entering Ajo, first-time visitors are
always struck by the beauty of the
unique plaza. Two hours by
car from Phoenix, or two and a half hours
from Tucson, Ajo is one of Arizona's
best kept secrets. It has a rich history dating back
hundreds of years and today is a popular tourist
destination and retirement mecca offering an
Natives, Spaniards and
Americans have all extracted mineral wealth from
Ajo's abundant ore deposits. Around 1800, there was a
Spanish mine here nicknamed "Old Bat Hole."
It was later abandoned due to Indian raids. The first
American in Ajo came in 1847 and found the deserted
mine complete with a 60-foot shaft, mesquite ladders
and rawhide buckets. High-grade native copper, so
rich it was shipped to Wales for smelting, made Ajo
the first copper mine in Arizona.
did not boom, however, until after 1900 with the
advent of new recovery methods for low-grade ore.
Col. John Greenway formed New Cornelia Copper in 1906
and expanded on a grand scale. In 1931, Phelps Dodge,
the nation's largest copper company, bought New
Cornelia. For several decades, more than 1,000 men
worked for Phelps Dodge at Ajo.
Located in western
Pima County, this ethnically diverse town is on state
Highway 85, south of Interstate 8. Ajo, at an
elevation of 1,798 feet, is unincorporated. Mountains
and the Sonoran Desert surround the region.
To the west of Ajo is
the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge which was established in
1939 to protect the desert bighorn sheep. The visitor
center is located on Highway 85 north of Ajo and is
open Monday through Friday.
Within 10 miles of Ajo
is the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation. This reservation has
several trading posts where one can purchase jewelry,
baskets, and other fine gifts. The woven baskets of
this region are much in demand.
About 34 miles to the
south of Ajo on Highway 85, is The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Here, in the desert
wilderness of plants and animals and dramatic
mountains-and-plains scenery, you can drive a lonely
road, hike a backcountry trail, camp beneath a clear
desert sky, or just soak in the warmth and beauty of
the Southwest. It's 330,689 acres are home to the
Organ Pipe Cacti, found nowhere else in the world.
The Monument's wildflower blooms are famous
south in Mexico is Sonoyta, a 400 year old town which
was a Spanish missionary outpost founded by Padre
Francisco Kino, who followed the Conquistadors into
the desert. On down the road, about a two hour drive,
is Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) which is
located on the Gulf of California. It is a popular
tourist destination offering some of the best
deep-sea fishing in the world, fresh shrimp and
tropical beaches for sunbathing.