We Follow the El Camino Del Diablo or Devil’s Highway From Ajo To Yuma
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On our way south towards Baja we get a wild hair and make a last minute decision and divert to Ajo, AZ.
Ajo Arizona is a favorite of ours and over the years we have visited here several times… remember here
We have decided to drive the El Camino Del Diablo or Devil’s Hwy, a historic 130 mile route across the Sonoran desert. In past years we were traveling in a low clearance non 4×4 RV but had always dreamed of following this overland trail.
With the completion of our new adventure rig we call the FARTHER, it is now possible for us to tackle some of the more challenging off road routes located throughout the Southwest US and Baja Mexico.
Beginning in 1540 conquistadors, missionaries, prospectors, traders and drug smugglers have traversed this route, between Mexico and California.
The original El Camino Del Diablo was an important transportation route between Yuma and Sonoyta, Mexico. But for centuries it has been a notorious route along which people routinely died mainly due to its extreme nature.
So many have perished along this route during the “hot as hell” extremes it eventually became known as the Devil’s Highway. Historians believe there may been more than 2,000 fatalities in the last half of the 19th century alone.
The history of death surrounding this route suggests that it would be risky for us to attempt but with today’s technologies and a set of new tires it is seems a little less intimidating.
Historically temperatures surpassed 115 degrees and lately with climate change temps have reached even higher, ground temperatures can reach 180 degrees.
In the Tinajas Altas Mountains are natural hidden water cisterns or tinajas, tucked out of sight in rocky clefts.
In the past locating these tinajas was paramount to a successful journey along this life and death trail. Graves sites of previous travelers, including those of entire families, can still be seen near the road.
The tragic story of the Yuma 14, documented in “The Devil’s Highway” by Luis Alberto Urrea, which recounts the doomed journey of 26 Mexicans lost in this desert in 2001, over half of whom died of dehydration and exposure.
After spending the night in front of our friend’s Ajo home we reprovision the next morning and top off our water tank, fuel tanks and extra fuel jugs.
The route passes through the southern edges of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, and the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force bombing Range.
Permits are required as sections of the route pass through a live bombing range and unexploded ordinance can be found on either side of the road.
Knowing its history and all the dangers of following this historic route and with the recommendation to not travel it alone, we set off.
To enjoy this very special and varied landscape it should take a minimum of 3-4 days to cover the 130 miles of overlanding to Yuma.
At one point the route passes to within 1/2 mile of the US/Mexico border. Distant views of the border wall remind us of the many migrants that are headed north in search of a better life.
Locals say the newer sections of wall do very little to deter the northbound passage of people. The saying goes “if you build a 30’ wall they will bring a 31’ ladder”.
Traveling mostly at night when it is cooler migrants find shelter in caves and in the shade of large rocks during the hot part of the day. As we hike up boulder filled canyons for fun we come across empty water bottles, food cans and discarded clothing where many have taken refuge.
Unfortunately the new border wall cuts through the middle of some of the most pristine sections of the Sonoran desert environment.
It directly disrupts the migration patterns of many of the larger desert wildlife species that can’t climb a ladder.
There are several designated campgrounds along the way. But they are basically just wide areas with picnic tables and no other facilities.
Strategically located every 10 miles or so are solar powered safety beacons or “panic poles”. A slowly flashing light makes it easy to find the pole at night and once a button is pushed will alert the border patrol to any lost or dehydrated folks who may be wandering through the desert.
Road conditions vary from a smooth sandy surface to heavy washboard, to rough rocky volcanic areas and dense overhanging vegetation. We now have what the locals call “Sonoran pin striping” along the sides of our rig.
A 4×4 high clearance vehicle is recommended. We did use 4×4 in several areas due to deep sand. Do not drive this road if it has rained recently, the road will turn into a very sticky deep gumbo in several low lying dry lakes and will become impassible.
It is good practice to deflate your tires somewhat when driving this road. It will help to distribute the weight of your vehicle in deep sand, improve your ride over rough terrain and reduce the risk of getting stuck.
We spend 4 days slowly driving the 130 miles of trail. We stop often to let Ruby run wild and to take photos of the amazing landscape.
The only other people we encounter in four days were a couple of Border Patrol trucks at the eastern end of the trail and a lone cyclist about half way across.
Due to safety concerns it is suggested that you camp in the “official” campsites but we decide to find spots away from the road that are far more spectacular.
We explore a couple of abandoned ranches and a few mud brick building remnants leftover from the days when the trail was routinely used. When construction of the Southern Pacfic Railroad reached Yuma in 1877 use of the trail dropped significantly.
The elegant Elephant trees were lush with growth.
On our last night on the trail we camped at the foot of the Tinajas Altas Mts.
Parked at the base of these very scenic rock formations our campfire light reflected off the rock walls as we thought about all the thousands of travelers that had come before us.
Our last morning on the road we found the hidden Tinajas tanks and the many hand chiseled signatures in the surrounding cliffs
During our wanderings around the Tinajas Altas Mts we find many shallow mortar holes used by Native peoples for grinding bean pods and seeds into edible meal.
Moon rise at our last camp
This adventure was far more then we expected. Travel on this historic trail enlightened us as to the spectacular beauty of the Sonoran Desert and to the intense hardships our ancestors had to endure to get to California and the current challenges today’s northbound migrants are up against.
Thanks for following the dogs, stay tuned for more adventures.
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17 thoughts on “130 Miles Of Hell”
I love following your adventures. My wife and I have done a few month long 4×4 trips in the Baja. Your younger years were part of the reason I thought of going here. How is Farther doing?
Hi Tom glad your following our adventures!
We are just now finishing up a little over 3 months on this beautiful peninsula. The Farther has taken us too many remote places over the last three winters. It’s not a jeep at 26,000 pounds but it will traverse deep sand, steep grades and fairly deep water crossings. Its our home and we spend about 8 months living in it each winter so we don’t get too crazy with it.
In 2025 we will ship it to South America for more fun. Glad we helped inspire you guys to travel Baja, its a great place!!
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This is wonderful; glad you had no troubles. What was the high/low temp as you crossed?
Thanks Mary Ann, it was some of the more remote driving we have done in the Southwest. Temps were in the high 70’s during the day and high 40’s at night, actually just right for us Alaskans!!
That’s was quite an beautiful adventure, glad you made it through with no problems
Thanks Ann, It was great to see that part of the Sonoran desert, but sad to see what northbound migrants are up against.
Great video! It sure shows how beautiful the world can be. Ruby definitely looks like she is on top of her duties as happiness director!
Thanks for the kind words Ron. We know it’s been a very hard winter for you guys, our hearts go out to you both, and yes Ruby makes us smile everyday.
WONDERFUL scenery of the Sonoran Desert! And LOVED that video of Ruby dancing around Otis. Otis looks great; I think traveling agrees with him. As for Ruby, she is indeed joyful and fun to watch. Can’t wait to see her in person again. Thanks for sharing this. It looks like it was an inspired decision to travel this route.
Thanks Kay Lynn, yes Ruby loves to travel with her cat even though he’s a little less enthused at 16 years old. He is actually doing quite well and loves wandering the desert. We look forward to visiting guys as we migrate north but…its going to be a while yet 🙂 stay warm!
Thanks Chris, Denise does a fine job filming the countryside, hope you all are doing well.
Always great to see your adventures! I love it!
We are glad you follow the dogs Patti ! Hope you are doing well.
Incredible. Love your adventures!