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El Camino Del Diablo, AZ

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Guide 22 Triplogs  4 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Southwest > Ajo
4.3 of 5 by 7
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 136 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,909 feet
Avg Time One Way 3 days
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Ruins, Historic & Peak
Backpack Yes
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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45  2019-02-15 John9L
13  2019-02-15 Pivo
33  2019-02-15 chumley
114  2019-02-15 GrottoGirl
29  2019-02-15 BiFrost
26  2017-12-11
Redemption on El Camino del Diablo
26  2017-12-11 Steph_and_Blake
27  2017-01-02 AZWanderingBear
Page 1,  2,  3
Author Randal_Schulhauser
author avatar Guides 71
Routes 98
Photos 9,967
Trips 1,009 map ( 9,248 miles )
Age 59 Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Feb, Nov, Mar, Jan
Seasons   Early Winter to Late Winter
Sun  6:16am - 6:36pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Camp-Fires on Desert and Lava
by Randal_Schulhauser

"Primarily, the expedition described in the following pages was an exploration of a genuine terra incognita. While it is true that the Pinacate region was known to a few Papago Indians and perhaps half a dozen Mexicans, to the reading and thinking world it was totally unknown; and the more we gathered maps and inquired about it, the less we know." - CAMP-FIRES ON DESERT AND LAVA by William T. Hornaday, June 1908

"Then with one man driving and the others pushing we triumphed. We felt that we were now out of danger. We were on the trail and only about fifteen miles from the Tule well. That night we camped at the abandoned Tule well. Its water was both brackish and offensive, but on the desert one may not be squeamish. Several months later a friend who had been over that route on a survey asked; "How did you like the Tule Well water?" "Not much" I answered. "Naturally" he said; "We found and left a man in it two years ago"..." - TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES OF RAPHAEL PUMPELLY - MINING ENGINEER, GEOLOGIST, ARCHAEOLOGIST AND EXPLORER by Raphael Pumpelly, March 1920

"Yet, in spite of the manifold dangers, thousands of miners and adventurers of every kind and description eagerly took their chances along this bleak and dismal trail - all bound for California in quest of wealth and romance." - EL CAMINO DEL DIABLO by Barry Goldwater and Benjamin Kinsey, March 1943 Arizona Highways Magazine

"The first white man known to die in the desert heat along The Devil's Highway did it on January 18, 1541. Most assuredly, others had died before. As long as there have been people, there have been deaths in the western desert. When The Devil's Highway was a faint scratch of desert bighorn hoof marks, and the first hunters ran along it, someone died. But the brown and red men who ran the paths left no record outside of faded songs and rock paintings we still don't understand" - THE DEVIL'S HIGHWAY by Luis Alberto Urrea, April 2004

"Give the devil his due: if this indeed is his highway, he surely picked a special place for it. If we're lucky, we won't have more than one flat tire and a few new scratches in the paint, but we'll have rubbed the desert heartland and wheeled across our own history on one of Arizona's first highways. We'll know we've been somewhere." - SUNSHOT by Bill Broyles and Michael Berman, January 2006

Why would anyone want to travel the "Devil's Highway"? El Camino del Diablo was a shortcut, saving at least 150 miles over going by way of Tucson and Gila Bend, following the river routes along the Santa Cruz and the Gila. This shortcut also reduced the chances of meeting hostile Apaches, as did traveling in summer instead of winter, which raiding parties preferred. To those able to brave thirst and block out the fear of peril, "The Road of the Devil" was the route of choice. When the railroad reached Yuma in 1870, El Camino del Diablo travel declined dramatically.

Almost 160 years after the 49er's and 101 years after William Hornaday, one could almost repeat his words (or those of the other authors quoted) and you'd think they were written about a trek today through the El Camino del Diablo region.

This is not a true hike, but a 4x4 excursion along a National Backcountry Byway - the El Camino del Diablo - with plenty of stops for hiking opportunities. Hiking is only limited by the amount of time you can spend along "The Devil's Highway". I'll describe logistics and a recent 3-day trek...

Although permitting is possible through other administrating agencies, I will describe the process followed by the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. On one of my travels through Ajo, I stopped in at the CPNWR headquarters and completed my "Hold-Harmless" Agreement and obtained my BMGR/CPNWR/SDNM Permit. I indicated that I was organizing a group trek along El Camino del Diablo expecting about a dozen people and half-dozen vehicles. A Special Use Permit is required for groups with 4 or more vehicles. I targeted a 3-day weekend in late-February for the trek, 2/20 to 2/22, and the CPNWR opened a file for our group indicating names could be added as "Hold-Harmless" Agreements were completed. The CPNWR was able to confirm that there were no planned military operations that could affect our trek on our targeted dates. With blank forms in hand, plus 4-pages of Visitor Regulations, I distributed them to our group and was able to complete the permitting process long-distance leveraging scanned documents via email and originals via snail-mail.

It is MANDITORY that you call prior to each visit to record specific trip info for each area visited - permit number, date, number of people, destination, duration, vehicles in party. See phone numbers on your Approved BMGR/CPNWR/SDNM Permit. Since our planned route would traverse both the CPNWR and BMGR-West, we are required to phone-in the requisite information to two phone numbers.

