Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


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"The Bureau of Reclamation is developing the Laguna Division of the Lower Colorado River   
near Yuma, Arizona as part of the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation
Program (LCR MSCP). The Laguna Division Conservation Area is 1,200 acres,
nestled between Imperial Dam and Laguna Dam, with Mittry Wildlife Area
to the east and the Laguna Settling Basin to the west."
~ from a fact sheet on the LCR MSCP government website

In the previous entry I talked about visiting the Lake Mittry Wildlife Area twice during our stay at nearby Yuma Proving Ground this winter. Although the lake was pretty, there weren't any trails to hike and we didn't like riding several bumpy miles on a dusty dirt road with vehicular traffic to get there.

In contrast, I drove or rode my bike two miles to the Laguna Division Conservation Area four or five times a week during the five months we wintered in this area!

Water, birds, green marsh plants, views of Castle Dome Mountain . . .
what's not to like about the Laguna Conservation Area??

This wildlife area was just two paved miles from our campsite and had a lot more going for it when we got there -- over nine miles of wide, smooth, non-motorized dirt roads to walk and ride our bikes; trails through sand dunes; pretty lakes that fluctuated with the release of water from the two nearby dams; lots of birds, big and little mammals, and wildflowers; very few other visitors; and it's free!

It was a fabulous place for us to let the dogs swim and run/walk off-leash, ride our bikes, and get some stress-free exercise.

Casey retrieves a stick in one of the channels of water.

Jim rides with Casey at the conservation area.

Cody checks out the horse hoof prints in the sand on our favorite sand dune trail.
We saw horses at the conservation area only a couple times.

I wrote about this scenic wildlife conservation area in the December 4, 2015 entry and included about twenty photos I took in the fall and early winter.

I'll include mostly new pictures from January to March, 2016 in this entry. I have quite a lot to choose from because there was always something interesting to photograph.


This relatively new conservation area, which encompasses about 1,200 acres of Colorado River floodplain -- mostly on the Arizona side of the river -- is designed to protect the environment and wildlife.

Its secondary purpose is for public recreation; it is open to wildlife watching, hiking, cycling, fishing, hunting (in season), and horseback riding. 

Here's a map of the conservation area from the LCR MSCP website:

That's an older map, perhaps a concept design, because even when the water levels in the conservation area were low this winter, there was a lot more water than that in both the upper "reach" (what they call a section) and lower "reach."

The conservation area is about 4.3 miles long and up to 1/2 mile wide. Most of the land lies in Arizona; a little bit is on the California side of the state border (see blue boundary line on map above).

The conservation area is a work in progress, not expected to be "finished" until 2018. The young vegetation, newly constructed fencing, and other projects will undoubtedly continue beyond that.

The basics are already in place, however.

Wide dirt roads form a nine-mile long figure-eight loop through the wetlands and around two large lakes fed by canals coming from the Colorado River. The road around the first large lake and some shallow ponds is 4.4 miles long; the loop around the lake farther south ("second reach") is 4.9 miles, for a total of about 9.3 miles if you walk or ride the entire figure-eight.

Many native trees, shrubs, and grasses have been planted by volunteers to replace invasive species that were removed, to protect the shifting sand dunes, and to provide suitable habitat for a variety of native and migratory wildlife.

Cody walks through an area where clumps of grass have been planted between the road and a large
basin that was sometimes a shallow lake, and sometimes mostly dry (see photos at end of this page).

Many young cottonwood trees were planted in one area where I often walked through the sand dunes with the dogs. Sometimes several inches of water covered the ground under them, and sometimes it was dry.

Water levels fluctuate from day to day, depending on the release of water from the nearby dams. It reminded me of high and low ocean tides.

The leaves were a pretty yellow-gold color until January, then suddenly new green leaves came out for an instant spring season in February:

Early January


After we arrived in the fall, workers began setting low posts into the ground around the lakes and stringing thick wire cables through them.

It was interesting to watch their progress until we left in late March:

Some posts in, some waiting; workers used a large auger to dig the holes.

