years the Salton Sink formed and reached 260 feet below sea level. After about 50 tears the lake evaporated the Colorado continued to flow to the gulf which left the lower Colorado River region.


Life Zones edit

The Lower Colorado River region has a plant life that spans six main life zones. Yuma is the lowest point at 70 feet and the highest area is around 12,670 feet near Flagstaff. The Lower Sonoran life zone is located at around 4,500 feet and the plants in this zone can survive scorching temperatures and little precipitation. The Lower Sonoran life zone is where most of us live and is correlated with the hot desert sun of the southwest. Creosote, jojoba, mesquite, paloverde, bursar, and cacti can all be found here. The average amount of rain in these regions is about 10 inches or less. When spring time comes, depending on how much rain the region has had, there will be a decent amount of flowers blossoming. A lot of plants can live for years, but those that can not are called ephemerals. Ephemeral means "short duration" since these types of plants rarely make it through an entire spring season. There are five other main life zones in Arizona and they are: the Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian, Hudsonian, and Alpine.

e in Yuma, however it is not as popular of an activity as it is in Lake Havasu City.

Physical Geology edit

The lower Colorado region is considered to be one of 21 major geographic areas or regions that have successfully been able to divide and sub-divide the U.S. into smaller hydrologic units. These areas either contain either the drainage area of a major river or the combined drainage areas of several rivers. This region includes the drainage within the U.S. of the Colorado Basin below the Lee Ferry, streams that originate within the U.S. and ultimately discharge into the Gulf of California, and the Animas Valley, Willcox Playa, and among others. It is included in parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. In addition, it is the approximate size of 140,146 square miles and has eight subregions.


Water and Land Use edit

Agriculture in Yuma edit

Yuma is known as the lettuce capital of the US for a reason. It produces most of the winter lettuce used across the US. Recently, Yuma gained fame due to the fact that lettuce with e coli was traced back to here. But what makes Yuma the lettuce capital of the world? Why is this town the #1 producer? That is because Yuma has rich soil thanks to the Colorado River which allows many farmers to grow a ton of lettuce.

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge edit

Humans are using the resources that the Cibola Refuge has to offer. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, humans go wildlife watching, on nature trails, fishing, and hunting (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2019). This refuge takes advantage of the water resources that surround the park to assist in maintaining the land. The refuge uses the amount of land for farming. According to the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, the water from the Colorado River is reserved for the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge (Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, 2004). This article also mentions that the "diversion of the Colorado River water rights, including surface flows and pumping for the Havasu, Cibola, Imperial, and Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuges." Colton Gavin states that the expansion of the property in this refuge could benefit the "migratory bird and other wildlife" (Gavin, 2014). With the increase in land size, it would make more space for the habitats of those different species. Colton Gavin also mentions that the birds that are migrating to this area need more land. It's vital to protect the land and the water that surrounds this refuge because it's not only going to benefit the farming of the land but the species that live in that area.

Parker Dam edit

The Parker Dam is located north of Yuma and on the border of Arizona and California. This dam is also known as the 'deepest dam in the world.'It was built entirely out of concrete and about 85 feet of the dam is actually seen. The Parker Dam's capacity is roughly 646,200 acre feet and Lake Havasu is behind the dam. Lake Havasu goes for about 45 miles behind the dam itself and can cover about 32 square miles. There is a pumping plant for the dam about 2 miles upstream from the start of the dam. The plant is called, The Metropolitan Water District's W.P. Whitsett Pumping Plant for the Colorado River. The water that is divided from this plant is distributed to different states. Arizona, California, and even Nevada are all beneficiaries of the Parker Dam. The dam is also an attraction for people of all ages and has become very popular to travel over. It truly impacts the current of the Colorado River as a whole and ensures it won't stop flowing.


Puerto Penasco edit

Many people across the United States visit Puerto Penasco and in doing so many different restaurants, hotels, motels, RV facilities, market places and homes have covered the land (Wikipedia, 2020). With such a high demand in tourism much of the land is used to help bring more people around. For example, there are beach houses that sell at ridiculous prices, areas where tourists can drive through different landscapes to see where ancient volcanoes erupted and the lava solidified. The water in the area comes from wells and various aquifers and is then purified for drinking. The only thing that makes people hesitate to drink the water is the taste of the water and that is due to the high mineral content (Huerita, 2009). Government officials are also looking into making the Puerto Penasco Desalination Facility that could potentially help get more water out into the community when needed and in the future be able to share water with the U.S.. The water that will be used will come from the Sea of Cortez, which over time can cause serious issues (Pace, 2020).


