As you approach Metropolitan’s Gene Camp - just a few miles west of the mighty Colorado River - you'll see an unusual road sign: Warning. Wild Burros on Highway. Do Not Feed or Harass.
And it’s true, there are many burros in the area. The best guess is that early miners or missionaries brought them to the area to carry gear or help transport heavy items. With their innate ability to survive under the harshest conditions, herds formed and flourished.
Some find their way onto roads, or even into Gene Camp where they can be seen by staff and guests. (Guests are warned that burros can defend themselves with powerful kicks from their front and hind legs).
Others stay hidden, but there are plenty of ‘signs’ they are in the area. Other indicators are not so obvious to the casual observer. But locals will point out, for example, that many of the cacti are worn at the base due to burros rubbing up against the plants to remove parasites and get clean.
Because the burros are not native, there can be conflicts with other animals and plants that are indigenous to the area. That’s an ongoing challenge for environmental and land managers.
If you find yourself near the start of the Colorado River Aqueduct, you may just have a chance to see one of these unique residents of the Southwest.