Mines, a Desert Cemetery, and One Awesome, Useless Map 

We’re having a delightfully quiet week (or longer, if our tanks will last) here in the Sonoran Desert just south of Ajo, Arizona.  We’re only about 30 miles from where we were last: Organ Pipe Cactus Nat’l Monument, so the landscape is pretty much the same, but there’s no campground, and thus fewer people around.  (We did have one camper van park within eyesight, but they stayed for just one night.)  

So Banjo gets to lounge in the sun all day without supervision, and I can play the same ukulele song on repeat as I learn it, walking around singing loudly.  Freedom, in other words.  

Mines Everywhere

I missed out on the U.S. history lessons all about how the West was colonized by early Americans for its minerals.  I mean, I know about the Gold Rush and I have images in my head of grizzled old guys using sieves by rivers, but I had no idea there had been so much mining out here.  

Nearly every designated park and monument we’ve hiked began (by Western standards) with mining trails and settlements. That makes sense, I guess.  But where we are in the desert now with no official landmarks or designations, damned if there aren’t mines everywhere here, too.  

There’s one huge pit mine that’s owned by a minerals corporation and surrounded by barbed wire, but all around it, the desert is spotted with small, private claims, as well. Some are fenced-off openings with no bottom in sight, and some are simply holes in the ground with a small mound of dirt nearby and a vertical pipe sticking out of if, marking a claim.  Tracy and Banjo are fascinated by these, but I like to steer clear.  I like my hiking without the risk of suddenly plummeting to one’s death. 


Within a short walk is a local cemetery; I don’t know why it’s all the way out here when there’s an official-looking one in town.  But this one’s certainly in use, with new gravesites and lots of bright, plastic flowers and alters at each gravesite.  Mexican-style, Tracy says.  

I like the ones with items for the loved one in the alter: canned beer, peanuts, bottled water.  And chairs so people who miss them can sit and commune. (I didn’t take many photos to respect privacy.)

This landscape here is hilly, but you know when you’re getting near the cemetery because plastic flowers start appearing under creosote bushes.  Follow the trail of the alter detritus, and soon you’ll be there.

Beautiful Map

I picked up this brochure in Ajo thinking it might help me find hiking trails near the trailer, but it’s so specifically designed for mountain bikers that I can’t crack its code.  For one thing, the trail heads are listed with coordinates only (there are no physical signs on the ground), and because cell service is so bad here, you need to download a map of the area that’s detailed enough you can pull up those coordinates. That’s a lot of work for someone who just wants to wander around the desert. 

Plus, the biking trails follow dirt roads, washes, and winding paths that seem to loop back to each other.  And the lines on the maps that could indicate topography instead weave in and out of artistic drawings.  

Still, what a beauty it is; the two guys who drew it must’ve had a ball.  Each square inch (approx.) is a different theme: Mordor (you can see tiny Frodo and Sam on the trail to Mt Doom), trucks representing NAFTA, Yeti territory, a mountain in the shape of an old man’s profile, the Virgin Mary.  

We’re parked about where I put the red circle, yet I can’t find the Roller Coaster trail or the labyrinth made of aluminum cans (has it been cleaned up?).  And the cemetery, which I know to be along Hello Mexico before Yeti intersects it, is not on the map at all.  

Still, wandering around is fun, and staring at this map is fun.  That the two seem oddly unconnected I will just accept as another quirky characteristic of this beautiful place.  

6 thoughts to “Mines, a Desert Cemetery, and One Awesome, Useless Map ”

  1. Love the way that sort of desert smells. Jealous that you may see Ocotillo in bloom. One of my favorites.

  2. There is supposed to be cool place in the mountains outside of Tucson which is very alpine-like, unlike Tuscon. I know you can camp there, but nothing about the road up. You should look into that while you are out that way.


    1. I learned recently that nomads who need to find each other outside of a campground send their coordinates. They’ll say, “I’m sending you my pin.” Cool, huh?