Enjoy Rocky Point and nearby volcanic zone - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Enjoy Rocky Point and nearby volcanic zone

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Posted: Sunday, January 10, 2010 4:35 pm | Updated: 3:57 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Travel to Rocky Point is as safe and desirable as ever, and this modern resort destination is full of all the activities my family enjoys in beach destinations across the world at half the expense.

I brought in the new year in Rocky Point, Mexico. Travel to Rocky Point is as safe and desirable as ever, and this modern resort destination is full of all the activities my family enjoys in beach destinations across the world at half the expense. I always enjoyed the hospitality and beautiful beaches that have become valued in this area by Arizonans for decades and can now testify that nothing has changed. It's just gotten better in 2010.When visiting Rocky Point you need to include a stopover at The Grand Pinacate and Grand Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, considered one of the most interesting volcanic zones in the world. The conservation of these gigantic craters and the surrounding areas are important to the history of our region.

Believe it or not, El Pinacate and Great Altar Desert Biosphere Reserve are only three hours' drive from the East Valley and 30 minutes from Rocky Point, where I started a 24-hour off-road and camping adventure during my vacation.

Leaving Rocky Point at 5 p.m., we reached the biological station just before sunset. The sun began to touch the horizon decorated with thousands of sahuaro, cholla and ocotillo trees. After filling out the entry forms, we moved ahead rapidly in our Jeep on dirt and volcanic stone road. Rabbits and jackrabbits were jumping everywhere.

It was dark when we arrived to the campsite known as El Tecolote, located 21 miles north of the park's entrance. It was a starry sky. We unpacked, set up the camp, and checked our plan for the next day.

The first rays of sunlight fell over one of the most impressive natural monuments I have ever seen, the El Elegante crater. Located in this inhospitable land that seems to host no life at all, El Elegante is one of the 10 volcanic craters that can be found in this reserve, which has a land extension of 1,700,000 acres.

In this same place - 4,200 feet wide by 460 feet deep - astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., commander of the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission, carried out a training and lunar surface simulation in the 1970s because the geological characteristics are very similar to those of the moon.

El Pinacate zone was decreed a protected area in 1993 because it is home to hundreds of plant-life species, including cholla, ocotillo, and saguaro, and the famous creosote bush or "gobernadora" - which is known for its long life span -all form part of this majestic landscape.

Although the 122-degree heat is intense and the rain is scarce, this natural park shelters 46 species of mammals, 41 of which are endemic. In addition this area hosts 327 species of migratory and resident birds like the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which has a wingspan of almost 5.6 feet.

El Pinacate is also the home of 45 species of reptiles and five species of amphibians. At least 20 of these species are under the protection of Mexico's environmental laws, including the scorpion, the desert turtle and the Gila monster.

Because of the extreme weather, visit El Pinacate between November and April. During these months temperature ranges between 86 degrees during the day and 32 degrees at night.

After weleft the site, I thought it would be great to come back again to explore the rest of the craters and to enjoy the famous sand dunes of the Great Altar Desert. Soon I was back in the balcony of my suite at Rocky Point, enjoying a breathtaking sunset at Sandy Beach.

To get to El Pinacate take state Route 85 from Gila Bend south to Lukeville. When you reach the international border, follow Highway 8. The park's entrance is about a half-hour drive from the border or from Rocky Point.

USEFUL TIPS

Bring one gallon of water to drink per person per day. Wear cotton pants and long-sleeve shirts. You should wear a light sweater during the day and a thick coat at night. Do not forget to use sunblock, and bring dark glasses, a hat and binoculars.

Firearms and pets are not allowed at this biosphere reserve. If you drive, use a four-wheel-drive vehicle or a car or truck high enough to cross through this type of terrain. Off-road driving, hunting and collection of animals or plants are not allowed.

The border towns of northern Sonora, including Rocky Point, are part of the "free zone." Americans and Canadians do not need a visa to enter these areas, as long as the stay is less than 72 hours. You do, however, need proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, while in Sonora. If you are traveling beyond the "free zone," or staying longer than 72 hours, you will need a Mexican entry visa of some type. When returning from Mexico you will be required to have a United States or Canadian passport, passport card, enhanced driver's license or SENTRI card to re-enter Arizona.

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