Great Western Loop – Pits, Plazas & Mutant Rabbits

Day 9 – 1138 total miles traveled this trip

 We see something different every time we walk the Desert View Trail.

We see something different every time we walk the Desert View Trail.

We were up at 0530 enjoying the cool morning and walking the Desert View Trail once again. We started at the opposite end of the loop this time and it looked totally different. After morning coffee, we packed up and left the park, headed for Ajo.

 That's Michael, Marcie and David ... Thanks for taking this pic and sharing, Wendy!

That's Michael, Marcie and David ... Thanks for taking this pic and sharing, Wendy!

David and I have been writing magazine articles for Good Old Boat for several years. In fact, David’s name appears on the GOB masthead as the Electronics Editor. Most of our contact with the GOB  staff has been via email. We did meet the original owners, Karen and Jerry, in Maple Grove, MN a few years back. We also had a chance to meet up with Jeremy, another staff member in Chesapeake last year. We had yet, however, met Michael, the new editor and co-owner. He and his family just happen to live in Ajo, Arizona, ~40 miles from Organ Pipe. I know, I know seems crazy, but it’s true. The timing for a meet-up was perfect. They’re planning to head back to their boat in Fiji in a week or so.

 Massive tailings ... a telltale sign of past copper mining industry here.

Massive tailings ... a telltale sign of past copper mining industry here.

We knew we were nearing Ajo when we saw the mountains of tailings from the defunct copper mine. We met Michael and Wendy for coffee at Harris & Smith, Ajo’s ‘snazzy’ new coffee shop on the town plaza. A lazy town today, Ajo (that’s AH-hoe) was once a thriving copper mining town primarily occupied and operated by Phelps-Dodge Corporation and its employees until the mine closed in ~1985 due to labor issues and falling copper prices.

Ajo, by the way, is the Spanish word for garlic, so we thought maybe there was wild garlic around or they grew garlic here. But no, we learned that it just sounded like the word the Tohono O’odham called it ... ‘o’oho’, the word for paint. The native people evidently collected red paint pigments in this area and the Spanish used this familiar word to name the place.

 This copper pit mine, as seen from the overlook, is massive.

This copper pit mine, as seen from the overlook, is massive.

After coffee, we drove with them to the mine overlook … a huge pit of a place. Interestingly, there’s a visitor’s center there that was chained and closed. According to Michael, it has never been open while they were in town. We could only view the overlook through a chain link fence.

 At Michael & Wendy’s house(s) … they have two houses that they’re working on … we gave Blue’s solar panels a quick rinse. All that dirt road dust and grime had made them a bit less efficient.

At Michael & Wendy’s house(s) … they have two houses that they’re working on … we gave Blue’s solar panels a quick rinse. All that dirt road dust and grime had made them a bit less efficient.

ajo-val uschuk ghost figures.JPG

In their front yard stand three ‘ghost figures’ created and placed there by the artist, Val Uschuk. There are several more around town as well as lots more street art and murals. In fact, the town provides a self-guided tour of the town's public art. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to view many of them. Maybe another time?

IMG_5947.JPG

After our visit, we returned to the town plaza. We were impressed with this little town. The traditional Spanish colonial plaza is bordered on one side by Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and on two other sides by shops and restaurants entered through arched porticos.

 The old railroad station has been re-purposed as a Visitor's Center.

The old railroad station has been re-purposed as a Visitor's Center.

Opposite the church, at the other end of the plaza, is the old Tucson, Cornelia & Gila Bend Railroad Company station now the town’s visitor’s center. Though small (est. 2010 population: 3,304), it appears to have charm, personality and an allure of its own.

 'Night of the Lepus' ... very scary rabbits!

'Night of the Lepus' ... very scary rabbits!

Before leaving town, we met Chivon, a local woman who was justifiably quite proud of Ajo, her hometown. While chatting us up, she mentioned one of Ajo’s claims to fame … Night of the Lepus. Had we heard of it? No, we hadn’t, but then we’d never heard of quitobaquito pupfish either until yesterday. We evidently have lived sheltered lives. She filled us in. In this 1972 horror/thriller, giant mutant rabbits terrorize Ajo. Yikes! A town mural on the side of a local donut shop illustrated what we’d missed. Amazon has this film available and we might just have to buy it.

We left town just after noon en route to Yuma, Arizona … right on the California border. We had all sorts of plans to go walking in the Colorado Riverside park and explore the revitalized downtown area, but 106F temperatures were a deterrent. There's always tomorrow. We chose instead an air-conditioned room and a quiet evening. In case you’re keeping track, we’ve still got a few free hotel rooms left and with this heat, we’re happy to use them. 

Tomorrow … we’re heading to the notorious Yuma Territorial Prison before we leave town and then, in search of cooler weather, we’re heading for the hills ... Cleveland National Forest in California. Come on along … you won’t even break a sweat.