Buckskin Mountain State Park and its River Island Unit are located along the Colorado River in western Arizona. The park is characterized by dry sunny weather and visually striking geology including views of natural arches and bridges (look close; they are somewhat hidden). The Lightning Bolt Trail, roughly three miles round trip, heads into the Buckskin Mountains and highlights desert vegetation, river views, and remnants of mining history. River Island’s Wedge Hill Trail, about ¼ mile long, has views of the Colorado River and Parker Dam, desert vegetation, and remnants of mining history.
These parks are in a biotic community described as a Warm-Temperate Interior Strand (Brown 265). Vegetation common to the area includes cottonwood (Populous sp.), willows (Salix and Baccharis spp.), common reed (Phragmites australis), and cattail (Typha sp.). In the spring following a wet winter, wildflowers often appear. Pholisma arenarium, common name scaly sandplant, is a rare plant in La Paz County and resembles a light-colored pinecone growing directly out of the sand.
Animals that make their homes in the park include bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) – mainly found in River Island and in the hills across the river from River Island; bobcat (Lynx rufus), coyote (Canis latrans), ringtails (Bassariscus astutus), gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), skunk (Mephitis mephitis), badger (Taxidea taxus), and beaver (Castor canadensis). The Colorado River is an important avian flyway and a wide-diversity of birds are found at the parks. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), several hawks (Accipiter spp.), merlin (Falco spp.), brown and white pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis and P. erythrorhynchos), egrets (Egretta spp.), flickers (Colaptes spp.), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), and three different hummingbird species (Calypte costae, C. anna and Archilochus alexandri) are just some of the birds common to the park.
Like many areas of Arizona, Buckskin Mountain State Park and River Island Unit are also home to non-native plants and animals. These non-native species arrive in a variety of ways; some species have been accidentally introduced and humans introduced some purposefully. Tamarisk or salt cedar (not a true cedar) is a good example of a plant that was introduced purposefully. It was originally brought to Arizona as erosion control and to stabilize stream banks. Oleander (Nerium oleander) is also found in the park, in addition to being non-native, it is also quite poisonous; avoid touching any part of the plant and DO NOT use it for marshmallow roasting sticks.
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