Arizonensis --> Sonoran Desert Naturalist --> Sonoran Desert Places --> Hassayampa Box Canyon

Hassayampa Box Canyon - Yavapai County, Arizona


From its headwaters in the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott to its juncture with the Gila River near Arlington, Arizona this 179 km river of life through the arid Southwest passes through a wide variety of life zones. At the highest elevations of 2200 meters it flows among cool pines and firs. Then piñon and juniper trees with plenty of open space between them. At mid elevations, 1500 m down to about 1000 m the Hassayampa passes through the fire-adapted habitat known as Interior Chaparral interspersed with various oak woodlands and desert grassland. Before the Hassayampa reaches Box Canyon the vegetation along the river's course changes to Upland Sonoran Desert scrub. At its juncture with the Gila River the vegetation has grown sparse and ever more xerically adapted.

Over millions of years, abundant gravel, sand, silt and clays have been carried down from the Bradshaw Mountains with layer upon layer deposited within the channel and on adjacent river terraces. Most of the year much of the water flow is thus subsurface, flowing silently and unseen between the grains of sand. Some stretches of the river are too steep and narrow to retain much alluvial accumulation with the consequence that water flowing underground through the permeable base emerges and flows free as a river. The Nature Conservancy's Hassayampa River Preserve lies at such a point a few kilometers southeast of Wickenburg. South of Wickenburg the river disappears from the surface and only flows above ground after periods of heavy rain.

We parked off Rincon Road from where deep-sand enabled vehicles continue on. From there we walked, getting our feet wet, up through to the ’Box’, about 3 km. The heavy traffic of motorized vehicles of many sorts stayed mostly on beaten tracks avoiding getting stuck in deep sand. There were also plenty of quiet folk on horseback. We were surprised the horses didn't spook with the passing loud engines and rowdy folks. Gold seekers were panning while the whine of engines was breaking the golden silence. The wash is wide and there are some undisturbed spots adjacent. Rocky ledges and terraces are well vegetated with cacti and shrubs. In short the visit for a nature lover is not perfect, but walking is easy and the diversity of plant life between the riparian strip and rocky slopes is high.

View Larger Map - Good parking entrance for Hassayampa Box Canyon is marked by Trekker's symbol while the Box is noted by arrow w/ star. Blue balloon shows location of turn from highway US-93. Green tree symbol east of Wickenburg on US-60 is location of Nature Conservancy's Hassayampa River Preserve.

Directions: From the Phoenix drive northwest to Wickenburg via US-60. Take the US-93 turn north from Wickenburg. Shortly there is a turn to the northeast onto Rincon Road. Cross a broad, usually dry section of the Hassayampa then continue a few kilometers more before arriving close to the river bed. Scenic Loop Road continues onto the northwest.


This list is based on just one field trip (April 26, 2008):

  1. Gambel's Quail -- Callipepla gambelii - Year-round Resident
  2. Mourning Dove -- Zenaida macroura - Year-round Resident
  3. Phainopepla -- Phainopepla nitens Fall-Winter-Spring
  4. Turkey Vulture -- Spring-Summer-Fall
  5. White-throated Swift -- Spring-Summer-Fall - common around the steep cliffs approaching entrance to the Box.
  6. Plumbeous Vireo -- Spring-Summer-Fall - partial to the Velvet Ash trees
  7. Gila Woodpecker -- Melanerpes uropygialis -- Year-round Resident
  8. Bell's Vireo -- Spring-Summer-Fall - Partial to the Mesquite trees
  9. Northern Cardinal -- Cardinalis cardinalis -- Year-round Resident
  10. Cooper's Hawk -- Year-round Resident
  11. Costa's Hummingbird -- Calypte costae - Spring-Summer
  12. Red-tailed Hawk -- Buteo jamaicensis -- Year-round Resident
  13. Black Phoebe -- Sayornis nigricans - Spring-Summer-Fall
  14. American Kestrel -- Year-round Resident
  15. Common Raven -- Corvus corax -- Year-round Resident
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With so many noisy humans it isn't a surprise none were seen (but they were there).


Reptiles and Amphibians

  1. Ornate Tree Lizard -- Urosaurus ornatus
  2. Western Whiptail -- Cnemidophorus tigris
  3. Side-blotched Lizard -- Uta stansburiana
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Tree lizards climb both trees and rocks and spend a lot of time basking.

