April 16 – April 20.
It was around 3 years ago when we were driving from Gila Bend south to visit Organ Pipe National Monument. The terrain was flat scraggly fields with a few creosote bushes here and there and mountains lining the horizon in the distance. And then suddenly all that disappeared. Flanking the highway, rising up from nothing were these beautiful rock formations. Awed by their amazingness, we pulled over and got out of the van. I walked among them as far as I could get to take some pictures but was stopped from getting much distance from the road by a barbed-wire fence and a sign saying, “Danger USAF Gunnery Range Do Not Enter”. Kind of creepy. We moved on.
Back in the van, we continued our drive towards Organ Pipe until we hit the cute little town of Ajo. We were ready to find our campsite a little further down the highway on some BLM land outside an even tinier town called Why, AZ when we saw a sign for the Ajo visitor center and decided to stop in. We talked to the visitor center lady, grabbed some brochures, and thought we’d return.
And so we did. After our visit to Organ Pipe, we came back to Ajo and spent an afternoon there. We did a walking tour of the town past old churches, learned about Ajo’s mining days, and the people who lived there, photographed lots of fun, thought-provoking, informative, and optically illusory murals. We ended our afternoon with a driving tour into the desert that surrounds the town. The landscape was stunning, almost magical. And from a map that I had seen on the wall in the visitor center I knew that most of this land was managed by BLM and allowed dispersed camping. I put Ajo on my mental list of places I wanted to return to.
Soon after our visit to Organ Pipe, I discovered that the area with the beautiful rock formations is part of the Barry M. Goldwater Range, a military range named after the late 1970s Arizona Senator and despite the menacing barbed wire, you can actually camp among those lovely rocks. All you need is a permit. This permit, which is free and can be obtained online, allows you to camp in several different areas of the BGR as well as in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
If you open up Google Maps, the Cabeza Prieta NWR is that big blank area west of Organ Pipe, southwest of Ajo. I swear at one time it used to be a big green blob like most National Refuges but at some point, it just disappeared off the map. Kind of curious. Of course, I wanted to go there too.
And so this is where we headed after our long stay at Madera Canyon. We left the forest, the streams, and the long uphill hikes to go out into the desert permits in hand to discover what mysteries waited for us in the stunning and intriguing landscape surrounding the little town of Ajo.
* This is the first of two posts about our stay in the public land around Ajo. There are just way too many pictures for one post. This first post contains pictures from the 4 days when we camped on BLM land outside of Ajo – though since we were within walking distance from Cabeza Prieta some of the pictures were actually taken in the refuge. If you like these pictures, I promise you part 2 is in some ways even better.
** As always you can click on the pics to enlarge and view in a slide show.