Sorry we are experiencing system issues. Please try again.
Ajo is in Southern Arizona. It is in Pima County. The town is located on State Highway 85, almost directly west of Tucson and just 43 miles from the Mexican border. You can get to Ajo from Tucson by taking State Highway 86 west out of town. Continue on State Highway 86 to the town of Why, where you will travel on State Highway 85 right into Ajo. If you are coming from Phoenix, you will take Interstate 10 west out of town. When you reach the turn for State Highway 85 take it and head south. You will continue on State Highway 85 until you come to Ajo. It is approximately 100 miles south of Phoenix.
Ajo is a small, unincorporated town surrounded by beautiful desert landscapes. It began as a mining town in the early 1900s. Today Ajo’s population is 2,900. The town sits an elevation of 1,747 feet. The climate is moderate. There is low humidity, blue skies, and pure air. The average temperatures range from 84 degrees to 59 degrees. There is lots of natural beauty to take in around Ajo. Ajo is built around a beautiful park plaza with towering palm trees and year-round greenery. At the end of your day in Ajo, you will be enchanted by the magnificent sunsets that spread out over the town.
You will discover two terrific attractions in and around Ajo. The Ajo Historical Museum is a great spot to go to learn more about the history of this mining town. The museum also has unique displays for you to see. Another attraction, which is just a short drive away from Ajo is Rocky Point, Mexico. Rocky Point is a popular beach town by the Gulf of Mexico. There are lots of fun activities to participate in when you are visiting this small Mexican town.
There several outdoor activities you will enjoy seeing when visiting Ajo. The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is a terrific place to see the protected bighorn sheep. This land protects much other wildlife and includes mountains and valleys. The Organ Pipe National Monument serves as a habitat for many plants and wildlife in the Sonoran Desert. Visitors will also see a great number of Organ Pipe cacti growing in the monument.
Ajo Historical Museum
The Ajo Historical Museum gives visitors an opportunity to see Ajo’s beginnings. The museum is located in the old Saint Catherine’s Indian Mission. The museum was developed in 1975, in response to the need to preserve the treasures of Ajo’s past.
The museum consists of two main rooms. One room is in honor of General John C. Greenway, who was instrumental in getting Ajo on the map. Greenway was a Rough Rider and created the mine in town. He was also selected as the first citizen in Arizona to be represented by a statue in the Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol Building. At the museum, you will see photos and artifacts that retell the story of the town’s past.
The second room is sectioned off by topic, ranging from mining and cowboys to Native Indians. Visitors will see gemstones, mineral samples, a packsaddle, spurs, Navajo blankets and arrow points. There is a special spot in the museum that houses a variety of United States flags, which is very unique.
The Ajo Historical Museum has a gift shop for you to browse through during your visit.
The Ajo Historical Museum is open every day during the winter, from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Summer hours are by appointment only. If you have any questions about the museum, you may call 520-387-7105.
The museum is located in the town of Ajo at 161 Mission Street. You can get to the museum from State Highway 85, by turning right onto LaMina and traveling on to Indian Village Road. Turn right on Indian Village Road and go past the Mine Overlook. When you hit a fork in the road, take the unpaved road called Mission Street and continue on to the museum.
The Ajo Historical Museum is a great place to stop and learn more about this small town.
A Spanish mine was developed near Ajo in 1750, called the “Old Bat Hole”. The mineshaft was on a sixty-degree angle and about every ten feet a layer of mesquite logs four feet long and three feet wide was placed to serve as rest stations for the men carrying the ore. The miners had rawhide buckets strapped to their backs to carry up the rock. Unfortunately, it was abandoned due to Indian raids.
Then in 1847, the first American set up his mine in the Ajo area. Tom Childs came upon a deserted mine and found high-grade native copper. Ajo became the first copper mine in Arizona. Then the Ajo Copper Company organized in 1854. During this time, pack mules carried the ore to Yuma, where it was shipped down the Colorado River. Then it was sent on by boat around the Cape Horn to Swansea, Wales for smelting.
However, Ajo did not flourish. The mining town remained relatively unnoticed, until the beginning of the 1900s. The reason for its sudden popularity was the development of new ore-refining techniques, which made mining in Ajo much easier and more profitable.
One of the first companies in Ajo was the New Cornelia Copper Company. John Campbell Greenway, who named the company after his wife in 1917, started the company. The town began to prosper. A downtown plaza was built in 1917. The plaza reveals the Spanish architecture that has influenced the town, due to its proximity to the Mexican border.
Then in 1931, the company was sold to Phelps Dodge. The company had over 1,000 men working in the mine, until 1986 when it closed down. Phelps Dodge sold many of its homes in town to retirees. Today you will find the town is a perfect retirement spot.
As for the name of the town, it is hard to pinpoint. Some say it is from the Spanish word garlic, which Mexican miners found in the area. Others say it came from the Papago Indian word for paint because this was the area the Indians collected copper minerals to make the paint for their bodies.
Things to Do
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge covers 860,000 acres of beautiful desert land. The name comes from the Spanish word for blackhead, referring to the black lava granite peak within the refuge. The refuge is the third largest refuge in the contiguous 48 states and is the largest designated wilderness area in the contiguous 48 states. It was created in 1939, for the conservation and development of natural wildlife resources and to protect endangered wildlife. The refuge has a 56-mile common border with Mexico.
The land inside the refuge is mountainous and includes valleys, sand dunes, and lava flows. The area has a wide variety of plant life. There are saguaro, creosote, ocotillo, and ironwood. This is amazing because the area’s annual rainfall averages about 9 inches in the eastern section of the refuge; it dwindles to 3 inches on the western side. There are places within the refuge that can go an entire year without a single drop of rain.
