Birding Site: Tinajas Altas (High Tanks)

Most recent visit: 7 June 2007
Latest web site update: 3 Feb 2008
Number of visits: 16



  • Lower Sonoran Desert
  • Desert Washes
  • Desert Mountains
  • Natural Tanks (Water Holes)

Black-throated Sparrow

General Description

This location, like Raven Butte and Spook Canyon, offers the visitor an opportunity to leave behind suburbia and the 21st Century, and bird in the rugged desert, with no fast food, no asphalt, and no glaring neon lights. It's a harsh, beautiful land with creamy granite outcroppings, cliffs, and low mountains. Saguaros, chollas, and ocotillo scatter the flats while mesquites and ironwoods line the washes. A wet winter will trigger a profusion of wildflowers. Migrants can be plentiful in spring, especially if there's been rain. Falcons winter and may stay to breed on the cliffs. Leconte's Thrashers are most easily spotted in February and March when they're up and singing. Woodpeckers utilize Saguaro cavities, as do Elf Owls. Winter and spring are the prime seasons to visit--summer brings blistering temps and elusive birds.

Target Birds

  • Prairie & Peregrine Falcon
  • Elf Owl
  • Gilded Flicker
  • Common Raven
  • Canyon, Rock, & Cactus Wren
  • Phainopepla
  • Black-tailed & Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • LeConte's Thrasher
  • Scott's Oriole

Birding Map

tinagas altas

Map Key

P = Parking Area

Brown lines are dirt/sandy roads

Dashed blue lines are intermittent washes

Click here for an aerial view of the map on the left

Click on thumbnail below for a full-sized orientation map

Birding Locations


HIGH TANKS & WASH: Walk down the wash from the parking area to the lowest tank. In the trees and brush along (and in) the wash keep watching for Phainopepla, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Costa's and Rufous (migrating) Hummingbirds. Both accipiters and three falcons come to feed on the birds attracted to the water. Resident Black-throated Sparrows are joined by wintering White-crowned and Brewer's Sparrows. Resident wrens are Cactus, Canyon, and Rock.

A good migrant fallout can bring literally any bird to this watering hole. Common flycatchers are Pacific-slope and Ash-throated. Less common are Gray and Dusky & Hammond's. Warbler span all the western species. One June I had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo here.

Hiking up from the lower tank reveals 6-7 additional tanks that sometimes hold water. This hike is a good way to spot Bighorn Sheep, and get an eagle's-eye view of the surrounding desert.


SAGUARO & CACTUS FLATS: Look for the denser stands of Saguaro Cacti and scattered mesquites and ironwoods. Search these areas for Ash-throated Flycatchers and Western Kingbirds, and three varieties of woodpeckers. Many of the same birds that occur in the washes will be found here, too.

Sparse vegetation is the prime habitat for the LeConte's Thrasher--but beware, for both Curve-billed and Crissal's Thrashers may also be found. In winter and migration, they may also be joined by Sage Thrasher.

Camping in this area can be rewarding, when Common Poorwills and Great-horned Owls call from the mountainsides and Elf Owls call from trees and saguaros.

Site Notes

  • Ownership: Federal Government (BLM)
  • Vehicle Access : You will need to obtain a range permit (free) to visit this area, available from the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma. Call 928-269-7150, or check for current hours and location. A high-clearance 2-wheel drive is usually sufficient to travel the roads, but blowing sand and torn-up roads may occasionally necessitate 4-wheel drive. Off-road travel is not allowed.
  • Fees: None
  • Restrooms: Wellton (4 miles east of Ave 25E and 1 mile north of old Hwy 80) and the Foothills (about 15 miles west of Ave 25E at Foothills Blvd)
  • Food: Same as above
  • Gas: Same as above
  • Camping: 14 days per month, but no camping allowed within 1/4 mile of a watering hole (like Tinajas Altas)
  • Other Notes: Although my maps were accurate as of 2007, you are advised to procure a more detailed USGS topographical map. Also please realize that roads are subject to change, both by the weather and the US Marine Corps, which trains in this area. Please read and abide by the rules for desert travel, which are found here. The main road (Camino del Diablo) is, as of 2007, regularly patrolled by the border patrol--if you run into car trouble, wait there.

Driving Directions

  • From I-8 and 16th Street, drive about 19 miles west to the Dome Valley Exit (exit 21)
  • Exit and drive west on Old Highway 80 for 5.4 miles.
  • Turn right (south) onto Ave 25E.
  • Drive south for approximately 26 miles until you reach a sign for the Tinajas Altas Area of Critical Environment Concern (ACEC). Veer right onto this road. On the way south, at the 20-mile mark, you’ll be due east of Raven Butte, a large mass of volcanic rock sitting on the desert floor.
  • Drive south another mile; just after crossing a wash and ascending a hill, you'll see this wash heading due west into the mountains, in a sort of alcove. Park here on this rise overlooking the wash. If you have a GPS unit, the coordinates for the parking area are: 32 18'47"N 114 02' 51"W.
  • The coordinates for the lowest tank are: 32 18'42"N 114 03' 02"W.

Site Bird List


American Kestrel
Red-tailed Hawk
Gilded Flicker
Gila Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Great Horned Owl
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird (s)
Pacific-slope Flycatcher (m)
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Canyon, Rock, & Cactus Wrens
Common Raven
Western warblers (m)
Black-throated Sparrow
Brewer's Sparrow (w)
White-crowned Sparrow (w)
Scott's Oriole (s)


Peregrine & Prairie Falcon
Elf Owl (s)
Gray Flycatcher (w)
Gray Vireo (w)
White-throated Swift
Curve-billed Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher
LeConte's Thrasher

m = migrant
w = winter
s = summer


Yellow-billed Cuckoo (m)
Hermit Warbler (m)











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