We are happily boondocking on cactus-covered BLM land outside of Ajo, Arizona. We are surrounded by statuesque Saguaros and mountain views, and while the sun does get hot even in winter, the shade is cool and it’s easy to stay comfortable. Ajo is a tiny town originally supported by a giant copper mine. The mine is no longer active, but the town hangs on with retirees, snowbirds, an active artist’s community, and border patrol employees. It has rough edges, but a lovely town square and friendly people like the ones we met at the post office, historical museum, and town art gallery.
We came here to join our “road friends” Tim, Amanda, Brian and Leigh. They all arrived first and were kind enough to scope out a camp spot for us, just up the narrow dirt road from their homes on wheels. We are getting spoiled by having fun neighbors — we had a great few days of happy hours, hikes, and a perfect fireside potluck dinner. For a different perspective, Leigh and Amanda both have great blog posts about our adventures, plus they both take excellent pictures.
Our group hike up Camelback Mountain was quite a trek. In addition to the pleasure of the hike itself, we were in search of a geocache hidden at the top, which is marked by a huge cross erected in memory of the original owner of the mine. We started off crossing near part of the mine – this side of town is marked by enormous tailings piles several stories high, and we were near what seemed to be a smaller flat-topped hill of what the mine calls “overburden”. The ground is covered with rock fragments in bold colors of red, amber, yellow and gold. It’s pretty, but hard to forget it’s the result of serious industrial production.
As for our destination, we can see the cross from our camp, and knew it would be a steep hike, but the loose rock and cactus forests added a whole new dimension. No grabbing the nearest branch if your feet start to slip! And reaching the summit requires crossing a couple of sheer rocky knobs that weren’t very hiker-friendly. But we made it! And the views were worth every step, and every embedded cactus thorn. (Good thing Tim was carrying a multi-tool with pliers – his services were required by more than one of us — including me!– to extract nasty Jumping Cholla thorns. No permanent damage though.) Finding the actual geocache was a mini-adventure in itself, since there were steep drop offs in almost all directions at the base of the cross. Amanda came through, searching it out at the base of a prickly bush on the edge of a rocky shelf.
Back to camp down the slip-sliding loose rock, in time to clean up and finish our dishes for potluck: spring rolls with peanut sauce, seasoned rice with veggies, and lentil “meatloaf”. Yeah, this group can cook! Well, at least the ladies…the guys were drinking beer and swapping stories. With our friends leaving over the next two days, it sadly was our last group gathering for a while as everyone follows their own road ahead.
Left to our own devices again, Kris and I explored the BLM area on bike and with Juniper, who manages to find rabbits to chase everywhere we go. There are lots of surprises here – dry washes, several types of huge cacti, and even a working windmill. There’s also a lot of rusting metal and broken glass unfortunately, tucked in among the cactus. And maybe wild camels??
An afternoon in town for errands gave us a chance to get to know the place a little bit. We’ve mastered the water dispensers that are the only source of drinking water in these desert areas, so we could fill our seven gallon jug that supplements our drinking water (it’s five gallons for $1 here) and our solar shower. Picking up our general delivery mail meant time in the post office full of people who greeted each other by name. We strolled around the town plaza and stopped in to see a juried art show of local artists – good stuff! A friendly conversation there turned into an invitation to the opening of a new show in a few days, and a chance for Kris to submit his own art if he wanted to. We love small towns. A visit to the local historical society museum was filled with pioneer artifacts – including a jar of human teeth extracted in the early part of the last century, yuck! — and a fantastic volunteer who made the mining life come alive as he described how the copper, silver and gold were extracted from the ground under his feet during his lifetime in Ajo. Did I mention we love small towns?