In their own words: Arizonans share why the Great Bend of the Gila deserves to be protected

A pond in the desert surrounded by green foliage with mountains in the background.

Great Bend of the Gila, AZ

Dawn Kish

Area is the ancestral home to 13 Tribes and houses a vibrant Sonoran Desert ecosystem

Covering over 100,000 square miles of the U.S. and Mexico, the Sonoran Desert is considered one of the world’s most biodiverse. At least 2,500 species of plants and animals call the Saguaro-studded canyons home, finding oases in desert waterways like the Gila River. Though the Gila runs for hundreds of miles, the stretch known as the Great Bend of the Gila is especially significant. 

Located just southwest of Phoenix, the Great Bend has a rich history. The area has provided a home for at least 13 Tribes since time immemorial; their ancestry can be seen in the innumerable petroglyphs and preserved structures throughout the desert. Though many of these Tribes were driven away from their homes by government sanctioned bloodshed from American and Mexican settlers, they retain deep connections to the area.

Today the Great Bend is beloved by all as a uniquely stunning stretch of nature. In its wide open desert vistas, visitors of all stripes find an opportunity to reflect on the region’s history and connect with the Sonoran ecosystem. For residents of nearby Phoenix—where 36 percent of the population identifies as something other than white—the Great Bend of the Gila offers unparalleled access to open lands for hiking, camping, off-roading and other recreation.

But as the Phoenix metropolitan area expands outward, the area is increasingly threatened. Recently, Tribes and anthropologists have noticed an uptick in damage to cultural sites. Meanwhile, urban development continues to creep further west of the city into the desert, destroying the habitat of vulnerable wildlife like bighorn sheep and threatening ecosystem stability.

The only way to ensure that the Great Bend of the Gila exists for current and future generations of Arizonans to enjoy is to enact permanent federal protections. 

To make that case, a diverse group of advocates—members of Tribes and other local communities; archaeologists and anthropologists; farmers and business owners—described in their own words what makes the Great Bend special and deserving of protection. Hear the voices of these people and learn more about the Great Bend of the Gila through this interactive multimedia story.

Ready to take action? Sign our letter in support of permanent protection for the Great Bend of the Gila in one click.