Can you believe it’s already December?!  I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving!  We sure did.  Before Thanksgiving, I wrote about REI’s plan to #OptOutside.

On Black Friday, we decided to visit the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge for our #OptOutside day.  What a wonderful slice of Arizona!

We got up super early (it was still dark) in hopes of seeing some wildlife as they started to move about but there was a nearly full moon the night before and we’re thinking they could see well enough to move about during the night- so we didn’t see anything as the sun started peaking its head out.

We started out by visiting two of the lookout points:  Palo Verde Point and Mesquite Point.  We also went past Mesquite Point and hiked the Painted Desert Trail.  The refuge is full of plants, animals, water, and beauty!!  We did see a ton of ducks in the water, birds, hummingbirds, and at one point, a roadrunner!!!  I wish I had seen the roadrunner more quickly because I wasn’t able to capture a picture of it.  They are really quick.

Speaking of pictures…here are a handful… which we had to take with our phone.  Before we left I made sure I had the camera and had made sure its battery was all charged up.  I pulled the camera out as we were headed to our first spot, turned it on and…. boom- no memory card.  I forgot to put it back in after our last visit to the Kofa Refuge.  Oops.

Painted Desert Trail
Painted Desert Trail
Painted Desert Trail
Painted Desert Trail as the sun is rising.

We hiked the Painted Desert Trail, which is 1.3 miles in length and is a loop.  For experienced and able hikers, this is an easy trail.  Most of it is like what the photos above show.  There are a couple of inclines and a couple spots with uneven terrain, but nothing complicated or super difficult.  There are built-in steps and it’s all really well maintained.  There is even a ramada and table at the trailhead if you wanted to have a picnic before or after your hike.  Bring water and wear sunscreen.

Along the trail you’ll see evidence of wildlife (maybe even wildlife if you’re lucky), palo verde trees, creosote bushes, ironwood trees, rocks tinted by various natural materials, and the beautiful colors that give this trail its name.  See this photo for an awesome representation of the painted desert:

Painted Desert Trail

As mentioned above, we also stopped at some other points in the refuge.  Surprisingly, for the Sonoran Desert there is a good amount of water feeding all of the plant life in this refuge. There are marshes and off-shoots of water from the lakes throughout the refuge, more noticeable at the Meers, Palo Verde, and Mesquite Points.  Mesquite Point is right by McAllister Lake.  Here are some photos from the Mesquite Point lookout:


Here’s a great shot from Palo Verde Point:


So beautiful!  Look at that Arizona-version of Fall Foilage!

Last, we headed on over to Meers Point, which is at the end of Martinez Lake and near the visitor’s center.  It seems like Meers Point is an awesome day use spot.  There were picnic tables and plenty of room to have a group of people hanging out by the lake, eating, fishing, playing catch, taking pictures, etc…

(There are technically 5 lakes in this refuge: Clear Lake, Butler Lake, McAllister Lake, Martinez Lake, and Ferguson Lake. Check before you go because the West half of Martinez Lake and the North end of Ferguson Lake are closed from October 1-March 1 each year.) 

There is another hiking trail, the Meers Point Trail, that goes from Meers Point to the visitor center.  We did this one, too.  It’s also a fairly easy hike–I’d actually consider it more of a nature walk than a hike.  But, it also provided so many beautiful and scenic views as we walked it.  We started at the visitor center and took it towards Meers Point and then just turned around and went back when we were set to do so.  At the visitor center, there’s a tower you can walk up and get a more elevated view from as well.  You’ll also see barrel cactus and beavertail cactus, among other cool cacti and trees.

Here’s a photo from the Meers Point Trail:


There’s also a ton of stuff you can do in this refuge besides hiking and visiting the different lookout points!  The Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is 25,768 acres and protects a 30-mile stretch of the Lower Colorado River.

If you’re lucky, you might see a bald eagle here. We weren’t so lucky…maybe next time!  There are also desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, rabbits, birds, ducks, geese, and a whole host of other wildlife here.  Hunting is permitted (with proper permits/tags) and the following are allowed: Gambel’s quail, fox, coyote, ducks, coots, geese, white winged dove, mourning dove, deer (archery and general season), and desert bighorn sheep. Cottontail rabbit may be taken from September 1 to the end of the state season.  Note that there are restrictions and regulations that must be followed– you can find them at the link in this paragraph above.

If you go to Martinez Lake, you can camp via tent or RV or even rent a home on or near the lake!  The community is complete with a bar & grill that I’m told has been there for ages: Rio Loco. You can fish, water ski, jet ski, and dock your boat.  This definitely seemed like it’d be a cool weekend getaway and if you didn’t want to do lake activities every day, you can drive up a little bit and do some hiking or animal-watching instead.  It seems like the website for renting homes on Martinez Lake is under construction, but I think it’d be a good place to start if you’re interested in renting (or even buying) something.  The camping was only like $5 or $10 a night (by tent) as well, super cheap!

All in all, we thought this was a great day to spend outdoors for our #OptOutside choice!  We literally saw very few people, although I have a feeling it’s different during the summer- especially at Martinez Lake.

Did you end up doing anything to #OptOutside rather than shop on Black Friday?  What’d you do? Let me know in the comments section.

If you opted to shop, I hope you got some good sales!  Either way, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.


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