Sonoran Desert National Park

by Seth Vandenberg

Sonoran Desert National Park was a proposed park that would combine Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Plans had also been made to incorporate some, if not all, of the Air Force’s Goldwater Range. In all, the proposed park was to protect over 1.2 million acres of unspoiled Sonoran Desert.[1] The plan for the park was proposed to President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 coupled with proposals for many other national monuments in Utah and Alaska.[2] President Johnson never acted on the idea, and the proposal met an abrupt end. Ideas had also surfaced of an opportunity for a jointly run park with Mexico, but these thoughts never got off the ground either.[3] Sonoran Desert National Park was proposed to protect the 600-plus plant species, ancient archaeological sites, and the variety of endangered species found only in this unique environment.[4]The Sonoran Desert stretches between the United States and Mexico and contains a rare but fragile ecosystem. Human development and encroachment on these lands has forced many species close to extinction. The proposal focused on not only the preservation of this environment but also the opportunity for recreation. The park would be located near population centers such as Tuscon and Phoenix and would allow the experience of the Sonoran Desert without the endangerment of the species that make this such a fascinating region.

Map showing Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Barry M. Goldwater Range, two of the areas to be included into the proposed Sonoran Desert National Park

This proposal also mentioned the prominent geological features, such as the remains of the area’s  Jurassic volcanic field. The evidence of ecological shifts within the proposed park is of significant importance to scientists in a variety of fields, specifically to show climate changes in the region.[5] The larger objective of this national park was to remove mining and grazing from the Sonoran Desert region. Mining and grazing had the ability to do much more damage to this delicate ecosystem than any other form of human activity. Military use of a large chunk of Sonoran Desert for the Goldwater Bombing Range presented the largest barrier for the creation of a Sonoran Desert National Park.[6] Getting the military to end its lease on the range seems unlikely and even if it happened, the range still contains many unexploded bombs, flares and rockets that would pose a risk for both animals and humans using the park.[7] Recently there has not been much more momentum towards the idea of Sonoran Desert National Park and it remains to this day the park that wasn’t.

Further Reading

Allen, Lee. Desert USA. “A New Park in the Northern Sonora Desert?” http://www.desertusa.com/mag00/nov/stories/nsorora.html (accessed March 27, 2012).


[1] National Park Service, “Sonoran Desert National Park, Arizona: A Proposal,” Conclusions, http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/sonoran_desert/contents.htm (accessed March 23, 2012)

[2] Stewart L. Udall, “Sonoran Desert National Park” in Dry Borders: Great Natural Reserves of the Sonoran Desert, ed. Richard Stephen Felger and Bill Broyles (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007) 533.

[3] Stewart L. Udall, “Sonoran Desert National Park” in Dry Borders: Great Natural Reserves of the Sonoran Desert, ed. Richard Stephen Felger and Bill Broyles (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007) 535.

[4] Lisa Bannon, “A Plan for a Park In the Desert Sparks An Explosive Debate” Wall Street Journal, July 9, 1999.

[5] National Park Service, “Sonoran Desert National Park, Arizona: A Proposal,” Suitability and Feasibility, http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/sonoran_desert/contents.htm (accessed March 23, 2012)

[6] Lisa Bannon, “A Plan for a Park In the Desert Sparks An Explosive Debate” Wall Street Journal, July 9, 1999.

[7] Lisa Bannon, “A Plan for a Park In the Desert Sparks An Explosive Debate” Wall Street Journal, July 9, 1999.

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