Boondocking on Darby Wells Road in Ajo, Az is a topic often discussed around campfires in the boondocking community. We were first introduced to Ajo 10 years ago by friends who had been full timing on the road for 20 years. It was one of the most enjoyable boondocking experiences that we have had so we were looking forward to returning to this lush area of the desert. What luck that we returned this year after a very rainy season. The cacti were even more lush than normal, and there is certain to be a super bloom later in the season.
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You can see our rig at the end of the red arrow from two different directions The first is looking north toward Ajo, beyond the hill. The second is looking south with Mexico in the distance.
What makes Ajo, Arizona so popular with campers? Ajo is located on State Route 85 just 43 miles (69 km) from the Mexican border, and it is the closest community to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Since it is BLM land, the camping is free, and the weather during November through March is ideal. What more could you ask for?
History of Ajo
The Tohono O’odham used water from a series of potholes in the area they called Mu’i Wawhia or Moivavi (many wells). Mexican miners called the site Ajo, the Spanish word for garlic, but perhaps influenced by another O’odham name for the area –-au-auho—for the pigment they obtained from the ore-rich rocks. The Tohono O’odham people obtained red paint pigments from the area.
Native Americans, Spaniards and Americans have all extracted mineral wealth from Ajo’s abundant ore deposits. In the early nineteenth century, there was a Spanish mine nicknamed “Old Bat Hole” that was abandoned due to Indian raids.
High-grade native copper made Ajo the first copper mine in Arizona. Copper was mined here from 1884 to 1985 when the last mine was shut down. Formerly one of the largest copper mines in the world, the New Cornelia pit is over a mile wide. You can visit the mine lookout for history displays and a view of the turquoise hued lake at the bottom of the pit
Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping and birding places. Ajo is now home to many retired people, to Border Patrol agents, and young families.
We were joined by our good friends Mike and Imkelina and of course the dog that I love, Sydney of BlaNicS Waypoints. You can read their part of the story here. We enjoyed several hikes and campfires with them before they headed off to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We stayed and relaxed for an additional week, soaking up the sun, reading and hiking the area.
The cacti everywhere of all kinds and shapes are the stars of this area. Since we are desert lovers, we love the cacti. Just be ready to pull a few spines from yourself or your pet while you are here.
I love the saguaro for the same reason that I love to look at clouds. Each has its own personality, and your imagination can go wild with “seeing” different things. Do you see the antelope in this one below?
Or what about a man with multiple arms and raising one arm to ask a question?
Cholla have been my favorite cactus since I was a little girl running barefoot in the desert. For some reason getting these “jumping” cactus spines in my feet did not turn me off of the furry looking plants. They look so soft and velvety from a distance.
One of the interesting things we learned the last time we were in Ajo was about nurse plants. The palo verde trees act as a shelter for the sprouting saguaro seedlings and protect them from the harsh elements until the saguaro can establish themselves. Below you can see examples of this. Since the saguaro live for centuries, you can also see them in the middle of a dead palo verde and eventually by themselves.
Of course the sunsets as amazing in this part of the country in the winter. We saw so many beautiful ones while we were here. It is hard to choose which picture to show.
Contemplating another delightful day in the desert.
Saying goodbye to old sol.
There is dry camping all along the Ajo Scenic Loop Drive. You can get there by driving south out of Ajo on Hwy 85 for about 4 miles and turning right on Darby Wells Road. If you continue for about 5 miles, keeping right past the first “Y” the campsites become more scenic. The Verizon wifi signal is good at the start of the road and then further along as you begin to turn north. We used our cellular booster and had no problems being online.
There are only a few places to get water in town, and no dumpsters so be ready to arrive with your water tank full, your gray and black tanks empty and to carry your trash out of the area. There is a grocery store in town, but it is typical of a small town. The selection is small and expensive.
How to get There
From I-8 at Gila Bend, take Exit 115 to AZ 85 south 43 miles to Ajo. Continue through Ajo to Darby Wells Road. Turn right (west) on Darby Wells Road and start looking for a place to camp. There are many spots along this road as it heads west toward the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge.
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