Special Note
Illegal entry and drug smuggling activities are common within CPNWR, BMGR and SDNM. Anticipate Border Patrol inspection. Have permits at your ready. Most of the refuge falls within the air space of the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. Numerous low-flying aircraft cross the refuge on their way to air-to-air bombing and gunnery ranges located to the north. Some military training exercises over the refuge may require limitations on travel and even short periods of closure of the refuge to the public. You may find unexploded ordnance - DO NOT TOUCH IT!

Also Note
Periodic road closures corresponding to Sonoran Pronghorn fawning season may be implemented. Typically fawning season is mid-March to mid-April, call the CPNWR for specific closure information...

Mile 0.0
Junction of Hwy 85 and Darby Wells Road - Although this marks the beginning of our current day El Camino del Diablo trek, albeit not the original route. That would lie 35 miles further south starting at Sonoyta Mexico. See Hornaday's 1908 map for the original route. Given the back country closures within Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Port-of-Entry border crossing restrictions, a true historic recreation can not be legally reproduced. Our first 40 miles will follow the Yuma Wagon Road, a connector trail used by freighters in the 1850's to the mines near Ajo...

Mile 1.0
Massive tailings dump from the New Cornelia Copper Mine looms to the north side of the El Camino. In the 1750's Spanish settlers exploited Native American mines in the vicinity of Ajo. Although Ajo had proven copper veins, it wasn't until circa 1900 and the arrivals of a rail spur line and open pit steam shovels that the operation was truly economically viable. The open pit mine shut down in 1983 due to low copper prices.

Mile 2.0
Darby Well can be seen on the southeast side of El Camino. This is a good spot to air-down your vehicles.

Mile 12.7
Leave BLM land and cross the northern boundary of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Once inside the National Monument, note the organ pipe cacti frequenting the dark volcanic slopes on the north side of El Camino.

Mile 14.2
Growler Pass funnels traffic, legal and illegal, between the Bates Mountains to the south and Growler Mountains to the north.

Mile 15.0
Note the lushness of the Sonoran Desert in this region. Flora and fauna abounds

Mile 16.6
Bates Well and Ranch Ruins is a great place to explore. The website for OPCNM lists 16 historic structures at Bates Well including the Ranch Main House. Bates Well Ranch was owned and operated by Robert Louis Gray, Sr. from 1935-1976. The ranch was one of the fifteen ranches and line camps in the Gray family partnership cattle business which developed the ranching potential of the Sonoran desert country north of the border and dominated the lands of Organ Pipe National Monument for nearly 60 years. The ranch house was moved from Growler Mine to Bates Well in 1942, "recycled" as was traditional frontier and the Gray family practice-adaptively using available materials at hand. Probably originating as a miners' cabin, the northern portion was presumably added after its relocation at Bates Well. The Bates Well property represents a very complete and intact example of the frontier ranching pattern in Arizona typical of the Sonoran Desert during the first third of the twentieth century. It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on May 20, 1994. Bates Well also serves as a Border Patrol FOB (Forward Operating Base). High clearance 2WD vehicles are allowed to drive to Bates Well. Beyond Bates Well, it's strictly 4WD...

Mile 22.7
Intersection with Pozo Nuevo Road. This road runs north-south from Quitobaquito Springs at the international border to Growler Valley in the CPNWR. This is a well known border crossing route for smugglers - both drugs and people. As we approach the intersection I count 6 people being loaded into one of the Border Patrol trucks. This will be our only "alien" encounter during the trek - but serves as a very visible reminder that undocumented border crossing is very real. Strange that one of my "pre-reads" was "The Devil's Highway" by Luis Alberto Urrea, the true story of a May 2001 border crossing gone wrong - 14 men died. The route the coyote chose started at Quitobaquito along Pozo Nuevo Rd to Growler Valley and beyond...

Mile 25.3
Exit Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and enter the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

Mile 28.5
San Cristobal Wash can collect standing water during seasonal rains. Some road improvements have been made across the wash. The San Cristobal Wash tracks an ancient north-south salt and shell trade route from Gila Bend to the Gulf of California. The "Lost City" archeological site lies north along the wash.

Mile 31.5
Travel through Cholla Pass and enter the Antelope Hills region.

Mile 32.5
Cinnamon Flat and Deer Hollow are noted for frequent Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope sightings. We didn't see any on this trek, probably due to heightened Border Patrol traffic from "incident" earlier in the day back at Pozo Nuevo Road.

Mile 39.1
Papago Well has picnic tables and BBQ's making it a perfect candidate for a lunch stop. A spur road heading east about a mile and a half will take you to Papago Mines.

Mile 43.8
Camp Grip is one of the Border Patrol FOB's (Forward Operating Base) along the El Camino manning the drag. Drags are created by bundles of 5 tires attached to a frame looking somewhat like the Olympic 5-ring symbol. Every day a Border Patrol vehicle chains a drag to its back end and drives the El Camino ironing the sand to a smooth surface. Sign-cutting is the low-tech tracking technique employed by the Border Patrol - looking for fresh footprints in the sand.

Mile 44.3
Dave O'Neil's Grave is located on the north side of El Camino as you enter O'Neil Pass. A local prospector, O'Neil was found face down dead in a pool of water in 1916. This makes O'Neil the only known drowning victim along El Camino del Diablo.

