February 6, 2013

Where is Ajo? What is Ajo?

Ajo (the Spanish word for garlic and pronounced Ah-hoe ) is a small town in southern Arizona, about 45 minutes from the Mexican border. A former copper mining boom town, Ajo is now a rather peaceful home to 3,500 retired folks, Border Patrol officers and their families, and a small community of artists.

Why the review of Ajo? Because that was the most recent trip Betty, Bailey, and I took in our RV. With the weather an absolutely perfect 70 degrees and plenty of sunshine, we decided to just pack up and go for two nights and three days last week. Those are two of the nicest things about a satisfying retirement: no schedule so set it can't be broken, and an RV sitting in the side yard, gassed up and ready to go anywhere.

Ajo Plaza





By pure luck, the days we picked to visit Ajo were  busy. A Fiddler's Competition was underway at the Community Golf Course and an Artisan's Festival filled the town plaza. 


The weather was just right for visiting the gigantic, now-abandoned copper mine just south of town and peak inside the nearby Historical Museum.





 The citizens of Ajo have done something very special with a large, abandoned school complex just a few blocks from downtown. Known as the Curley School, this seven building, 8 acre complex is being converted into art studios and galleries, as well as loft apartments that are home to all sorts of artists. The conversion began officially 3 years ago and is well underway.












Just 6 miles from the Mexican border Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a place we have never visited. At 330,000 acres this massive park is full of hiking, biking, and driving trails. Over 28 different species of cacti are represented within the park. 

Ranger programs, campgrounds, and plenty of wide open spaces for RV dry camping or just enjoying the silence are available. Interestingly, because Organ Pipe Cactus are very sensitive to the cold, they are only found on some of the warmer, south-facing hills in the park.

Small Betty and Bailey with a large cactus


The third largest National Wildlife Refuge in the United States, Cabeza Prieta, is just north of Ajo. Over 90 percent of the area is off-limits to vehicles, helping to preserve the natural beauty of the park. Also, the refuge lies within the air space of a very active Air Force Range. In order to enter to have to sign a waiver in case a jet lands on your tent. But, on the plus side, camping is free, although potentially a little noisy!

Betty and I were pleasantly surprised by Ajo. While a large portion of the commercial section is too full of empty storefronts, the effects at the Curley School, the presence of the Border Patrol headquarters for this area just south of town, and the continuing downtown plaza redevelopment bode well for the town's future.

The RV park was quiet with an easy pull-through spot for R.T. Away from city lights the night time sky was so full of stars that were so bright I felt as if I was at a planetarium. It was breathtaking. The stars seemed so close I thought I could touch them. 

We tried something new this trip: using a mini slow cooker to prepare a pot roast dinner. We put the crock pot inside the kitchen sink and let it cook all the way to Ajo. By dinner time the tremendous smells let us know everything was ready.

So, a perfect getaway. The total cost was $170, of which 65% went to gas. A satisfying retirement can be built on a little money and a lot of freedom, even in a place with a funny name like Ajo.



22 comments:

  1. I would love to see the night sky there. Sounds like a great little getaway!
    b

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    1. It is impossible to capture the grandeur of the night sky in words, and a picture never does it justice either. Without city lights the sky is an absolute masterpiece.

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  2. Sounds like a great visit! Thanks for sharing

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    1. It is fun to find a place you haven't been before and see what happens.

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  3. Thanks for the article, especially the pictures. I lived in Ajo many years ago and taught for one year in Curley. I'm so glad its being used for something else instead of sitting empty like so many buildings in our small towns.

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    1. While we were in town last weekend a few more artists were moving their supplies into the school and another family was moving into one of the apartments out back.

      Ajo has a long way to go to be back on its feet - I counted only 4 open restaurants. But, the Curley School is an important use of a major community resource.

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  4. Ah, Bisbee has long been on my must-see list and now Ajo, which I've only recently heard of through another RV blog. How long did it take you to get there, Bob?

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    1. Ajo is 3 hours from our home at the Scottsdale/North Phoenix border. It is about 40 minutes south of Gila Bend, another community that has just about died, but is seeing a slow rebirth. One of the largest solar panel facilities in the world is being built outside of town. That will go a long way to making the main street look less like a ghost town.

      Bisbee is in a whole different league. It is healthy with plenty of amenities and things to do. Bisbee is a town Betty and I considered moving to several years ago but didn't want to be 4 hours away from our kids. I like Bisbee a lot.

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  5. We need only look around us to find those special places to visit. Thanks for the reminder, and a good story.

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    1. We don't have to travel much farthr than our own neighborhood to find something interesting. Thanks, Dick.

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  6. Did the copper mine really look like that with the different colors? That's amazing. I love your travel posts.

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    1. Yes, those were the true colors. I brightened them slightly with Photo Shop but old copper mines are usually quite colorful as the copper oxidizes. The green water at the bottom and bands of green copper around the top really sparkle when the sun is out.

      Betty and I will be RVing through New Mexico and parts of western Texas for almost the entire month of April. That should produce lots of photo-filled blogs!

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  7. Sounds like an interesting day trip as well.

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    1. It could be done in a long day from either Phoenix or Tuscon (Route 86). There is no motel in Ajo that I'd agree to spend the night so a day trip makes sense.

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  8. So enjoying watching the two of you get your RV legs. We enjoy it so much, it's wonderful to see others embrace it too. We're planning to do a month in New Mexico in April or May of next year, and I'll look forward to reading about your adventures since you'll get there first. We're thinking Saguro Nat Park/Tucson, Alburqurque, Santa Fe, Taos, Grand Canyon, Sedona, home.

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    1. That sounds like a wonderful trip...and quite different from Thailand!

      We are looking at a trip from Phoenix to El Paso, down to Big Bend National Park, on to San Antonio, then north to Austin, Amarillo, and home through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Flagstaff. Whew!

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    2. That sounds like a wonderful trip...and quite different from Thailand!

      We are looking at a trip from Phoenix to El Paso, down to Big Bend National Park, on to San Antonio, then north to Austin, Amarillo, and home through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Flagstaff. Whew!

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  9. A place to put on the itinerary for my next trip to AZ. But ... does it smell?

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    1. The "garlic" reference was actually a Spanish mispronunciation of a Native American word that ended up sounding like the word for garlic..but there is no garlic in the area except in people's kitchens!

      In another story, the name can also mean "paint." Who knows?

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  10. Isn't Big Bend one of the premier places to experience the vast collection of migratory bird life? Bob, you may be right in time for the ornithological show.

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    1. I don't know, but I'll certainly do some research before going. We plan on being in the park for 3 or 4 days..plenty of time to check it out.

      W like to go to Patagonia, AZ. That is a prime birding area.

      Thanks, Michael.

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