Tri-National Sonoran Desert Symposium in Ajo, AZ This March!

By Tracy Taft, International Sonoran Desert Alliance

Do you love the Sonoran Desert, its rich variety of plants, animals, and cultures? Would you like to talk about the desert’s uses, from ranching to recreation and mining? Want to learn more from organizations responsible for its preservation? Then AJO, AZ is the place to be March 7 through 10 this spring. That’s where the 4th Tri-National Symposium on the Past, Present, and Future of the Sonoran Desert will be in full swing. Held every other year, this most unusual event is attended as much by an interested and well-informed general public as by experts from land management agencies and universities.
The Symposium takes place on the Curley School Campus in the historic Curley School and at the new Sonoran Desert Conference Center just behind the Curley School.

The historic Curley School (1918) reopened as an artist community in 2007

The new Sonoran Desert Conference Center on the Curley School Campus

The 2016 Symposium kicks off on Monday, March 7th with an amazing line up of field trips, all of which are FREE although you must register for them in advance. Guided field trips include Quitobaquito Springs/Senita Basin (Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument); Turtle Valley, and also Charlie Bell

Quitobaquito Springs

Pass (both field trips on Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge); Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum (in Topawa on the Tohono O’odham Nation); Lago Seco and Manned Range 2 (both field trips on the Barry M Goldwater Range), Craters on the El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, and a birdwatching tour TBD. Find detailed information at

Childs Mountain Field Trip

Monday evening (March 7th), participants will gather in the Ajo Plaza for refreshments, to see art exhibited in the new cooperative gallery, Art Under the Arches, and to visit and cast their vote in the annual Sonoran Shindig photo contest competition.

Tuesday morning the Symposium starts with a plenary session – an overview of the three days and a little inspiration from considering past desert dwellers.

Plenary Session in the Curley Auditorium

Then simultaneous sessions on topics in natural and cultural resources and Native American perspectives will occupy participants throughout the day.

Panel Discussion in a simultaneous session with time for conversation, refreshment, and networking between the sessions.

Participants relax and talk between sessions

This year the Arizona Native Plant Society will also hold its annual meeting on Tuesday at the Symposium –they will take over the Curley School Auditorium for the rest of the day, following the Symposium’s opening plenary session. Symposium participants will be welcome to participate in the Native Plant Society’s sessions as will the members of the Arizona Native Plant Society be welcome to sample the Symposium sessions on Tuesday.

Tuesday evening will feature a traditional Mexican meal served outdoors at the Sonoran Desert Conference Center.

Meals outdoors at the Sonoran Desert Conference Center

Throughout the Symposium, about 65 photos from Tom Kiefer’s El Sueño Americano will be on exhibit in the Learning Center on the Curley School Campus.

While simultaneous sessions on a variety of topics in natural and cultural resources and Native American perspectives continue through Wednesday and Thursday, a special theme for Wednesday is the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The day will begin with a plenary session on the history and operation of the Barry M. Goldwater Range. And in the late afternoon, all Symposium participants are invited to take a field trip to a lovely site within the Goldwater Range (transportation will be provided) to share an evening meal in the desert and listen to stories about the land.

Crater Range in the Barry M. Goldwater Range

Thursday at the Symposium features a final day of simultaneous sessions on topics in natural and cultural resources and Native American perspectives, a closing plenary session with a special visitor from UNESCO, followed by a traditional Native American meal with a contemporary flair prepared and served by the extraordinary Desert Rain Café from Sells, AZ.

You can find more detail on the daily agendas and program of speakers and sessions at along with a link to register for the event. While there is no charge for field trips, there is a fee to participate in Symposium sessions and meals. There are multiple registration and payment options, but your best deal is to pay only $125 for the whole Symposium including all meals! There are some scholarships available for students and others who are unable to pay the whole fee.

Symposium sponsors and planners include: the Tohono O’odham Nation, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Luke Air Force Base / Barry M. Goldwater Range, El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, Cabeza Prieta Natural History Association, the Arizona Native Plant Society, and the International Sonoran Desert Alliance.