An Ancestral Landscape
Spanning the river valley and surrounding desert between the cities of Phoenix and Yuma, Arizona, the Great Bend of the Gila is a place that has shaped the diverse histories and heritage of the American Southwest.
It's an ancestral landscape that has been inhabited by Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial.
Today, 13 sovereign Tribes maintain deep connections to this section of the lower Gila River, though many were forced out of these lands to live far from the Great Bend of the Gila. These tribes include:
- The Ak-Chin Indian Community
- The Cocopah Indian Tribe
- The Colorado River Indian Tribes
- The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation
- The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe
- The Gila River Indian Community
- The Hopi Tribe
- The Pueblo of Zuni
- The Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation
- The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
- The Tohono O’odham Nation
- The Yavapai-Apache Nation
- The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe
Click on the map to learn more about these Tribes.
“It’s not one site. It’s all the sites, and they all go together. What makes Great Bend of the Gila all the more impressive is that cultural landscape is not just for one culture or one time period. We are looking at millennia, and at least 13 Tribal Nations with ancestral ties here.”
Aaron Wright, Preservation Anthropologist, Archaeology Southwest
“Growing up I only assumed that, living within reservation boundaries, that was it. I have come to realize that my ancestors lived everywhere. That they’ve left their footprint on this land. That tells us they were here.”
Reylynne Williams, Cultural Resources Specialist, Gila River Indian Community
Protecting the Great Bend of the Gila is essential if we are to preserve the story of these homelands of Indigenous Peoples who have used the land in many interrelated ways for millennia.
The Sonoran Desert is the most biodiverse of the four deserts of North America. This is on full display in the Great Bend of the Gila.
This landscape is home to diverse plant and animal species, including iconic species such as Saguaro, Cholla, Ocotillo, various cacti, Gila Monster, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Bobcat, Ringtail Cat, Javelina, Fox, Desert Tortoise, Rattlesnakes, and Chuckwalla.
The region is also home to a number of threatened and endangered species, including the Lesser Long Nosed Bat, Desert Bighorn Sheep, the Acuna Cactus, and the Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope.
Together with other federally protected areas in southern Arizona, the Great Bend of the Gila creates a significant network of semi-contiguous wildlife habitat.
Protecting the Great Bend of the Gila is essential if we are to allow for the movement and habitation of animal and plant species whose survival is dependent upon intact contiguous landscapes within the Great Bend of the Gila and beyond to adjacent protected lands.
Culture, Then & Now
The Gila River valley has been an important corridor for human travel and migration for millennia. Many ancient Indigenous trails cross this terrain, as well as more contemporary settler routes such as the Anza Trail, the Mormon Battalion Route, and the Butterfield Trail.
The Great Bend of the Gila’s use as a major travel corridor reflects the legacy of Spanish, Mexican, and early American transcontinental travel, and the region’s role in the history of the American Southwest.
Today, the Great Bend of the Gila serves as an important recreation area and access point to natural landscapes.
The Great Bend of the Gila is an important spiritual space for people of all faiths.
The region also represents an opportunity for developing agricultural systems that can revitalize and sustain family farms in hotter and drier environments, heal and restore the land, and serve as a model that others can replicate.
Protecting What We Value
The Great Bend of the Gila lies within the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, one of the fastest-growing major metropolitan areas in the United States. The region gained over 650,000 residents from 2010 to 2020, and nearly 1.6 million since 2000.
Today, Metro Phoenix is home to 4.8 million residents, making it the 11th largest metropolitan area in the nation by population. The region’s population is expected to grow to over 5 million people by 2030.
As the population of the region grows, the impact on unprotected areas grows with it.
Looting, vandalism, and accidental destruction become an ever-increasing issue as more and more people venture into the desert from growing urbanized areas. Some sites have already been subject to irreparable harm.
Irresponsible target shooting, littering, and off-highway vehicle recreation are also causing damage to heritage assets.
Threats and pressures facing the Great Bend of the Gila also include:
Potential energy development and resource extraction
Sale or transfer of public land to private interests
Desertification and invasive species
Conservation Unites Us
Arizonans of all kinds and in all parts of the state support conservation.
92% say it's important to "preserve and protect Arizona’s rivers, natural areas and wildlife".
82% support creating new national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges, and Tribal protected areas.
It's time our elected officials took action.
We are advocating for protection of the Great Bend of the Gila through legislation in Congress or, if necessary, through Executive Action to proclaim the landscape a National Monument.
We are also advocating that the 13 Sovereign Tribal Nations with traditional affiliations with this landscape be afforded the opportunity to participate in the management and protection of the Great Bend of the Gila under either of these designations.