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Traveling Wild

Just about everyone likes to travel and see new places, but how each person goes about that is not the same. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of ecotourism in the Sonoran Desert or other communities?

Voice Your Opinion

related links

EarthPulse Portal page

EarthPulse News page

Sonoran Institute-Community Stewardship Exchange
Learn more about how local groups and individuals are working to protect the Sonoran Desert. Click on the “Sonoran Institute” icon to read about this organization’s goal to preserve nature through community-based strategies.

For those who read Spanish, the official site of the Instituto del Medio Ambiente y el Desarrollo Sustentable del Esado de Sonora describes the agency’s objectives in preserving the Sonoran Desert.

Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan
Read the preliminary version of Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and find out what species and historical resources are threatened.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The museum’s official site has an informative question and answer section on living in the desert. It also has an interesting report of the status of the wildflowers this year and years past.

Arizona Game and Fish Department
A useful site for finding facts about Arizona wildlife.

Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve
Find basic facts and figures along with contact information for Mexico’s Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve.

El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve
A useful site with information for visitors to Mexico’s El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve.

Sonoran Desert National Monument
Find a map and statistics for one of the newest National Monuments in the U.S.

La Ruta de Sonora Ecotourism Association
Formed in part by the work of the Sonoran Institute, La Ruta de Sonora Ecotourism Association provides tours throughout the Sonoran Desert. Their official website describes the principles of ecotourism.

Article by Jennifer Fox, art by Don Foley.
Consultants: Stephen E. Cornelius, Sonoran Institute; John A. Hall, The Nature Conservancy

  Piecing Together Wild Lands  
  Although humans are keenly aware of international borders, plants and animals know no boundaries. Such is the case in the Sonoran Desert, which spans two states in Mexico (Baja California and Sonora) and two states in the U.S. (California and Arizona). The Sonoran Desert is one of the largest stretches of protected arid ecosystems in the world, and its biological diversity is vast. More than 2,500 pollinators frequent the area, including invertebrates, birds, bats, and bees. The region also supports thousands of plant species in about 80 plant communities such as ironwood-paloverde woodlands, saguaro cactus-mesquite scrublands, cottonwood—and willow—riparian forests, and California fan palm oases. But these native plants and animals are facing competition and a degraded habitat, primarily from an encroaching human population that jumped from 2.3 million in 1970 to 6.1 million in 1999 and is expected to hit 8.4 million in 2010. Residents in the booming region have brought with them urbanization, grazing livestock, water diversion, and non-native species. The question residents now face: how to coexist with nature?

In their efforts to preserve the Sonoran Desert and its riches, conservation groups are striving to balance the needs of everyone. Their goal is to give value to the land in its natural state. One method to achieve this goal is ecotourism. No doubt, the biological bounty of the area lures tourists, as does the desert’s cultural history, but not all tourism is positive. Ecotourism organizations promote responsible tourism by educating visitors while providing jobs to local residents and generating income for conservation projects. By bringing tourists to Arizona’s San Xavier del Bac Mission, Sonora’s La Proveedora petroglyphs, Arizona’s Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, and La Ciénega de Santa Clara wetland in the Colorado River delta. Looks like some odd form of grafitti. Visitors can learn about Hohokam Indian culture, Spanish colonial history, and how plants and animals have adapted to the land. But more importantly residents can see that the desert’s heritage can bring valuable tourist jobs and dollars—and thus have an incentive to preserve the land.

Ecotourism alone will not be enough to protect the Sonoran Desert and its indigenous inhabitants, but coupled with ambitious local projects such as those outlined in the magazine’s article “Earthpulse: Piecing Together Wildlands,” it should help to protect this unique landscape.

Read more in the pages of National Geographic magazine.


Alden, Peter, and Peter Friederici. National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Southwestern States. Knopf, 1999.

Nature Conservancy, IMADES, and Sonoran Institute. An Ecological Analysis of Conservation Priorities in the Sonoran Desert Ecoregion. April 2000.

Phillips, Steven J., and Patricia Wentworth Comus, eds. A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 2000.


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