Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sonoran Desert Immersion Around Ajo, AZ

From El Centro we moved on to Yuma for a few nights where we took care of dental cleanings and I got an inexpensive yet excellent haircut in Los Algodones. We also enjoyed a day with friends Cliff and Sharon who winter in Yuma, and had the truck and fifth wheel washed and waxed. Wouldn't you know it, the day after the cleaning we had to drive to our next destination in the rain.

We spent five nights in Ajo, AZ, a place we'd never visited before. Shadow Ridge RV Park made a good home base to explore from. We drove the nearby Ajo Scenic Loop, a well graded 10 mile dirt road with lots of boondocking sites and many secondary dirt roads that are good for hiking and biking. Here's a few shots from a couple of hikes we did off the Scenic Loop.

Love the saguaro growing up in the middle of the organ pipe cactus.

Bushwacking to locomotive rock.

Found a new crest forming on an organ pipe cactus while bushwacking.

Windmill for the Valentine Well.

We visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument one day, it's about 35 miles south of Ajo. We drove the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop with stops to hike Arch Canyon and the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture Loop. It was a beautiful week day with very few people on the road or the trails.

Crested saguaro sighting while stopped at an overlook!

Searching for these unique mutations is one of the highlights of visiting the Sonoran desert for me!

Hans stands next to a giant organ pipe cactus with a unique crested arm in the center...

Crested organ pipe cactus arms.

From the Arch Canyon trailhead you can see the arches.

The main Arch Canyon trail takes you about .6 mile into the canyon with fabulous rock formations all around.

Continuing beyond the main trail, the trail up to the arches becomes very steep, see me on the side of the mountain?
We only continued another half mile before turning back...
we knew we had another hike further down the road and this trail was getting ridiculous!

Our big hike of the day was the 4.1 mile Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture Loop (including Bull Pasture Spur). We decided to go clockwise and unknowingly lost the trail as we walked up the wash. Fortunately when the real trail crossed our path we realized our mistake and got ourselves back on track. Leaving the wash, the trail climbs steeply up the side of the canyon, then more steeply up to Bull Pasture which was once used for grazing cattle, and now offers exceptional views for many miles around.

Petroglyphs seen along Estes Canyon wash...and I don't even know if this was along the real trail!

Plenty of impressive saguaro specimens.

Taking a pause to catch our breath as we climb to Bull Pasture we could look back down on the canyon we'd followed.

Wonderful overlook of the head of Estes Canyon.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is another good place to explore near Ajo. We stopped by the visitor center in Ajo to pick up the required permits and drove a few miles out Charlie Bell Rd. hoping to see some of the endangered Sonoran Desert Pronghorns. Though we weren't successful on that front we did enjoy complete solitude on a walk through the desert.

Red tailed hawk.

Small crested arm forming near the top of this saguaro.

No pronghorn to be found, just a few mule deer that had been resting peacefully in a wash until we came along.

Ajo was a thriving copper mining town until 1985 and today is trying to build a reputation as an artsy stopover on the way to or from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument or Puerto Penasco Mexico. It's a pretty sleepy place with three RV parks, good boondocking nearby and a nicely spruced up central plaza with a lot of empty storefronts. We had a good dinner on Valentines Day at 100 Estrella Cafe, an excellent burger and flat bread pizza.

Artists Alley has some interesting offerings.

Shadow Ridge RV Park was an inexpensive, clean park. Though the sites are rather tight, the staff is friendly, the laundry was clean and low cost, and they have a very nice little trail through a wash where javelina like to roam each day. We had good Verizon signal here, though it did slow down during peak times. The park was full most nights, understandable when it's only $24/night for full hookups.

It was good to see Steve and MonaLiza for happy hour upon their return from Mexico.

When we walked the trail we got to visit with these characters.
The brown one likes both carrots and turnips, the white one isn't fond of turnip!

We were thrilled to see several javelina one evening along the trail.
Later, Hans was sitting outside the RV, heard footsteps nearby and turned to see a javelina just a few feet away
walking right through the RV park!

Next up: Tucson


  1. Ajo is just cuter than a bug. I love the cactus out there.

  2. Nice to see you guys enjoying the sunshine. Those cacti are really cool!

    1. You and your camera would have a great time in the Sonoran Desert!

  3. Ajo Mtn Loop is one of my favorite drives!! Love that little crested arm way up at the top :-)) Beautiful pic of the overlook.

  4. This is such an amazing area. Hiking in Organ Pipe was so much fun. We hiked two days and 15 mile looking for the senita cactus in the wild. Thank goodness we came upon Border Patrol and a Park Ranger that directed us to them. I was wearing John out looking and I wasn't leaving til I found them:) Estes Canyon/Bull Pasteur is a great hike! Loved the views! That was a great little crested arm!! Super eyes!

    1. Poor John! We never saw a senita but also never went any further south than Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop.

      I think you and I have crested radar...our eyes find them!

  5. This was our second time in the area yet we overlooked the trails that you followed :( but glad you did it for us! We were happy to see you both again since our last hike last Oct 2015. Looking forward to another hike with you in a few days.

  6. We loved our stay in Organ Pipe Cactus NM—including the gorgeous hike to Bull Pasture. But we weren't able to spend time in Ajo and I was bummed when we drove through and I saw how interesting it looked. It's definitely on our "must return to" list. Your photos are wonderful and make it look so appealing. How fun that you caught up with MonaLiza and Steve. Looks like you had a good home base for your explorations.

    1. It would be neat to stay right at Organ Pipe and do more hiking in the park, but Ajo worked out very well for us.

  7. Fabulous wildlife shots. Was at OPNM myself - loved it there.

  8. What a great stay. We haven't made this stop either...and yes, it's now on the list!
    You sure spotted lots of crested arms...they are so interesting! Great eye!
    Hope we see you both soon!

  9. Good eye on the windmill. Hope you are staying dry.