Several years ago when we were still living full time in our Alfa motorhome, we decided to head to Ajo, Arizona. We had heard about the boondocking places just south of the city and decided to try it out. We were not disappointed. Boondocking in beautiful Ajo, Arizona was a perfect way to spend two weeks before we headed to a volunteer assignment in southern Utah.
We found the perfect campground just off of Darby Wells Road and settled in. This spot gave us a great center for exploring the area.
There is a hill just to the south of the camp and we decided to pack a special dinner with champagne to celebrate our first date anniversary. What looked like an easy hike to the top of a gradual hill turned out to be a challenge. By the time we got to the top third of the hill, we had to climb from rock to rock.
It was definitely worth the effort. The view from the top was spectacular, but we decided that we had better save the champagne until we got back to camp or we just might break a leg going down the rocks.
El Camino Del Diablo (Highway of the Devil) is a historic 250-mile road that currently extends through some of the most remote and arid terrains of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. It has been in use for at least 1,000 years. El Camino Del Diablo is believed to have started as a series of footpaths used by desert-dwelling Native Americans. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, the road was used extensively by conquistadores, explorers, missionaries, settlers, miners, and cartographers. Use of the trail declined sharply after the railroad reached Yuma in 1870.
Many travelers have lost their lives here, primarily from dehydration, heat stroke, and sunburn, but also from hypothermia. In summer, temperatures here reach 120 °F. People require two gallons of water a day just to survive. Most of the graves line the last 30 miles of the trail to Yuma; by one count there are 65 graves near Tinajas Altas.
El Camino Del Diablo was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Visitors to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. can still use the Devil’s Highway. Except for one United States Border Patrol station (Camp Grip), the section of original trail between Las Playas and Tinajas Altas remains virtually unchanged.
Today, the Camino Del Diablo remains a dirt road, suitable for four-wheel drive and high clearance vehicles carrying extra water and emergency equipment. No emergency or tow services are available, and visitors use the trail at their own risk.
We drove a short distance west on Camino Del Diablo and stopped to take a short hike and view a few crested saguaro cacti.
If you do plan to visit the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, visitors 18 years and older must apply for a permit. Each visitor is given two permits — one must be clearly displayed on the dashboard of the vehicle and the other should be kept in the visitor’s possession. Visitor permits are free and expire on June 30th of each year.
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. We chose one on the left side of the road about a mile from AZ 85.