Mule Deer Trailhead edit

The mule deer trailhead is a 9.6-mile loop trail that is located near Golden Colorado by which features beautiful wildflowers with being rated as being moderate. The trail is usually used for hiking, trail running, camping, and nature trips. The best time to visit the mule deer trailhead is from May until October. Also, dogs are also able to use the trail, but they have to be kept on a leash at all times. Furthermore, the trail is a one loop option through as said earlier the Golden Colorado with the expected variety of terrain from rocky single-track through denser pine forest to smooth trails winding through alpine meadows. When going through the trail you will first start at the Ole Barn Knoll and then climb up to Panorama Point where you will experience gradually steepening terrain along wider paths. Once you are past Panorama Point you will then be in dense pines and will eventually make your way back down through some meadows.


Diamond Creek edit

Diamond Creek serves as a intermitted stream that goes through the Hualapai tribal reservation northern from the Peach Springs in Arizona to the Colorado River. It is graded into the river canyon adjacent to and within the streambed of the Creek itself. More so, the road attached to it only provides vehicular access to the Colorado River between the Lee’s Ferry upriver and Pierce Ferry downriver. This type of access makes the creek a popular location for white water rafting trips to take through the Grand Canyon as well as launching from the same location and proceeding downriver to Lake Mead.


Lake Bastrop North Shore Park edit

Lake Bastrop serves as a reservoir in the area of Spicer Creek within the Colorado River Basin northeast of the town of Bastrop itself with it being in the central of Texas in Bastrop County. The lake was formed first in 1964 due to the creation of a dam by the Lower Colorado River Authority. More so, the lake also serves as a place for outdoor recreation such as fishing, boating, swimming, camping, and picnicking. Altogether, this reservoir is maintained at a constant every year.


Opportunities and Threats edit

Droughts edit

Some threat affecting this area is the flow of the canal water. If this water completely stops flowing, then it will also affect the levels of the groundwater. Since the drought has become a concurring problem, it is affecting the water sources in this region. The farmers have to dig deeper to get groundwater. The deeper the dig for this water, the saltier the water gets, and the cost increases. Haley mentions that "thirty percent of what flows through open canals from the wells to the fields here either evaporates or soaks into the ground" (Nolde, 2020). The demands for water have become more urgent as the year's pass. Sandra Dibble mentions that water managers are trying to create new water sources that can provide to cities in Baja California (Dibble, 2015). A solution to this problem is to build more underground pipes. These pipes can help conserve more water for farmers to use to irrigate their land. It's necessary to try to preserve the water during this drought. In Sandra's article, she quotes Gasper, he states "For us, the river signifies life, sustenance of our families, sustenance of our cities" (Dibble, 2015).

Land Threats edit

The Colorado River has a lot of major threats that cause it to be considered the most endangered river in the U.S. Wildfires are a huge threat to this region and has destroyed multiple habitats along the way. The fires seem to favor salt cedar over cottonwood or willow and this makes the Lower Colorado River region, a perfect place for a wildfire to ignite. The high water flows that occur along the river don't help due to the drought in the lands surrounding it. The habitats that surround the river are also crucial because most of them have been overgrown by the salt cedar. This has caused environmentalists to consider revegetation of the land there. The amount of flooding could potentially change the curvature of the land and would alter the environments in which plants and animals thrive in. Pollution and contamination of the land has truly affected the river and ecosystems. The idea of clearing the lands near the river are a potential threat and could cause major harm, if they decide to do so. Some opportunities to change the fact that the river is on the endangered list, would be to stop polluting. Also, the wildfires that occur in the land can be prevented if people stop making fires near brush or other plants. Man made wildfires have become a major issue and is one of the things we as humans need to control more. The vegetation that grows there can be controlled so it doesn't become invasive or kill off other plants.

Water Threats edit

For some time the Salton Sea was a popular place but over time people stopped visiting. This was due to the agricultural runoff, pollution and the increasing salinity of the water. With all these different things occurring the fish in the water began to die off and people weren't interested in smelling decaying fish. There also was decaying fish washing up on the beach and it would sit there for days on end (Wikipedia, 2020). Now people who go visit the Salton Sea go and explore the abandoned areas around the water. This once beautiful place is now a “dead” place. The threat was humans taking advantage of the opportunity that was here. Trash was dumped into the sea and now we can only hope that over time the Colorado River can help improve the area before it becomes dried up (Wikipedia, 2020).