Mile 50.0
Las Playas is an ephemeral lake on the south side of El Camino straddling the Mexican border. This was an important yet unreliable water source for ancient travelers along El Camino as the lake tends to be short-lived only after sufficient desert rains. Note the elevation low point of 659 feet acts as a water catchment rendering the El Camino impassible after severe rains.

Mile 52.0
Pinta Sands and Pinacate Lava Flow stretch as far as one can see. The black lava and yellow sand provide stark visual contrasts. The powdery sand and razor sharp lava will challenge any vehicle for the next 10 miles.

Mile 53.4
Look for the rock cairn on the side of El Camino marking path to Nameer's Grave 1871.

Mile 65.5
Gravestone Pass has half a dozen graves marked on both sides of El Camino.

Mile 71.1
Tule Well and Tule Cantina. There are picnic tables and BBQ's located in several locations around the well. We set up our camp in the sandy wash just to the south of the well. The well marks the junction with Christmas Pass Road which travels north to Wellton and past the Mohawk Dunes.

Mile 73.6
Tule Tank turn-off. Vehicle traffic is now forbidden, but you can hike the mile and a half to Tule Tank. This is an important watering hole sustaining much of the local wildlife. There's also archeological evidence of ancient encampments at the site.

Mile 74.4
Cabeza Prieta Mountain turn-off. A network of roads no longer accessible fans out to the north into the Cabeza Prieta Mountains. The turn-off can serve as a staging point for a hike into the mountains, perhaps even peak bagging Cabeza Prieta Mountain.

Mile 80.2
Tordilla Mountain turn-off. We travelled the 1 mile spur road north to explore the black lava flows.

Mile 81.0
Circle 8 Gravesite turn-off. Hike south about half a mile to the mass grave where a family of 8 was massacred in 1880 while traveling El Camino del Diablo. Just south of the grave you'll notice a faint double track heading east-west. These are remnants of the original El Camino del Diablo.

Mile 85.8
Exit the Cabeza Prieta NWR and enter the Barry M. Goldwater Range. You are in the middle of the Lechuguilla Desert - home of the namesake small agave plant.

Mile 89.5
Tinajas Altas turn-off. As the main drag bends gradually to the north, take the beeline cut-off straight to the Tinajas Altas.

Mile 91.4
Tinajas Altas or "High Tanks", perhaps the most infamous watering hole in the southwest. There is much evidence of human occupation near the tanks with ancient grinding stones and rock art in abundance. There's multiple routes to the upper tanks, all with varying degrees of exposure.

Mile 94.0
Tinajas Altas Pass or "Anza" route verses the "Gila River" route via Wellton was a decision to be made by El Camino travelers. We planned on taking the "Anza" route setting up camp in the pass before heading to the Fortuna Mines the next day. There are many reminders that you are on a military range with ordnance found in many locations throughout the pass.

Mile 95.8
Exit Tinajas Altas Pass onto the Davis Plain. You are greeted by a Border Patrol "lifesaving tower". The signage certainly grabs you; "ATTENTION! You cannot walk to safety from this point! You are in danger of Dying if you do not summon help! If you need help, Push red button. US Border Patrol will arrive in 1 hour. Do Not Leave This Location!"

Mile 104.2
Cipriano Pass turn-off. This pass marks the geologic separation between the Tinajas Altas Range to the south and the Gila Mountain Range to the north.

Mile 116.0
Fortuna Mines turn-off. The main road will bear west with a stony 4WD track gently curving north following a wash beside a lava flow.

Mile 121.0
Continue climbing the cobblestone-like track until you reach the basin site of Fortuna Mines. There is a trail head kiosk that marks the beginning of a self-guided walking tour of the turn-of-the-century mining town. A rich outcrop was discovered in the volcanic rock in 1894. Soon the La Fortuna Gold Mining and Milling Company was established on the site employing about 100 miners. A 20-stamp mill was build and water piped in from the Gila River. Between 1986 and 1904 more than $2.5M in bullion was extracted from the site. The saloons and whorehouses did a roaring trade. By 1904 the vein was lost along a fault line and the site soon became the ghost town seen today.

Mile 125.0
El Camino del Diablo forks left into a wash. The right fork eventually reaches the Gila Mountains.

Mile 127.5
The dirt track of El Camino del Diablo abruptly ends at Fortuna Foothills beside a golf course! Travel about 1 mile west along E. County 14th Street until you reach the intersection with Foothills Blvd. Travel north on Foothills Blvd about 3 miles until you reach the I-8 overpass.

Mile 131.5
The El Camino del Diablo ends at I-8 Exit#14 intersection for Foothills Blvd.

The "Road of the Devil" is perhaps the most infamous Native American and Pioneer Trail in the southwest. Its notoriety is associated with the 2000 or so trail side graves commemorating those who didn't make it. Today, this is a complex logistical trip crossing BLM land, National Monument land, National Wildlife Refuge land, Military Range land and Border Patrol buffer zones. A little planning and preparation (don't add to that 2000 count) and you to can go back in time and make the desert crossing viewing it as it appeared hundreds of years ago. Although primarily a 4x4 excursion, I have read recent accounts of those hiking the route (see Bill Boyle's SUNSHOT) and mountain biking the route (see Scott Morris' BIKEPACKING.NET). Enjoy!