Shrubs and Trees

  1. Prickly Pear -- Opuntia engelmannii
  2. Foothills Palo Verde; Yellow Palo Verde -- Parkinsonia microphylla
  3. Wolfberry -- Lycium sp.
  4. Saguaro Cactus -- Carnegiea gigantea
  5. Buckhorn Cholla -- Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa
  6. White Ratany -- Krameria grayi sp.
  7. Ocotillo;Coachwhip -- Fouquieria splendens
  8. Brittlebush -- Encelia farinosa
  9. Desert Christmas Cactus -- Cylindropuntia leptocaulis
  10. Teddy Bear Cholla;Jumping Cholla -- Cylindropuntia bigelovii
  11. Lance-leaf Ditaxis -- Argythamnia lanceolata
  12. Bigelow's Four O'Clock; Desert Wishbone Bush -- Mirabilis laevis -- under partial shade
  13. Burro Bush -- Hymenoclea salsola
  14. Woolly Bursage -- Ambrosia eriocentra
  15. Goodding's Willow -- Salix gooddingii
  16. Sweet Bush -- Bebbia juncea
  17. Canyon Ragweed -- Ambrosia ambrosioides
  18. Tree Tobacco -- Nicotiana glauca
  19. Desert Tobacco -- Nicotiana obtusifolia
  20. Tamarisk;Salt Cedar -- Tamarix pentandra
  21. Desert Globe Mallow -- Sphaeralcia ambigua
  22. Velvet Ash -- Fraxinus velutina
  23. Creosote Bush -- Larrea tridentata
  24. Seep Baccharis -- Baccharis salicifolia
  25. Flat-topped Buckwheat -- Eriogonum fasciculatum
  26. Wright's Buckwheat -- Eriogonum wrightii
  27. Desert Honeysuckle -- Anisacanthus thurberi + Elada Checkerspot Butterflies!
  28. Desert Willow -- Chilopsis linearis
  29. Jojoba -- Simmondsia chinensis
  30. Bladder Sage;Paper Bag Bush -- Salazaria mexicana
  31. Snapdragon Bush;Bush Penstemon -- Keckiella antirrhinoides
  32. Snapdragon Vine -- Maurandella antirrhiniflora
  33. Woodbine -- Parthenocissus vitacea
  34. Ragged Rock Flower -- Crossosoma bigelovii
  35. Athel -- Tamarix aphylla
  36. Shrubby Bedstraw -- Galium stellatum
  37. Sand Wash Groundsel -- Senecio flaccidus
  38. Arrow Weed -- Pluchea sericea
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Woolly Bursage releases a very pungent odor when crushed. It grows along the sandy banks of the Hassayampa.

Late Spring Wildflowers April-May (obs. 2008)

White Flowers

  1. Prickly Poppy -- Argemone sp.
  2. Seep Baccharis -- Baccharis salicifolia
  3. Bigelow's Four O'Clock;Desert Wishbone Bush -- Mirabilis laevis
  4. Popcorn Flower -- Cryptantha sp.
  5. Peppergrass -- Lepidium lasiocarpum
  6. Sacred Datura -- Datura metaloides

Green Flowers

  1. Hairy Bowlesia -- Bowlesia incana
  2. Canaigre -- Rumex hymenosepalpus
  3. Burstwort -- Herniaria cinerea
  4. Woolly Plantain -- Plantago patagonica
  5. Foxtail Barley -- Hordeum jubatum
  6. Rabbitfoot Grass

Yellow Flowers

  1. Tree Tobacco -- Nicotiana glauca
  2. Brittlebush -- Encelia farinosa
  3. Whispering Bells -- Emmenanthe penduliflora
  4. Monkey Flower -- Mimulus nasutus
  5. Asian Mustard -- Brassica tournifortii
  6. Sweet Bush -- Bebbia juncea
  7. Desert Evening Primrose -- Oenothera primiveris
  8. Snapdragon Bush -- Keckiella antirrhinoides
  9. London Rocket -- Sisymbrium irio
  10. California Sundrop -- Camissonia californica

Orange Flowers

  1. Orange Fiddleneck -- Amsinckia intermedia

Purple Flowers

  1. Plicate Coldenia;Fanleaf Crinklemat -- Tiquilia plicata
  2. Red-stemmed Fillaree -- Erodium cicutarium
  3. New Mexico Thistle -- Cirsium neomexicanum

Blue Flowers

  1. Phacelia spp.
  2. Lupine -- Lupinus sparsiflorus

Red Flowers

  1. Ocotillo -- Fouquieria splendens spp.
  2. Desert Honeysuckle -- Anisacanthus thurberi

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, 1999-2008