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El Camino Del DiabloSouthwest, AZ
Southwest, AZ
4x4 Trip avatar Feb 20 2009
4x4 Trip136.56 Miles 5,999 AEG
4x4 Trip136.56 Miles3 Days         
5,999 ft AEG
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Mike Mattes
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..."
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