Travels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly 200MB PDF

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2009-03-03 Randal_Schulhauser
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    El Camino Del Diablo
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Redemption on El Camino del Diablo
    Back in January a buddy and I attempted a traverse of the El Camino del Diablo in less than ideal conditions. In the midst of a wet winter, we knew sections near the Pinacate Lava Flow and San Cristobol Wash would be difficult. We were stuck in mud of the worst sort for an hour east of Pinacate and San Cristobol proved completely impassable forcing a turn around. We back tracked to Wellton, our start point, and vowed to seek redemption another day.

    While researching a future trip to Canyonlands, I emailed Steph and Blake about one of their recent trips. I’ve been envious of how much they explore for some time now. In the exchange they mentioned wanting to try El Camino this month. Though we had never met, pretty quickly we had arranged another west to east run, including Bob,my friend from the last attempt and his wife Jill.

    We rendezvoused in Fortuna Hills, gassed up and aired down, setting out with 3 Toyotos (4Runner, Tacoma, and FJ), 6 people and 1 German Wire Terrier named Addie and high spirits. This was a different entry point than the previous attempt and we knew less about the road conditions. Skirting the western edge of the Gila Mountains was fairly slow going with a lot of wash crossings but nothing too technical or rough. The crew stopped and explored Fortuna Mine. There is an interpretive trail here but we only had time to do a bit of it. Fortuna was a huge operation in the day with shafts over 800 feet deep and boasting a 20 stamp mill, the largest I have heard of in the southwest.

    The drive got easier and sandier as we worked south towards the Tinajas Altas Mountains. We made a few stops to admire the weathering of the granite that comprises the hills and mountains here and to check out the man-made features associated with the south to north flow of illegals. We cut east through the Tinajas Altas Pass and made camp in a little box canyon I’ve enjoyed a few times. With a bit of time before dinner, Jill and MJ did some rock scrambling along one of the walls of the canyon. Addie of course went along to show them the best way up. Ferguson, our portable potty, was a delight to the ladies. A pair of F-18s dogfighting just above us provided entertainment. The night passed uneventfully except for poor Addie who found some cholla.

    While MJ and I spent a lot of time breaking down our camp the next morning, Blake, Steph, Jill and Addie tried to summit the ridge east of camp. These rocks make a fun scramble.

    We stopped by the high tanks that give the Tinajas Altas their name and were a vital water source for early travelers on El Camino. Today the mountain sheep and other wildlife still depend on them as a somewhat reliable water source. We spotted grind holes and petroglyphs, both modern and ancient, as we worked up the steep drainage that holds the granite tanks. There was still water in the lower two tanks. The views east were fantastic.

    We pushed out to the west border of the Cabeza Prieta where the Border Patrol had a high powered camera on a tower mounted on a truck. We waved when they panned down to check us out. We’d seen eastbound footprints in the sandy road. A few miles into the Cabeza we came across two young ladies backpacking the El Camino, an impressive undertaking when you consider the trail is over 120 miles with only 2 reliable water sources (not counting the Border Patrol stations who would likely chivalrously lend a hand to any young lady in the desert). The group made a quick stop at the Circle 8 gravesite, and then Tule Well for lunch. The Tule water spigot provided a nice little wash up for everyone. The Pinacate Lava Flow crossing is rocky and slow. We stopped at Nameer’s grave, still unknowing of who he may have been.

    All along Steph had been teasing me about seeing the infamous “mudhole” that captured me last time. We pressed into the Pinta Sands. This time there was no mud, just the talcum powder fine sand and clay mix. We stopped at the site of the previous disaster, not as imposing looking this time. Except for Bob and I, the group was relatively unimpressed. I created a mini mudhole just off trail as a part of my revenge on del Diablo and then threw up as much dust as I could leading the expedition forward.

    As is the custom, we made offerings to the trail at O'Neill's grave, sped past the Border Patrol’s Camp Grip and pulled up at Papago Well for the night’s camp. There was another group there already, but the site is large. Bob grilled some ribs to share with the group. Good ribs and a great sauce. A nice sunset provided the backdrop for dinner. Blake and Steph had brought along firewood, a nice touch for the cool evening. The conversation was lively, deep, varied, interesting as campfire conversations tend to be. We lingered by the fire late.

    The group got a good start the next morning. We encountered the deepest sand yet in the wide swath of the San Cristobol Wash, passing the turnaround point for the last attempt. The Border Patrol trucks have created deep ruts in the sand and once in them you were not coming out. We just kept the rpms and forward momentum high and plowed through. Likely our three dust plumes were visible for miles. There is a another Border Patrol station at the boundary of the Cabeza Prieta and the Organ Pipe national Monument. We stopped to read all the signs and chuckle about the sand now that we were through it.

    This was new territory for me on the El Camino. It was an easy and pretty drive eastward. We explored around Bates Well, an old ranch that operated from 1920 until 1976. The operation was grandfathered in when the Organ Pipe National Monument was formed and ceased only on the death of Henry Gray, the rancher.

    From Bates Well the road turns northerly towards Ajo and is in good shape. We pushed up the speed, worked through Growler Pass, a favorite route for me into the bombing and gunnery ranges to the north when I wore a younger man’s clothes and flew A-10s out of Tucson. Soon there was a stop sign and pavement. The other two trucks pulled up in line. We’d covered over 120 miles, made new friends, had an adventure, made some memories.

    Redemption was ours.

    El Camino Del Diablo
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    In hindsight, there were bad decisions, bad information, good decisions, good food, good company, a lot of history, and some adventure.

    A buddy and his dog were accompanying me on an attempt to traverse El Camino del Diablo west to east. Given the recent rains down there, I'd pretty much decided to call off the effort the week before. Rain turns the fine silt found along the trail in several places into something that looks like a chocolate milkshake, sticks like glue, hardens like concrete when dry, and is slicker than cat #%^* on a mirror. But the buddy had a buddy that told him all was well, "totally passable", "2WD all the way". So off we went.

    Day one started well and ended better. Swung by the Oatman Massacre site, Painted Rocks and the Sundad ghost town. Gassed up in Wellton and made some last minute phone calls (including the informative buddy - "yep, still no problem. Have fun." Racing down the wide sandy roads to the Tinajas Altus mountains in my relatively new 4Runner was peacefully exhilarating, if there is such a thing. My buddy's Tacoma was keeping pace nicely. Stopped for the obligatory photo at the huge El Camino sign. I'd camped near the Tinajas Altus (High Tanks) before in a flat box canyon with plenty of mesquite waiting to turn into coals for grilling steaks to perfection. The canyon opened north and the rugged Tinajas Altus mountains shielded us on three sides from the border a few miles to the south. Security and firewood. Doesn't get any better on El Camino. We were off to a great start.

    After a leisurely breakfast, we made the short drive and quick scramble up to the high tanks that give the mountains their name. These rock pools up in the whitish gray granite mountains hold as much as 20,000 gallons of water. That water is critical to desert fauna and the early travelers that laid out the El Camino route -- water source to water source across the Sonoran Desert.

    We headed south and then east, stopping at the boundary of the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness to read the informative signs. A few miles later we hiked south to the Circle 8 gravesite, apparently a family of 8 from Mexico was massacred at this site way back. Graves would become a theme along El Camino.

    Tule Well is a favorite stop for sojourners along El Camino, just as it was for hardy souls of the past. The well now has a solar powered pump and big tank. Picnic tables and BBQ grills hide in the mesquites along the nearby wash. The adobe brick building looks ancient but was built by Luke Air Force Base folks who worked on the bombing range which takes up most of the area between Interstate 8, the Mexican border, Yuma, and Gila Bend. I've got a few thousand hours of time dog fighting and bomb dropping on those ranges. It looks different on the ground, bigger, and more remote for sure. Hiked up to the Boy Scout Memorial with its flag flying proudly.

    Miles later we hit the western edge of the Pinta Sands, a fine silt that makes for easy, but dusty, driving when dry. No dust today, just fast easy wheeling. The Pincate Lava Flow came quick there after slowing us to a crawl over the rough rock strewn road. We stopped and hiked up to the rim of Monument Bluff, a volcanic cinder cone close to the border with a great view. Nameer's grave was close by. Not much is known about Nameer other than he apparently died here in 1871. A few more miles of bumpy volcanic driving put us into the eastern portion of the pinkish Pinta Sands. Things were going way too well.

    At 4 PM we had half hour of driving ahead to make our camp at Papago Wells. I was beginning to hurry a bit, had been lulled into a sense of security by the ease in which we were crossing this barren and remote land. The 4Runner was handling like a dream with a little southern rock pumping out of the sound system. What's this ahead? Road flooded a bit? Sunken several feet below the desert floor? Ah, who cares. Camp awaits. Sixty seconds later the muck had rendered my tires totally tractionless and my forward momentum stalled. My buddy's Tacoma was also motionless 75 feet behind me. Over the next hour we got a satellite message out to the Border Patrol in hopes they'd bring a truck as an anchor point for my winch. Initial recovery efforts were met with bemused laughter from the mud. OK, I know mud doesn't laugh, but you get the point. Some creative winching and then a set of MaxTrax finally got my front tires up on the elevated and somewhat drier desert floor. The 4Runner powered out from there. Take that mud!! I yanked my buddy out backwards and a few minutes later a grinning Border Patrol guy shows up. "We normally drive around that." Well, no @#&* Sherlock. He did admit they recently had six trucks stuck at the same time in this area.

    Camp was fairly quiet at the start. I wasn't pleased with myself. Rigged up a cold shower and got the head-to-toe mud off me. The buddy, who had stayed much cleaner than me, grilled some burgers for us and kept his distance until I saw the humor in the situation. Not long after dinner, a helicopter showed up from the east and some BP trucks roared past from Camp Grip just to our west. For an hour we got ringside seats for a nighttime counter-drug op about a half mile away.

    We made 10 miles on day three, across Chinaman Flat and through Cholla Pass, before hitting a long stretch of muck at San Cristbol Wash. Scouted it on foot and looked for a bypass. Nothing looked promising. We had driven 93.9 miles from our start point in Wellton. Less than 3 miles away I could see the radio towers of the other Border Patrol base along El Camino. From there it was easy driving to Ajo and the eastern terminus of El Camino. We wouldn't make that drive on this trip. We turned around and sped back the way we'd come.

    182.3 miles and 45 hours after we had left Wellton, my 4Runner was at the same fuel pump getting stares from everyone given the amount of mud smeared across every panel of the vehicle. Dried clumps fell off at random intervals. I admit that there is a certain sense of pride to be had in giving a dismissive sneer to a gawking Prius driver while standing next to an unimaginably dirty truck.

    Between our recovery from the muck of the Pinta Sands and our camp at Papago Wells, we'd stopped briefly at O'Neill's Grave. O'Neill was a prospector back in the day who supposedly had an affinity for the bottle. One evening after a particularly strong rainstorm and stronger whiskey, he face planted into a small shallow wash and became the only person known to have drowned in the Sonoran Desert. Following tradition, I'd tossed a penny on his grave asking safe passage on El Camino del Diablo. Looking back, it was a penny well spent. We'd gone in. We'd had fun. We'd had an adventure. We'd come out intact. Maybe not where we planned, but hey, there's always another day.

    Some lessons learned for those who might want to attempt El Camino:

    1. Verizon has a Travel Pass. $2 per day in Mexico, but only if you use your cell phone. Don't use it, you don't pay. We were close enough to the border to ping Mexican cell towers in some places. Could be a life saver if you really needed it.

    2. Stay out of anything that is wet and rutted. It is worse than it looks and you won't come out easy.

    3. Bring a variety of recovery gear and know how to use it. Only one vehicle at a time in or on any obstacle.

    4. Stop and talk to the BP guys and gals. Let them know your plans. Ask about the road ahead, smuggling activity, safe places to camp, etc. They are helpful.

    5. 99% of your trip will be fun and easy. 1% is all the Devil needs. It isn't called El Camino del Diablo for no reason.
    El Camino Del Diablo
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    What a landscape: what a place. The Camino really is the Sonoran Desert at its finest, and I'm exceptionally glad to have spent a few days and nights here this time. The hiking stats above are simply accumulation of three day hikes (outlined by Ken), and he described them all quite well. Great group to head out there with.

    The Tinajas Altas mountains are a stunning range. Great backdrop at which to camp, very cool to see some of the namesakes in the canyons, and even though we didn't make the peak that we initially wanted, we found a great spot nonetheless. The Sea of Cortez, the International Border, MX Highway 2: all are plainly visible from these ragged tops.

    Tule Camp was great, very comfortable with its picnic tables and grills! The trek north to Cabeza Prieta Peak was wonderful, and that peak is deceptively ragged. Christmas Pass camp is more similar to the spot at Tinajas Altas, and a short scramble above camp affords great views of the area.

    The winter light in this place is amazing, but I do not envy those that pass through this area in the warmer months. The silence is wonderful, the isolation refreshing. Just a few Border Patrol agents that we saw, but all they ever wanted to see was the bottoms of our shoes, to pass along to the trackers in the area. Most of the time, we just exchanged waves as we passed each other.
    El Camino Del Diablo
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    How can you not get excited about anything on this road? For the last few years it has been talked about but nothing ever came out of it, well finally this past weekend we made half of it happen. I say half because for this trip we came in from the west in the Welton area and drove to the Christmas Pass road and came back up here not doing the stretch to Ajo. The reason for this was we wanted to hit up the Tinajas Altas and hike up a peak in here, hit the Cabeza Prieta and hike up a peak in there, and finish with a hike in the Mohawks.

    Friday afternoon Mike, Scott, and I left town and headed southwest ready for whatever the weekend was going to bring. Our first night we made it down to the High Tanks in the Tinajas Altas and camped there where we saw some past campsites. Camping at the base of this mountain range is amazing as it is the most rugged range I might have been to in AZ? After our hike in the T.A. on Saturday we headed for Tule Well Campsite. Here the drive is sandy and very scenic as you approach the Cabeza Prieta Mountains and drive south of them. Here you get a sense of how big this range is and again pretty darn rugged. The campsite at Tule Well provided us with a table and a nice area by a sandy wash which was also lush with vegetation and provided us with a much cooler night than the one before. Waking up here we backtracked just a bit to get to our hiking start point in the Cabeza Prietas. After our hike we drove on up to the Christmas Pass campsite which did not spoil us with a table but a nice rocky hill to block us from any travelers coming from the south at night. Monday finally came and we drove on out the Christmas Pass road which is also pretty sandy and out to the I-8 and back to civilization to do our next hike up Mohawk Peak north of the I-8.

    It was great to finally get down and do a stretch of this road where we saw just how beautiful and rugged the desert really is in a spot not many like to come. The only people we saw the entire time down here this past weekend were Border Patrol, other than them not a soul in sight. Now it only makes me drool to do the stretch from Ajo and probably finish it with the other section to the west coming out in Yuma. Great times, great company, great road.
    El Camino Del Diablo
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    El Camino del Diablo 3-day Trek

    This was a group trek at least 2 years in the making...



    I can't explain my fascination with the international Sonoran Desert region - Is it the history? Is it the stunning geology? Is it the solitude? Is it the uniqueness? Is it the danger element? Is it today's version of the "wild, wild west"? Maybe all of the above...

    2/20 - Day 1

    What was to be a 6 vehicle, 14 person trek settled in at 4 vehicles and 6 people as we assembled at the Love's Truck Stop at I-10 and Wild Horse Pass Blvd at 6:30 am, took inventory, and pushed on to the Cabeza Prieta NWR Headquarters in Ajo. We were all entertained by some fighter jet exercises over the Barry M. Goldwater Range west of Hwy 85 making the sprint from Gila Bend to Ajo seem almost instantaneous.

    I finally met Margot Bissell in person at the CPNWR Headquarters. I'd exchanged many emails, VM's, etc. preparing for this trek arranging our Special Use Permit, individual BMGR/CPNWR/SDNM Permits, and filing our group itinerary through Margot. A final check by Margot that all our permitting was in order, a confirmation of our call-in to the Yuma sector of the BMGR, and we were on our way...

    First navigation challenge - find the intersection of Darby Wells Road and Hwy 85. No problem - signage is obvious! Turn onto the El Camino del Diablo noting "MILE 0" and stop to air-down the 3 Jeeps and single Ford Expedition. We soon crossed into Organ Pipe National Monument at "MILE 12.7" traversing its northwest sector.

    Next stop - Bates Well and Ranch Ruins - "MILE 16.9". We explored the old ranch and Border Patrol outpost. The website for OPNM lists 16 historic structures at Bates Well including the Ranch Main House. Bates Well Ranch was owned and operated by Robert Louis Gray, Sr. from 1935-1976. The ranch was one of the fifteen ranches and line camps in the Gray family partnership cattle business which developed the ranching potential of the Sonoran desert country north of the border and dominated the lands of Organ Pipe National Monument for nearly 60 years. The ranch house was moved from Growler Mine to Bates Well in 1942, "recycled" as was traditional frontier and the Gray family practice—adaptively using available materials at hand. Probably originating as a miners' cabin, the northern portion was presumably added after its relocation at Bates Well. The Bates Well property represents a very complete and intact example of the frontier ranching pattern in Arizona typical of the Sonoran Desert during the first third of the twentieth century. It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on May 20, 1994. There was nobody at the outpost until we were ready to motor on to our next stop. We met our first Border Patrol officer who stopped to gas-up before rocketing away to an "incident" near the OPNM and CPNWR boundary.

    We continued our trek towards the boundary area and the intersection with Pozo Nuevo Road at "MILE 23.3". This road runs north-south from Quitobaquito Springs at the international border to Growler Valley in the CPNWR. This is a well known border crossing route for smugglers - both drugs and people...

    As we approach the intersection I count 6 people being loaded into one of the Border Patrol trucks. We crawl past the "incident" catching a wave from the BP officer we conversed briefly back at Bates Well. This will be our only "alien" encounter during the trek - but serves as a very visible reminder that undocumented border crossing is very real. Strange that one of my "pre-reads" was "The Devil's Highway" by Luis Alberto Urrea, the true story of a May 2001 border crossing gone wrong - 14 men died. The route the coyote chose started at Quitobaquito along Pozo Nuevo Rd to Growler Valley and beyond...

    "MILE 40" and we arrive at Papago Well for lunch. Didn't expect to see picnic tables and BBQ's placed in this remote location, but they are there. BP officer I. Ramirez stops to check our permits and itinerary. We inquired about the "incident" back at Pozo Nuevo Rd. Officer Ramirez didn't have the particulars, but did mention the log for 2/19 indicates 30 "targets" were apprehended the day before. Busy time of year Ramirez comments...

    After eating like kings courtesy of Per Klype's habanero chicken wings and polish sausages, we trekked to explore the Papago Mines.

    Back in the 4WD's we pass by a Border Patrol Station (Camp Grip?) and stop further along to check out O'Neil's Grave and Pass at "MILE 44"

    At "MILE 50" we enter the Pinta Sands and Pinnacate Lava Flow. It becomes obvious why 4WD is a must for the soft sands through this visually stunning section. When we stop for photo ops, we can see some tractor trailers traversing the sands about a mile or two south from us. That's Mexican Highway 2 crossing El Desierto...

    I can plainly see Monument Butte only a mile away to the south. I'm thinking about re-creating that Border Monument 180 illustration by William Hornaday and crew featured in "Camp-Fires on Desert and Lava".

    "MILE 71.4" and we make Tule Well for camp. Group photo by the Cantina and time for BBQ chicken, campfire beans, and fixin's - awesome!

    2/21 - Day 2

    Mike Mattes cooks up a worthy breakfast spread of chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, sausage, coffee and a morning eye-opener -- prickly pear vodka and orange juice. Breakfast is serenaded by multiple phainopepla punctuated by buzzing hummingbirds. We break camp to go explore Tule Tank and Cabeza Prieta Mountain - maybe...

    "MILE 80" and distinctive Tordilla Mountain looms to the north of El Camino del Diablo. We take a side trail to the foot of the mountain and explore.

    "MILE 80.8" we look for a southerly trail taking us to the circle 8 gravesite. This 30 foot stone circle commemorates the spot a Mexican family of 8 was massacred in 1880 while traveling along El Camino del Diablo.

    "MILE 91.1" and we arrive at the Tinajas Altas for lunch. We explore the high tanks locating rock art, multiple grinding holes, and an assortment of reptiles.

    We pass 2 campsites - no people spotted (still looking for our first human encounter of the day! We continue into Tinajas Altas Pass and set-up camp near "MILE 94". Gary Johnston and Bob Mohle proceed to dazzle us with their pork loin, baked potatoe, tossed salad and apple sauce spread. Handgun target practice. Missing leg laughing (you had to be there)...

    2/22 - Day 3

    Ken Schopen treats us to breakfast burritos, home baked cookies, coffee and our morning staple -- prickly pear vodka and orange juice. Locate rockets, artillery shells and other spent ammunition on the BMGR...

    Break camp and head off to the Fortuna Mines for exploration at "MILE 125"...

    Arrive at "MILE 136" and the Fortuna Foothills and the I-8 about 3-ish in the afternoon. Everyone airs-up and we haul @ss back to Phoenix. Side note that Frank Soto's uncle and grandfather used to run taxi service from Nogales to Yuma, Tucson, and Phoenix. They drove the El Camino del Diablo many times in the late 1910's to 1930's. Gotta see if he has any family photos to share. Too bad Frank had to back out at the last moment due to illness...

    Having completed El Camino del Diablo first hand -- Did we feel threatened? Are we just naïve or just plain stupid? Or is this all overblown? Who cares, the scenery was stunning and the memories are priceless...

    Perfect temps with hi about 80 degrees and lo about 50 degrees. Only disappointment - no bighorn sheep or antelope sightings. Pics and a Hike Description with some historical references to follow...

    Per Gary Johnston; "HERE'S TO GREATNESS..."
    El Camino Del Diablo
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    Trip down to Ajo to visit the Cabeza Prieta NWR Headquarters to pick up "Special Use" permits and "Hold Harmless" forms for an up coming group 4WD/camp/hike adventure on El Camino del Diablo.

    Met Margot Bissell from the US Fish & Wildlife Service you was immensely helpful in getting the permits processed and reservations for our Feb 20-22 event. -- Updated last year's permits to 2009...

    viewtopic.php?t=3055&start=0#33133 -- Appreciate hearing from anyone who's heard recent information about conditions this season.
    El Camino Del Diablo
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    Don't know why the international Sonoran desert region holds such fascination for me, but it does...

    Snakes, petroglyphs, alien encounters, coyotes (4-legged kind), ranch ruins, crested saguaros, fawning pronghorn antelope, desert bighorn sheep, tracking down the elusive Ajo Lily - what's not to like?

    Started the day before dawn's first light and headed down to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters & Visitor Center in Ajo to obtain the requisite training and permits. I knew my 2WD F-150 is only allowed on Charlie Bell Road (a 17 mile back country trek to Charlie Bell Pass at eastern lip of Growler Valley) and the first 17 miles of El Camino del Diablo to Bates Well and Grey Ranch ruins.

    Although we didn't travel any of the historic Spanish 130 mile route from Sonoyta Mexico to Yuma Arizona, I understand the section traveled represented a gold rush connector road still used today by 4WD trekkers to join El Camino del Diablo near the western boarder of Organ Pipe NM and Cabeza Prieta NWR.

    This only served to whet my appetite and need to come back soon with 4WD group! Also had a back-up plan to visit the Crater Range and the reported petroglyph clusters, but you can only cram so much into a day...

    Other photos sets for El Camino del Diablo

    Permit $$
    Special Use

    Map Drive
    Strictly 4x4

    To 4x4 trip
    Directions to East TH near Ajo (synopsis):

    From Phoenix, take the I-10 East towards Tucson. At exit 164 for Hwy 347, travel West and South 15 miles to the rapidly growing town of Maricopa. Turn right at the Hwy 238 (aka Maricopa Road) intersection and travel 38 miles to the town of Gila Bend. Continue south from Gila Bend on Hwy 85, travelling 40 miles to reach the mining town of Ajo. Stop in the Cabeza Prieta NWR Headquarters on the west side of Hwy 85 to check on the latest road and border conditions. Continue past the mountainous tailings of the New Cornelia Mine to reach the East TH at the junction of Darby Wells Rd. and Hwy 85.

    GPS coordinates for the East TH are 32o 21.357'N, 112o 49.623'W.

    Directions to West TH near Yuma (synopsis):

    From Phoenix, take the I-10 East towards Tucson. At exit 164 for Hwy 347, travel West and South 15 miles to the town of Maricopa. Turn right at the Hwy 238 (aka Maricopa Road) intersection and travel 38 miles to the town of Gila Bend. Continue west from Gila Bend on Hwy I-8, travelling about 100 miles to reach the Yuma suburb of Fortuna Foothills on the western slopes of the Gila Mountains. At I-8 Exit#14 for Foothills Blvd, travel south 3 miles to the intersection with E. County 14th Street. About 1 mile east along E. County 14th Street, you will see an unsigned entrance to a double track dirt road on the south side - El Camino del Diablo.

    GPS coordinates for the West TH are 32o 37.593'N, 114o 23.670'W.

    For more information, contact;
    Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
    1611 North Second Avenue
    Ajo, AZ 85321
    (520) 387-6483
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