Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Ajo, Southern Arizona's Desert Glamor Capital
The odd attraction we both shared for beat, busted, perhaps dreary or at least out of the way and unlikely places. Small towns, almost exclusively, with corny bowling alleys, broken-hearted bars, a lot of local businesses, oddball old buildings, cheapass motels and desolate but beautiful surroundings. The more local history and the stranger the tales (and for me, the rarer the cacti) the better. A strange place with plenty of rough charm that fits the bill is Ajo, Az.
Ajo used to be a copper mining boomtown, and features an unbelievably huge copper strip mine just south of town on the way to Why, AZ. Here is the copper mine as seen from space:
and here's a view of both the mine and the town, just for scale:
We first stayed in Ajo after our first trip to Baja, on New Year's Eve 2006/2007. That year, we were on our way back to one of the worst snowstorms in Santa Fe history and returned to more than 3 feet of snow still on the ground.
La Siesta Motel rents "cabins," which are actually small mobile homes. Pure small town Arizona. The walk up the street that runs right past La Siesta puts you in fairly pristine low Sonoran Desert right away, with sunsets and stars and Gambel's quail and the whole desert scene.
The Border Patrol guy at the checkpoint north of Ajo asked us, on our way home, why we were in Ajo. I told him we had been there on vacation. He was flabbergasted. "You went to Ajo on vacation?" he said. "Yeah, yes we did."
On the way over, from Madera Canyon, we took a detour up Ruby Road and I finally got to see some Coryphantha recurvata in Arizona, up in the rocky hills. C. recurvata is more common down in the Mexican hills south of Arizona, and this small population in Santa Cruz County is the extent of the species' foothold in the US.
Another beautiful and rare desert plant to be found in this area is Agave parviflora.
One of the days in Ajo, I met a cactus friend of mine from Tucson over in Sells, AZ and we traveled to some habitat south of there to look for Mammillaria mainiae and other stuff. Mammillaria mainiae is a beautiful Mammillaria, not very common in AZ, and, like Coryphantha recurvata, more common in some habitats down in Mexico. Just north of Moctezuma, for example.
Back up in Ajo, I was looking for the local population of Echinomastus erectocentrus ssp. acunensis, to no avail. But I did see some great local plants.
Echinocereus nicholii is very common here:
Some desert scenes from the Ajo area:
A brief stop at the mining museum was cool. The museums in some of these small towns can be fairly amazing. I didn't take very many pictures.
Not sure who this mine worker was or why he rated a portrait.
I assume this intersection has nothing to do with *that* Elliott Schwartz.
The last adventure of the trip was a brief dip down into Sonoyta, Sonora, to visit the fairly robust population of Echinomastus erectocentrus acunensis down there, catching a great many in flower.
A spectacular finish to a wild week. It was rough going back to Tempe.