Painted Rocks and Ajo, AZ

February 20 – February 28, 2017

It was time to leave Yuma and Fortuna Pond. I stocked up on food and ice and headed east along I8. A few miles before Gila Bend I saw a sign for Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and decided to check it out. I’ve never seen such a high concentration of petroglyphs in one spot before. It was a quick visit because the trail was very short, and the parking lot was right there. No day-long exploratory hike to check out these petroglyphs. They were readily viewable for just about anybody and some parts were even wheelchair accessible. There was also a campground complete with bathrooms and a host.

I then continued my drive from Gila Bend, south down Hwy 85 to the town of Ajo. (pronounced AH-ho) way down in southern Arizona. I’d decided to check out Ajo on the recommendation of several of my traveling friends, and I’m glad I did. I made a YouTube Video about the Ajo Plaza. I think it gives a good feel for that part of the town, it includes an interview with a lady from the Friends of the Plaza. You can watch the video here: A Walk Around the Beautiful Plaza in Ajo, AZ, and a Superbloom of Mexican Gold Poppies.

I decided to call Highway 85 The Sparkling Highway because for several feet on each side of the road, the ground was literally covered in broken glass, mostly beer bottles. It glistened and sparkled in the sunshine, and I wondered how on earth so many people could drink beer while driving and get away with it. It was like this for the entire length of this road, for thirty miles and into infinity (or so it seemed).

The town of Ajo is very small, and the Plaza and the two churches nearby are definitely the highlight, along with the huge pile of tailings from the copper mine about half a mile outside of town. There are a few more buildings with interesting architecture if you walk around some of the streets. For three generations nearly all the residents of Ajo worked at the huge copper mine until it closed in 1985, at which point this entire Company Town was suddenly out of work. I have read that the open pit crater (now closed) is as deep as the Empire State Building is tall, but I didn’t get to peer inside. The boom and bust town is now trying to promote itself as an artsy town and some of the year-round and seasonal residents are doing things to restore the architecture, share the history, and generally draw more tourism.

The first thing I did was find a camp spot for the night, which I did by visiting FreeCampSites.net. Ajo is about 40-miles from the Mexican border, and I’ve been told that because there is a National Monument between Ajo and the border, it’s a very popular place for drug smugglers and illegals to enter the country. There were signs everywhere warning people about this, and while I was in my boondocking spot a border patrol officer drove by about every ten minutes or so, except at night. I decided to pay attention to the warnings, but not let fear in. I went on the premise that these criminals don’t want to be caught, and the best way to do that would be to stay as far away from people as they could to reduce their chances of being spotted and reported. However, I did still lock my doors when I was inside sleeping, or in the evenings and I couldn’t see out, or whenever I wandered away from my vehicle a little bit, which is basically what I do anyway.

I spent a few days in Ajo getting to know the Plaza and my way around the rest of this very small town. Many of the stores in the Plaza were empty with ‘For Rent’ signs up. There was a library, a discount grocery store, a post office and a thrift store. There used to be a restaurant and little café, they were out of business or closed. However, The Friends of the Plaza were serving coffee on The Plaza walkway along with baked goods, in exchange for suggested tip money. The proceeds were to go to maintaining and restoring the Plaza. I interviewed a lady about this, and she’s in the YouTube Video which I mention in the second paragraph above. The rest of the town offers the basic necessities, such as two different dollar stores, a grocery store which is very expensive, gas station, a few gift shops, an ice cream parlor (which was only open three days a week) etc., and several places you can buy Mexican Auto Insurance.

I hope you enjoy the video and the pictures below:

526-Ajo, AZ527-Ajo, AZ

I found a very well written article about Ajo, it’s history, and its struggle for recovery, in The Atlantic, which you can read by clicking here: Ajo, AZ. A Small Town Pushed to the Brink and Coming Back.

In my next post, I take a trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument south of Ajo.

I hope you have enjoyed this installment of my travels during the winter of 2016/2017, and hope you’ll continue the journey with me. Please visit the HOME page to find more articles, and feel free to share, sign up and leave a comment. Also please visit my YouTube Channel. Until next time…remember to step outside of your comfort zone as often as possible and watch it grow.

Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature

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