January 3, Tuesday
It’s another gray day in the desert. The tank status also dictates that it’s moving day.
I pack up camp at Buckeye Hills Recreation Area and before long Julie and I are cruising down 85 to Gila Bend, AZ where I dump tanks at a Love’s Travel stop and take on water at a nearby KOA.
We keep going south. 85 drops to two lanes and my cell phone signal becomes spotty. The desert scenery of shrubs and cacti stretches on for miles with little variation and it feels as though we might be reaching the end of the world – in a way, we are. It isn’t far now to the Mexican border and I imagine it’s like a whole different world over there. I slow Bertha and Cas as a border patrol checkpoint appears on the horizon. I’ll have to stop when I come back north later.
Beyond that lies the town of Ajo (pronounced Aho), which sprang into being to support copper mining efforts. During Ajo’s heydey, the large open-pit mine near town boasted over 1,000 employees, but the mine closed back in 1985. The town has shrunk since then, but the little square downtown is kept up well and cute.
There are two RV parks in town, but I continue south out of town to Darby Well Road for boondocking. The main road in is wide and well maintained, in fact it gets graded while we’re camping here. There are a few spots along Darby Well proper, but farther in little spur roads split off every which way, and many of these have (more private) boondocking sites as well. One tip though: the farther in you go, the weaker the cell signal gets, in general. Julie and I find a spot about two miles in where Bates Well Road meets Scenic Loop. Scenic Loop seems to get little traffic (no border patrol vehicles driving past at all hours) and I get a solid three bars of LTE (Verizon) without a booster. It also has a good view of the hills to the southeast.
On a walk that evening I spot my first organ pipe cactus, how cool! It’s too dark for photos, but there should be plenty of opportunities in the coming days…
January 4, Wednesday
Julie and I get back on 85 late in the morning (sans RV) for a trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. A seven day pass costs $12, but as an Interagency Annual Pass holder I don’t need to pay this fee. There is dry camping for RVs available for $16 a night (some sites fit RVs up to 45 feet), but I’d prefer to boondock without neighbors if I don’t get hookups. I don’t get a chance to tour the campground (you need to go through the pay station and there was a line the one time I drove to go look) but reviews are good.
The first order of business is stopping at the Visitor Center, which is a good 15 miles or so from the entrance. We pick up maps and brochures of hikes in the park. Hmm, where to start? Dripping Springs Mine Trail sounds interesting, and I always enjoy seeing consistent water sources in the desert where they’re so rare. But it’s down Puerto Blanco Drive, a one-way dirt road that requires 4-wheel drive according to one of the brochures. Darn.
We continue past the Visitor Center to the start of Puerto Blanco anyway as it’s the closest picnic area and it’s now lunch time.
I’ve never seen so many Saguaro cactus! They’re all over the place out here. I enjoy the view as we eat our sandwiches.
I can’t help but inspect the Puerto Blanco road sign after eating. This sign says a different story – the road requires high clearance but not 4-wheel drive. Hmmmmm. If I’d been traveling alone I wouldn’t have tried it, but having another person along mitigates some of the risk (plus, Julie is a bad influence). I point Bertha’s nose onto the dirt track and cross my fingers. The estimated drive time is four hours, it’s a long road that goes way out into the back country of the park.
The hardest part are the washes. On two separate occasions Bertha slips ever-so-slightly on loose gravel climbing out of them and I worry about about losing forward momentum. Putting on speed for the uphill part makes it easier. It’s bumpy, rutted, and extremely remote, but there are emergency call stations located at regular intervals (cell signal is nonexistent – although if you’ve enabled international roaming you might be able to catch towers in Mexico, I disabled it on my phone to avoid fees).
We park at Dripping Springs and take a short hike out to the hillside where the spring resides. We haven’t seen a soul since getting on the one-way road.
Gosh it’s pretty out here.
Like, really pretty. People who say the desert is barren and boring haven’t been to Organ Pipe.
Dripping Springs lives up to it’s name. Water drips from the ceiling of a small cave to a pool below. The water is gray and murky, there are signs posted to avoid drinking from it. Historically though, this water source was important to human habitation in the area.
Remember the Saguaro-arm contest? Well, Julie and I have found our winner! This behemoth located at the Bonita Well picnic area has an impressive 21(!) arms, 16 of which are visible in this photo. And not only that, it appears to be in excellent health. Maybe next time I come through it’ll have even more.
Puerto Blanco Drive becomes two-way again at the south end of the park, where it parallels the Mexican border for a few miles. I can’t help but be amused that we’re bouncing along on a bumpy dirt lane on the American side when just across the boarder traffic zooms by on what appears to be a well-maintained highway (it’s labeled as 2 on maps).
There’s also a spring-fed pond called Quitobaquito along the border, which can be hiked around. There are a few Coot out on the water, making frequent dives under the surface.
Eventually Puerto Blanco Drive meets back up with 85, and not a moment too soon. The sun is setting on the hills as we approach the highway, a coyote darts across the road in the deepening twilight.
I pull out at a waystop on the way back to camp to get this sunset picture.
Blogging time is running behind real time again. In real time (the 9th) I’ll be arriving at Quartzsite tomorrow. I have rough plans to attend the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous the first week and the Xscapers Convergence the second week, although I may bounce back and forth in my truck some too. For those attending, I’ll be seeing you soon!
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