Sand Tank Mountains Proposed Wilderness

Location: Within the Sonoran Desert National Monument
Sand Tanks East Size: 37,654 acres
Sand Tanks West Size: 54,687 acres
Sand Tanks East South Size: 13,024 acres 

The Sand Tank Mountains are one of the Sonoran Desert’s few remaining crown jewels. Located approximately 7 miles southeast of Gila Bend inside the Sonoran Desert National Monument and adjacent to the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, the Sand Tank Mountains proposed wilderness includes two units separated by a single four-wheel drive road. Elevation in the Sand Tanks ranges from over 4,000 feet on top of Maricopa Peak to 1,000 feet in Sand Tank Wash. Numerous canyons and deep washes surround the impressive Blue Plateau, while craggy spires top off the Javelina and Sand Tank Mountains.

Sand tanks are tinajas — also called rock tanks — carved out from thousands of years of erosion that become filled with sand when the tail end of a flood carries sufficient sand to fill the cavity. This sand is saturated with water, which becomes trapped between the pore spaces in the sand grains. The surface dries, but the water remains trapped inside the tank longer than that of a clean tank. The water is only accessible by digging, which cannot be accomplished by ungulates, but coyotes and foxes commonly reach water after some relentless digging and scratching.

Wilderness Protection

Petroglyphs in the Sand Tank Mountains

Petroglyphs in the Sand Tank Mountains; © AWC

Wilderness protection offers the best long-term protection for these species and the outstanding recreational opportunities found in the Sand Tank Mountains. Such a designation can help reduce the footprint of motorized use on the area and the incursion of roads and trails into the roadless heart of the wildlife habitat offered by this impressive mountain range.

Wilderness designation will ensure that wildlife species moving through Sonoran Desert National Monument to other wilderness ranges — such as the North and South Maricopa Mountains and the Sierra Estrella Wilderness — are able to migrate safely with little disturbance from humans, as population and energy development expand around Gila Bend and in Pinal County.




Cave Myotis Bat

Cave Myotis Bat; © Bat Conservation International

Cattle grazing ceased in this portion of the monument more than 50 years ago, allowing a full spectrum of native vegetation to return. This extraordinary area contains dense saguaro forests, herds of bighorn sheep, outstanding recreational opportunities, and a diverse mixture of prehistoric and historic cultural sites.

The red-backed whiptail lizard, Sonoran desert tortoise, California leaf-nose and cave myotis bats are all species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consider “species of concern” in this mountain range.


The Sand Tanks offer various levels of hiking, from walking in the bajadas and washes, to rock scrambling on the nearby peaks and ridges. A short hike in many of the washes offers opportunities to view many species of birds and practice animal tracking, where wildlife depends on washes as travel corridors and places to escape the heat of the day. Backpacking, hunting, horseback riding, photography, bird watching, and sightseeing for botanical, zoological, and especially geological features are all possible primitive and unconfined recreational opportunities within the Sand Tank Mountains. The size and configuration allow for extended desert backpacking trips that can give the visitor an opportunity to experience the rugged and remoteness of this spectacular mountain range. Car-camping possibilities abound at the various access points and along the four-wheel drive route that runs between the East and West Sand Tank Mountains.

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