The Colorado River Delta Tour

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The Colorado River Delta Tour

Cortez & Colorado

Visit the Colorado River Delta and the Sea of Cortez and appreciate the complex and curious US-Mexican relationship involving Colorado River water rights and contracts.

Begin at the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge where important wetland restoration is taking place. After lunch in historic Yuma, continue to the Yuma Desalination Plant, the largest reverse osmosis desalination facility in the world. Dine that evening at a local San Luis Rio Colorado restaurant in this burgeoning Sonoran border city.

In the morning, travel to Ejido Luis Encinas Johnson to experience life in a small Sonoran village. Ejido Johnson is located near La Cienega de Santa Clara, now a restored wetland. Once this area was a watery jungle the size of Rhode Island, but its ecology was drastically altered by the string of 14 dams that diverted water from the Colorado River.

Glide by canoe through a magical waterscape of giant reeds and cattails and watch resident and migratory birds skim the surface and take flight.

Continue to an indoor-outdoor laboratory, El Golfo de Santa Clara Field Station. El Golfo is the focal point of research for Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Rio Colorado Biosphere Reserve. Tour the Field Station. Then enjoy a fresh-caught seafood buffet dinner prepared by local families.

The next morning, take a boat ride on the Sea of Cortez past the two main islands at the mouth of the Colorado River Delta. After lunch in El Golfo, visit Sierra el Pinacate, a dramatic, dormant volcanic landscape and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument before returning to Phoenix/Tucson.

STANDARD ITINERARY – 3 Days & 3 Nights

DAY 1 – Phoenix/Tucson to Yuma

We depart early afternoon to begin our water-base adventure. After hotel registration and a brief rest, we are treated to a delightful welcome dinner in one of Yuma’s finest restaurants. The night ends with a fascinating presentation on how the political economy of the Colorado River has influenced the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

DAY 2 – Yuma/ Imperial National Wildlife Refuge/San Luis Rio Colorado

We head north of Yuma to to begin our water-based adventure. At Mendoza Lake, we board our boat for a tour of the lower Colorado River along Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. The beauty of Imperial will certainly be a highlight of the tour. Here, we are introduced to the natural history of the region and learn how the construction of reservoirs for human economic use and recreation have changed the aquatic ecosystem from its origin to its final run to the Gulf of California in Mexico. Refuge staff will provide us with an overview of efforts to restore this important weland habitat, once a forest in the desert. A natural flyway to more than 380 species of birds, the refuge is home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, burros, and deer. Along the riverbanks there is an abundance of history such as Indian petrolyphs dating back thousands of years, pioneer cabins abandoned a century ago, steamboat landings and old mining towns. After a picnic lunch, we spend our afternoon touring Yuma, the first National Heritage Area west of the Mississippi. Yuma’s crossing on the Colorado River played a key role in the exploration and colonization of the American west. We then travel south to Mexico and cross the border at San Luis, Arizona. See how the once agricultural-based economy of this region of Mexico has been transformed to vast industrial parks of maquiladoras – assembly plants owned by multinational firms providing finished goods for the U.S. market. The day’s end will find you at a fine hotel in San Luis, having enjoyed a sumptuous Sonoran meal at a local restaurant.

DAY 3- La Ciénega/Alto Golfo Biosphere Research Station/ El Golfo

After a classic Mexican buffet breakfast, you will make the trip from San Luis to La Ciénega de Santa Clara on rugged roads, but the trip is well worth it. You will find yourself at the edge of a lush cattail marshland along the shore of the Colorado River floodplain. Here you will rendezvous with your hosts and guides from Ejido Johnson, a small native community adjacent to the wetland. You will learn about life in Ejido Johnson over lunch, before traveling on to the small, picturesque shrimp fishing village, El Golfo de Santa Clara, which is known for its sand dunes and white beaches. Take a canoe for a silent trip on La Ciénega to observe the natural life in this desert oasis. La Ciénaga supports numerous residents and migratory birds, including 6000 endangered Yuma Clapper Rail, a bird now rare in the on the United State stretch of the Colorado River.

After checking into a seaside motel and enjoying a short siesta, it is on to the Santa Clara Field Station of the Alto Golfo de California and Delta de Rio Colorado Biosphere Reserve. This station is doing important work to encourage the preservation of the natural landscape and support the region’s cultural values. Dinner features a wide assortment of local seafood and traditional Sonoran fare, to be enjoyed under the stars at the Research Field Station.

DAY 3 – El Golfo/Home

After a simple, but hearty breakfast, you will travel by panga up the Gulf of California to the delta of the Colorado River. Visit Montague and Pelícano Islands and, depending upon the season, spot some unique species of bird that make their home here. Prepare to be awed as you watch the mighty Colorado River makes its final rush to the sea. Then back to El Golfo for a beachside lunch of fish tacos prepared by the family of a local founder of La Ruta de Sonora. The return trip to Phoenix or Tucson, will find you tracking the U.S. border along Mexican Highway 2, until you cross the border at Lukeville and bisect Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as you journey toward home.

TOUR PRICE: Tour prices vary depending on date, itinerary, and donation amount contributed to tour sponsor (s).
Double Occupancy Rate: Priced from $699/person
Single Supplement: $100


DepartReturnSpecial Event/ItinerarySponsors/Partners
October 21October 24Tour departs from Tucson 
November 11November 14  


January 20January 23  
February 24February 27Customized itinerary for Birders 
March 17March 20 Includes a visit to the Hardy River in Northern Baja California
April 22April 24Customized itinerary for birders – Spring MigrationTucson Audubon Society

La Ruta de Sonora • Phone: 1.800.806.0766 • Email: [email protected]