Animal Threats edit

One species that is endangered is the green turtle with its species being apart of the Chelonia Mydas. The dorsal area of the shell or carapace can be green, brown, rusty reddish brown, or a light brown. They also have markings such as spots, streaks, or mottling which are common especially with older ones. The underside of the shell or plastron is typically a whitish or yellowish (Bioweb, 2020). They often can move across three habitat types depending on their life stage as well as lay their eggs on the beach. Mature ones spend most of their time in shallow, coastal waters with lush seagrass meadows. Entire generations often migrate between one pair of feeding and nesting areas. The Chelonia Mydas is classified as a n aquatic species and are distrusted around the globe in warm tropical to subtropical waters. The environmental parameter that limits the distribution of the turtles is ocean temperatures below 7 to 10 degrees. They often stay near continental and island coastlines in which near the coastlines they live within shallow bays and protected shore. In areas that are protected shores and bays their habitats are coral reeds, salt marshes, and nearshore seagrass beds. Luckily the coral reefs provide red, brown and green algae for their diet and give protection from predators and rough storms within the ocean. In addition, the salt marshes and seagrass beds contain seaweed and grass vegetation which allows an ample habitat for them. Unfortunately, the green turtle has repeatedly been listed in the red list with it being considered a endangered species. Specifically, in the area of my own region they are listed as critically endangered. This is because of the human use of their meat and egg which has shown to steadily increase over the years and continues to do so. Even though the sea turtle has been a spiritual importance in many cultures across the globe it has not prevented humankind to consume their eggs or meat. For instance, in many coastal communities such as Central America and Asia they have been provide as a source of food. During their nesting season, hunters will comb through the beaches at night looking for nesting females. Often times they will wait until the female has birthed her eggs to kill her and then take the eggs and meat. In addition, many people will use other parts of the turtle for products such as oil, cartilage, skin, and shell.


The Chiricahua leopard frog is endangered due to habitat loss and chytrid fungus, which has led to the species to be almost entirely eliminated from its former habitat.


The kanab ambersnail is also another endangered species in the Arizona region. Most of the fact that the snail is endangered is due to human interference of their natural habitat.


Conclusion edit

The animals, plants and geology observed in this Wikibook is just a taste for what the Lower Colorado River Region has to offer. Also, while our book touches on the impact that humans have on the species in this region, like how Coyote’s are limited in their range of travel, the impact affects the Lower Colorado Region as a whole. The ecosystem is greatly altered due to interference of man-made objects and the rapid expansion of businesses and factories. Hopefully, this information allows a greater appreciation of the region and a different point of view behind the importance of nature, not just in the Lower Colorado River, but in general.

Group Members:

  1. Nicole Dressler
  2. Olivia Garcia
  3. Patrick Jauregui
  4. Izabeau Wright
  5. Aileen Zavala Ramirez

References edit

  1. Arizona Geography. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Bureau of Reclamation. (n.d.). PROJECTS & FACILITIES. Retrieved from
  3. Flathead catfish. (2020, April 3). Retrieved from
  4. Dibble, S. (2016, September 08). How Baja California is battling the drought. Retrieved May 09, 2020, from
  5. Gavin, C. (2014, March 26). House panel considers land-swap to expand Cibola Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved May 2, 2020, from
  6. Huerita, L. (2009, April 13). Myths & Tips: OMG DON'T DRINK THE WATER! Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
  7. Kutz, J. (2019, November 22). 'This is a human tragedy and an ecological tragedy'. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from
  8. Lower Colorado River Gadsden Riparian Area. (2018, May 10). Retrieved from
  9. Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program. (2004, June 18). Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, Volume III: Biological Assessment. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from
  10. McCreedy, C., van Riper, C., III, Esque, T.C., and Darrah, A.J., 2015, Effects of drought and fire on bird communities of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1240, 34 p.,
  11. Nolde, H. (n.d.). MEXICALI: Living on Borrowed Water. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from
  12. Parkinsonia aculeata. (2020, April 30). Retrieved from
  13. Puerto Penasco Water Desalination Facility. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2020, from
  14. Salix exigua. (2020, January 28). Retrieved from
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  17. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2013, May 20). Climate Change - Kofa - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved May 09, 2020, from
  18. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2019, October 22). Visitor Activities - Cibola - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved May 2, 2020, from
  19. Wikipedia. Melanerpes uropygialis (2020, March 17). Retrieved April 28, 2020, from
  20. Wikipedia (2020, April 2).Puerto Peñasco. Retrieved April 24, 2020, fromñasco
  21. Wikipedia (2020, April 24).Salton Sea. Retrieved April 25, 2020, from
  22. Wikipedia. (2019, November 8). Stenocereus thurberi. Retrieved May 2, 2020, from
  23. Zentner, J. (n.d.). Jaguars. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from