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"Mittry Lake is a 400-acre oxbow of the Lower Colorado River, with a well-developed   
wetland and marsh habitat adjacent to harsh desert conditions."
~ the Arizona Important Bird Areas Program website

Sounds like an oasis in the desert, doesn't it? And it pretty much is.

Although there is a lot of brown desert terrain on and near Yuma Proving Ground, where we're spending the winter, there are several relatively lush wildlife areas nearby that we've been enjoying.

All are possible because of the water flowing through them from the Colorado River -- and the foresight of the BLM and other federal and state agencies to set them aside as public lands for conservation and recreation purposes.

View across one of the lakes at Laguna Conservation Area near YPG; Castle Dome is in the distance.

In this entry I'll describe the Mittry Lake Wildlife Area, which is owned by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation, both federal agencies, but run by the Arizona Game & Fish Department. Mittry is a stocked lake popular with fishermen and women.

All the photos in this entry are from January 29 and January 31, 2016, when I rode my bike down to the lake from our campground at YPG. Jim rode with me the second time.

Subsequent entries will focus on recent pictures from the Laguna Conservation Area and the Imperial Dam Wildlife Area, which I've covered previously in the 2015 journal.


According the the BLM website, the wildlife area includes about 600 acres of water surface and over 2,400 acres of marsh and upland terrain.

The area supports a wide variety of vegetative and wildlife species and is framed by three mountain ranges:

Wetland/marsh vegetation close to the lake

Palm trees near the camping area

Upland vegetation in this area where some RVers are boon-docking north of the lake

The wildlife area provides riparian, wetland, and aquatic habitat for many wildlife species.  The Important Bird Area website states that it is one of the most accessible settings for wildlife viewing in Arizona's Colorado River floodplain.

In the winter, for example, up to 10,000 resident and migrating waterfowl may be present:

The desert scrub and riparian vegetation also support a wide variety of other birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects.

Then there are the fish. With all that water, Mittry Lake and the surrounding area offer numerous fishing opportunities. Bass, catfish, sunfish, and crappie are the most prevalent species.

The lake has boat ramps at either end; the fishing is reportedly better out on the lake in a boat than along the shoreline.

The main boat ramp has restrooms and a large ramada for groups to gather.

Numerous serpentine waterways connect to the main lake body, which you can see in this Google map of the area. Mittry Lake is at the bottom of the map:

Most people reach the lake from Yuma, which is to the south. The southern end of the lake is about a 17-mile drive from downtown going east on US 95 and north on Avenue 7E.

The northern end of the lake is only about six miles from the administrative and RV park gate at Yuma Proving Ground. I marked the approximate location of our RV site with a red dot and our bike route in yellow on the map above.

The Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area is in the upper left corner of the map off Senator Wash and Ferguson Roads. The white dots you may be able to see in the far distance in some of the lake pictures in this entry, like the one below, are RVs parked in the desert at the LTVA:


Two days ago I made my first cycling trek from our RV park to the southern end of Mittry Lake, riding out and back 15+ miles roundtrip.

Although the sand and gravel road to the lake is very close to the entrance to our part of YPG, neither of us had ever been down there before this week. The first two times I tried to ride my bike there I had to turn around within a quarter mile because the road was uncomfortably wash-boardy and the sand and gravel surface was too thick for the tires on my cyclocross bike.

Jim heads back toward YPG near the end of our ride today; Castle Dome is in the distance to the right.

Jim's mountain bike tires are more suitable for this road but he was just never interested in seeing the lake until I convinced him to ride down there with me today.

The road was graded about two weeks ago so I decided to try it again. It's not as bad now, especially on the edge of the roadway next to the canal that it follows below South Laguna/East Imperial Dam Road:

Friday wasn't the best afternoon to ride down because of all the traffic -- folks going down to fish and camp for the weekend. A lot of dust was stirred up that day. Traffic was surprisingly lighter this morning, a Sunday, when Jim rode down to the lake with me.

[Addendum Neither of us rode down there again before we left YPG in  March, mainly because of the dust.]

Heading south from YPG along the dirt road toward the lake, the first three or four miles next to the canal are flat and rather boring until you get closer to some hills and the lake.

The scenery definitely improves when you can look across the pretty lake:



Looking west toward the LTVA

Looking northwest toward Imperial Dam

Looking north toward YPG and the Castle Dome Mountains


Neither of us was aware of the camping opportunities at Mittry Lake.

On my first trip down I noticed the RVs boon-docking along the road, as shown in one of the pictures above. Since so many people boon-dock in this desert, I wasn't surprised.

I was surprised, however, when I rode past the main boat ramp and saw a BLM dispersed or unimproved campground with about five dozen RVs ranging from basic truck campers and small travel trailers to large Class A motorhomes and toy haulers.


"Dispersed" is what you call the camping at the huge Imperial Dam LTVA a few miles away, also managed by BLM. We had just never researched what other free or low-cost dispersed and unimproved camping is available in the area.

Camping at Mittry Lake is limited to 10 days per year. I don't know if there's a fee and I didn't look closely enough to see if there are any hookups (I doubt it). Most of the RVs are in an area near the boat ramp and bathroom. A few very desirable sites like those in the photo above back up to the lake.

 A recently burned area near the main camping area looks a little other-worldly:

Both natural and human-caused wildfires are rather prevalent in this area, according to one of the websites I consulted. The marsh grasses burn easily and grow back rather quickly, but trees like cottonwoods take a lot longer.

If you're in the Yuma area for a few days, weeks, or months during the winter this is one of several interesting wildlife areas that is scenic and convenient to visit, especially if you like to fish, boat, camp, and/or watch birds.

Next entry: new photos from the nearby Laguna Division Wildlife Conservation Area

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