By Dave Helgeson
Over four times the size of Rhode Island, the 2.7 million acre Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range (BMGR) in southwest Arizona is one of the largest unbroken land tracts left in the lower 48 states and is open to boondocking! Located near Yuma, you’ll find it a fascinating place to explore.
The BMGR shelters one of the largest and finest remaining tracts of predominantly wild Sonoran Desert. At the very eastern edge of the BMGR , rises the Sand Tank Mountains to over 4,000 feet above sea level receiving sufficient rainfall to support pockets of chaparral vegetation. 130 miles away at the western end of the BMGR, the elevation is less than 200 feet above sea level and is one of the most arid places in North America. Between these two extremes lies 20 distinct mountain ranges separated by broad valleys containing over 275 varieties of plants, 56 species of mammals, in excess of 150 species of birds, 5 amphibian species and 44 species of reptiles. Native American Tribes survived here as hunters and gatherers and knew how to harvest the riches of the desert. They collected cactus fruit, desert annuals, mesquite beans and hunted bighorn sheep along with small game.
Those who arrived later were searching for a different kind of desert riches. In 1540, Melchoir Diaz distinguished himself as the first European to travel through the area, 90 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. A member of Coronado’s expedition, Diaz was searching for the legendary lost city of gold known as Cibola. Later Jesuit Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino pioneered a route through the area that became known as El Camino del Diablo or “the Devil’s Highway.” It earned its name from many miners who died enroute to the California gold fields. In the twentieth century, numerous prospectors combed the mountains in search of precious metals leading to many mineral discoveries and ruins for us to explore in the twenty first century. Writer Edward Abbey, called the BMGR, “graduate school for desert rats.” If you like solitude, hiking, exploring, and off-roading combined with boondocking, this is the place for you!
Basic guidelines for accessing and boondocking the BMGR are pretty simple:
- You must apply for and carry a valid government-issued permit.
- Visitors must check in when visiting the range and check out when leaving the range.
- Please observe “minimal impact” camping during your visit to ensure protection of the natural resources on the range. When you break camp, remove all traces of human visitation and smooth out your tire tracks. Bring a garden rake for this purpose.
- There are literally thousands of square miles of undisturbed wilderness. Please help maintain it that way by driving ONLY on established roads and removing all your belongings and refuse.
- Since the range is “active,” it goes without saying – if you encounter unexploded ordinance (bombs or other explosives) DON’T TOUCH THEM – STAY CLEAR!
For more information on obtaining permits, visit this site.
Go here for the official agency brochure.