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Desert Rat’s Delight In Arizona

The East Cactus Plain Wilderness brims with life and solitude. Just don't forget the water.

QUICK TAKE: East Cactus Plain Wilderness, Arizona

DRIVE TIME: The East Cactus Plain Wilderness and the Cactus Plain Wilderness Study Area are located in western Arizona near the California border approximately 145 miles (21/2 hours) west of Phoenix and 200 miles (31/2 hours) east of Los Angeles.

THE WAY: Follow AZ 72 to the town of Bouse. Turn right on Main Street (heading north), and then left on Rayder Road, which becomes a graded dirt road called Swansea Road. Continue north on Swansea Road for 5.3 miles to the Central Arizona Project canal. Just on the other side of the canal is a parking lot and bulletin board, marking the entrance to the wilderness.

TRAILS: There are no trails in the 14,630-acre East Cactus Plain Wilderness Area or the adjoining 59,100-acre wilderness study area. If you’re versed in traveling by map and compass, the options for cross-country travel are infinite. There is no surface water, so pack what you need.

ELEVATION: The highest point in the East Cactus Plain is 1,654 feet; the lowest is 1,250 feet. Dunes range in height from about 30 to 120 feet.

CAN’T MISS: If you’ve never spent the night surrounded by a pack of coyotes singing their hearts out, then you’re in for a treat.

CROWD CONTROL: Because of its remote location, the Cactus Plain receives few visitors. The best times to visit are November through April, when daytime temperatures reach into the upper 70s to low 80s and nighttime lows dip into the 50s.

PIT STOP: After a few days in the dunes, stop by the County Seat restaurant in Parker for a steak sandwich and fries.

WALK SOFTLY: Groups of three or more should hike spread out to lessen impact. Avoid stepping on delicate cryptobiotic soil (black, crusty, moss-like ground cover).

MAPS: For East Cactus Plain, get USGS 7.5-minute topo Powerline Well. For Cactus Plain Wilderness Study Area, get Black Peak, Bobs Well, Bouse, Bouse NW, Bouse Hills West, Cross Roads or Powerline Well. Order maps over the Internet at: http://www.usgs.gov.

MORE INFORMATION: Lake Havasu Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, 2610 Sweetwater Ave., Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406; (520) 505-1200.

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