Unloading wire cable and wooden posts

Some of the completed fencing, and a man riding a horse (partly highlighted)

When the project is completed, visitors will be able to drive back to the second lake to fish and hunt (in season). It's too far for most people to want to walk. I usually cycled around the lower lake because the flat terrain was hard on my joints when I walked the whole 9+ miles. The fencing is designed to keep vehicles on the road and in designated parking areas.

We're glad the project was not completed before we left. Otherwise, we would have had to share the road with noisy, motorized vehicles raising dust.


I already showed some pictures above of some of the cottonwood trees that were planted at Laguna.

The conservation area also has many honey mesquite trees, coyote willow bushes, rabbitbrush, and various kinds of grasses. Some were already there but many were planted in the past few years to stabilize the dunes and provide nesting areas and cover for wildlife. It's been a major undertaking to grade the land and plant so much new vegetation.

Just as it was interesting to watch the cottonwood leaves turn yellow in the winter and be rather quickly replaced with new little green leaves in early spring, it was fun to see the honey mesquite trees, grasses, and other plants turn bright green in February:

Above and below:  honey mesquite shrubs/trees in the sandy area where I often walked the dogs


Spring has sprung in the lower lake ("second reach")

View west toward the Imperial Dam LTVA, where you can see some boon-docking RVs in the distance

"Winter" is very short here!

These pictures of all the green plants and colorful flowers should give you some idea why so many people like to spend what little "winter" there is, in Arizona.

The yellow rabbitbrush flowers stayed in bloom the whole time we were here, from late October to late March, but the shrubs bore many more flowers in the spring:



A few new wildflowers were in bloom in the conservation area before we left in March. I'll include them in a separate entry about spring desert flowers.


This conservation area has at least as much water as sand. Numerous native and migrating ducks, geese, herons, egrets, and other waterfowl can easily be seen and photographed from the roads through the wildlife area.


We saw the footprints of many more birds and small mammals like rodents, rabbits, and raccoons than we saw the actual critters.

I took pictures several times of the tracts of animals that had busy foraging during the night or early morning hours before I got there to walk the dogs:

I'd guess these are mostly little rodent tracks between burrows under the plants.

Very tiny and interesting track --  I wonder what critter made it?

Raccoon tracks

Small bird tracks

BIG bird track!  (my shoes are men's size 10)

One type of mammal we did see quite often in the conservation areas, LTVA, and other places near Yuma Proving Ground was the burro.

Many feral burros wander around the area and will come quite close to humans and friendly dogs, although the only picture of this trio that I could get was of their butt end:

I've got better pictures of burros from the nearby LTVA, where I saw them several times a week. I'll show some of them in the next entry.


My favorite part of the Laguna Conservation Area continues to be the pretty sand dunes near the parking area. It's one of several places here with shifting dunes. I loved the soft, almost-white, sculpted sand and all the plants.

A nice loop through the sand here is about a mile long. I walked the dogs there several times a week. Many of the pictures in this entry are from this sandy area.

This wind-sculpted hill is one of my favorite parts of the sand dune area:

It looks quite different with green leaves in March compared with yellow leaves in November.

I took many other photos of wind-sculpted sand in this part of the conservation area. Here's just one more example:

Here are a few other random scenes from the Laguna Conservation Area early this year:


Views from the lower lake looking north toward YPG and Castle Dome (above)
and west toward the Imperial Dam LTVA (below)


Very low water level in one of the lakes near the entrance in January (above) and February (below);
earlier in the winter, the water was in the foreground of both photos, as shown two pictures below.


Same spot in late November at "full pond" or "high tide."

Sometimes I could almost reach out and touch this boulder "cairn" near
the entrance to the conservation area (above);  other times, shallow 
water covered the ground for 20-30 feet in front of it (below).

Each day before I went over to the conservation area I'd try to guess what the water level would be because it could fluctuate not only from day to day, but also from hour to hour.

This is an interesting place to spend an hour or half a day if you're in the area. I don't know how much busier it will become when vehicles are allowed to drive beyond the parking area but during this winter, it was the perfect quiet and very convenient oasis for Jim and me to ride our bikes and walk the dogs.

Next entry:  our second-favorite playground near YPG -- the desert around Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA), including scenes along Ferguson Road

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil