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Redemption on El Camino del Diablo, AZ
mini location map2017-12-11
26 by photographer avatarAZWanderingBear
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Redemption on El Camino del Diablo, AZ 
Redemption on El Camino del Diablo, AZ
4x4 Trip avatar Dec 11 2017
4x4 Trip136.00 Miles 2,322 AEG
4x4 Trip136.00 Miles3 Days         
2,322 ft AEG
1st trip
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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.
All you have is your fire...
And the place you need to reach
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