The refuge protects endangered desert bighorn sheep, an endangered lesser long-nosed bat and a herd of pronghorn antelopes. Visitors might also see kangaroo rats, pocket gophers, jackrabbits, bobcat, desert tortoise, kit fox, Gila monster, sidewinder snakes and lizards. There are seasons when migratory birds pass through the refuge. During this time, you might see swallows, prairie falcons, and quail.
It is important to note that part of the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range airspace is located over the refuge. This requires visitors to obtain a permit before gaining passage into the wildlife refuge. Visitors may obtain a permit at the visitor center. When traveling through the refuge, it is recommended that a four-wheeled vehicle be used. Visitors are encouraged to come prepared for the desert drive. A summertime drive can be dangerous. The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge prohibits firearms and campfires are limited.
The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is open Monday through Friday 7:30 to 4:30 pm. There is no admission charge to the refuge. If you would like more information on the refuge, call 520-387-6483.
The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is located in the town of Ajo. It is at 1611 North Second Avenue. The signs for the refuge are evident from State Highway 85, which goes through town.
Rocky Point, Mexico
Rocky Point, Mexico is a popular destination for many Arizonans. The small Mexican town is just two hours from Ajo. The name dates back to 1826 when Lieutenant Robert William Hale Hardy of the British Royal Fleet was sailing by the coast searching for pearls. He named the point Rocky Point. The name was then on marine maps. Then in 1930, the President of Mexico changed it to Puerto Punta Penasco (Port Rocky Point). Later on, Americans dropped the “Port” from its name.
Rocky Point began as a small fishing village and has grown to a seaside resort area. Here you can bask in the sun and relax. Many people rent small cabins, camp or stay in hotels. Some people have vacation homes by the beach. Visitors also have the opportunity to participate in numerous activities. You can choose from ATV riding, fishing, jet-skiing, water biking, scuba diving, snorkeling, and parasailing. All of these exciting activities are located in a great spot along the Gulf of Mexico.
You can get to Rocky Point from Ajo by taking State Highway 85 south out of town and continue past the small town of Why. You will travel past the Organ Pipe National Monument and on to the border. You will arrive at the small border town of Lukeville, Arizona. Here you will cross into the town of Sonoita, Mexico. Once you cross the border, you may be flagged through or you may be asked to pull over for a search. A word to the wise: Be polite and courteous. Most importantly do not bring a firearm, it will end your trip and start your troubles. As long as you are traveling just to Rocky Point, you will not need a passport or visa. When you have crossed the border head south, until you come to a three-way intersection. Stay to the left toward Caborca. Then a block later, you will come to a “Y” in the road. Keep to the right of the “Y”. Then continue on to Rocky Point. The road between Sonoita and Rocky Point is about 50 miles long. It would be best not to travel this road at night, due to the livestock in the area.
Rocky Point is a fun place to soak in the surf and sun.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a wonderful place to take in nature. The National Monument contains 516 square miles of undisturbed desert. One of the unique aspects of the monument is the spectacular stand of organ pipe cactus. These plants are rarely found in the United States, yet you will find lots of them growing naturally here in the Sonoran Desert. Organ pipe cactus got its name, due to its shape. Its dozens of tubular arms branch from the main stem at the ground and grow straight up for 20 or more feet forming a cluster of perpendicular pipes that resemble an organ.
It is remarkable to see that with extreme temperatures and little rainfall, plant life still grows. The area has palo verde, ironwood, cholla, ocotillo and saguaro growing profusely. There is more than just plant life at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, you will see a variety of reptiles, mammals and more than 275 different species of birds.
You can see the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument by taking a scenic drive. The monument offers two drives on graded winding dirt roads. One drive is a 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive, which is takes you along the foothills of the Ajo Mountains. You will see gorgeous desert sights and majestic organ pipe cactus stands. This drive takes approximately 2 hours. The other drive is the 53-mile Puerto Blanco Drive, which circles the Puerto Blanco Mountains. You will see marvelous Sonoran Desert vistas including saguaros, organ pipe cactus and elephant trees. This drive takes approximately half a day.
Visitors need to go to the Visitor Center before embarking on the trip. At the center, you will learn of the driving conditions for the day and guidebooks are available. The roads are sometimes closed due to rain, so it is advisable to call before coming out to the monument. No recreational vehicles over 25 feet or trailers are allowed on the roads. It is important to set out on the drive prepared. It is suggested that you carry emergency tools, drinking water and additional water for your vehicle. Visitors are reminded not to drive off the designated road. There are picnic areas along the drive that are ideal for taking in the views.
The Visitor Center also has exhibits on the natural history of the area, including wildlife and plants. There is also a 15-minute slide show that is offered every half hour describing the monument. Many visitors like to go on one of the many self-guided interpretive trails that surround the campgrounds and center. Hiking is best during the months of October through April. During these months, the temperature is on the cool side. You will find a variety of hiking trails depending on your ability at the monument.
The campgrounds are found about a mile and a half from the Visitor Center. The grounds have water, restrooms, grills, tables and a dump station. There are no hookups available. The campgrounds cost $8.00 per night. The primitive campgrounds are available with a permit issued at the Visitor Center.
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is open everyday from 8:00 to 5:00 pm, except on Christmas. Admission to the monument is $4.00 per vehicle. If you would like more information on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument you may call, 520-387-6849.
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is located just 34 miles south of Ajo. You may get to the Visitor Center from Ajo by taking State Highway 85 south out of town. When you cross into the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, continue on into the monument for approximately 17 miles. You will come upon the sign for the Visitor Center. The monument is 140 miles south of Phoenix and 145 miles west of Tucson.