Parker, Arizona is known as home to the grueling Parker 425 off-road race. Less well-known is that Parker is also home to the Colorado River Indian Tribe (CRIT) and much of the town of Parker is within the reservation’s boundaries. Consisting of four different tribes, the Colorado River Indian Tribe is the sum of Chemehuevi, Hopi, Navajo, and Mojave people. The reservation was established in 1865 and encompasses almost 300,000 acres.
There are hundreds of miles of trails to explore on the CRIT reservation. However, permits are needed to use them. Every year our group plans to get permits, and every year we never do. This year we finally did, and it was well worth the effort.
I found the address and phone number for the CRIT Fish and Game office online. Before going, I called to make sure I knew what we needed to get permits. Specifically, each of us needed to provide proof of ownership for our UTVs and our driver’s licenses. Each permit costs $25.00 and is good for one year. Four of us made sure that we had all of the necessary documentation, piled into a truck, and drove to the CRIT office in Parker. Thankfully everything went smoothly and we all successfully purchased permits.
Permit in hand; I wasted no time planning rides. I’d heard that there are amazing sand hills near the Colorado River on the west side of the reservation. I also heard that there was a place referred to as the Little Grand Canyon that was a must-see. Neither place was listed on any of my maps, so I solicited help from a local friend named Mark Goldberg. He graciously emailed me a few waypoints and GPS tracks.
Starting from the town of Quartzsite we headed northwest over Boyer Gap in the Dome Rock Mountains. Once we crested the gap, we descended into a valley scattered with saguaros and creosote.
Turning north we passed a sign warning we were entering permit-only Indian land. Feeling confident, the group proceeded, motoring down a super fun sandy trail with fast sweeping turns. The trail ended at a “T,” and my tablet pointed us west into a large wash. We opened our throttles and chased each other for several miles, weaving in between small islands. Before long we could see the mud hills in the distance. We pegged our pedals to the metal until we reached them.
It was as if we had landed on Tatooine; light beige hills with almost no plant life at all, sand everywhere that wasn’t rock. At approximately 150 feet tall, the hills have been eroded by wind and water into contorted geologic shapes; I’ve never seen anything like them. We explored for a while until we found a trail ascending a well-traveled hill and drove to the top for a view, lunch, and photo stop.
After lunch, we continued exploring. One trail led us to a dead end. We stopped, got out of our cars, and took turns carefully walking into a tight, eroded fold of earth. Once inside, I was surrounded by fragile walls that crumbled with just a touch and had fascinating erosion patterns. I looked up and reveled in the blue Arizona sky through the narrow slot canyon.
We drove back to camp and told our friends about the amazing day we had. Before I knew it, they asked if I would take them to see the mud hills too. I wanted to take another ride to see the Little Grand Canyon anyway, so I planned another ride that encompassed both.
Several days later, we took the same route over Boyer Gap and through the wash to the mud hills. The others in our group were just as fascinated with them as I had been. But I was anxious to continue.
Our next stop involved turning off of the dirt trail and driving into the community of Poston, also located within the reservation. Poston is the location of the largest World War II internment camp in the country during the 1940s. Some of the structures are still there but others are hard to locate and in disrepair.
We drove to a stately memorial dedicated to the over 17,000 interned individuals who braved the desert heat for 3 years. There are kiosks with plaques commemorating the interned and explaining their experience. Around the monument are 12 pillars arranged to comprise a huge sundial with the central column.
Continuing northeast toward the Little Grand Canyon we followed a pole line for many miles; then the terrain changed to small tight hills. I was concentrating so hard on following the track that I was not aware of how close we were to the canyon. I crested a hill, and to my amazement looked down at the most beautiful painted hills I’ve ever seen. Layers of the hill are brightly defined with the colors of beige, brown, green, yellow, and even light blue. It was an incredible sight!
Soon, our group was all gathered there, scrambling to get out of their cars to experience and photograph the splendor. I thought to myself, “How in the 15 years I have explored this area have I never been here?” After we hopped back into our cars I led the group into the valley to explore the painted hills in more detail. They looked just as spectacular up close as from above.
Our ride back to Quartzsite was interesting too. After we left the Little Grand Canyon, our route followed tightly formed sandstone hills and in and out of narrow, sandy canyons. Eventually, the trail smoothed out and pointed us toward camp.
We drove by the Copperstone Mine; a very large working underground gold mine that can be seen for miles. Our last stop of the day was for snacks at a popular outdoor venue called Beer Belly’s before we arrived back in camp just in time to enjoy the sunset and reflect on the amazing day we had on the trail.
If you are familiar with the western Sonoran Desert but are looking for an alternative riding opportunity, the Colorado River Indian Tribe Reservation is a solid choice. Don’t consider it though without first obtaining a riding permit; OHV stickers can be obtained from the CRIT Fish & Game office at 1200 Mutahar Street, Parker, Arizona. We suggest calling the office at 928-669-9285 prior to visiting as well. From the otherworldly terrain to beautifully pigmented hills, it is absolutely worth the trip.