Ajo, Arizona 2019
February 5th to 25th
Tuesday morning I depart Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, driving about 30 miles north to the town of Ajo. Ajo is a lovely town with a large winter snowbird population. The town has the basic necessities of local grocery store, hardware stores, laundry, restaurants, and a small library with good wifi. It is roughly a 75 mile drive to Buckeye if one needs other amenities not available in Ajo.
Camping Near Ajo
What I love the most about Ajo though is the beautiful landscape. It is still far enough south to have organ pipe cactus, along with saguaro cactus, the iconic plant of the Sonoran Desert. And of course, it has the beautiful Arizona light of sunrise and sunset.
Charlie Bell Pass Trail
Ajo is surrounded by public lands, including the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. CPNWR is the nation’s third largest national wildlife refuge at 860,000 acres. Most of the refuge is designated as wilderness, making access by motor vehicle limited. In the northern section of the refuge is the Charlie Bell Pass Trail. The refuge designates this road as high clearance 2wd. From the refuge visitors center in Ajo to Charlie Bell Pass is about 17 miles. Most of the road is well-graded gravel. The last couple miles is rocky, mostly cobble with a few larger rocks. Vehicle access ends at the pass in the Growler Mountains, but the old road grade continues on, and one can hike down into the Growler Valley.
First Time Geocaching
For a while I’ve been thinking of trying geocaching. There were a couple active geocachers in the group I camped with at Kofa NWR in January. I picked their brains for some information on how to get started. It’s pretty simple really. One just needs to create a login on one of the geocaching websites and search for caches in the area. Then download the gpx file to a GPS or mobile GPS app. Geocaching.com is the original site, but there are others. I signed up on geocache.com and checked for caches around Ajo. I found four near my campsite along a loop of about 5.5 miles. I thought these would be a good “tryout”. The four are pretty easy to find. It was fun looking for them and added interest to the hike.
Some Recent Reads
The rainy and (relatively) cold weather Arizona has experienced this winter continues. Fortunately I love to read. On days I can’t get out, I settle in with a good book. A few months ago I had read Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, which is ranked eleventh on the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels of the 20th century. I was prompted to read it for the story, but also because it was set in Mexico. It is a difficult read; but I did enjoy it. I decided to read it again and enjoyed it even more the second go round. The prose is beautifully written – one review I read described it as being cinematic. Another novel set in Mexico I also enjoyed was Love In The Time of Cholera. There There is the first novel from Native American author, Tommy Orange. The novel is set in the urban landscape of Oakland, CA. New York Times Book Review lists it as one of the ten best books of 2018. For those who like apocalyptic literature, The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a good read. It is in the vein of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and is set in Heller’s home state of Colorado. For lighter reading, I recently finished J.A. Jance’s Joanna Brady series, and have just started on Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series.
Crested Organ Pipe Cactus
A few miles from my campsite there was another geocache I was interested in because it was near a crested organ pipe cactus. This fan-like growth occurs in saguaros, organ pipe, barrel and other species of cactus. The cause remains a mystery, while theories include genetic mutation, lighting strike or freeze damage.
The cache is near a prominent landmark known as Locomotive Rock.
From Ajo, I am heading back to Tucson. I have tickets for the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour at the Fox Theatre. And I’m sure I’ll find some other things to do there.