The gorgeous historic Plaza at Ajo, AZ

The gorgeous historic Plaza at Ajo, AZ

The columns of Ajo Plaza

The columns of Ajo Plaza

I hinted in the last post of fiddling & exploring in the nearby town of Ajo, AZ. This little desert town of ~4,000 souls is only ~10 miles from our boondocking spot and a mere 43 miles from the Mexican border. Its location is a convenient gateway for many folks driving south of the border and the first thing that hits you when you arrive into town are reams of billboards & shops selling Mexican insurance at almost every corner. If you didn’t stop to look, you’d probably think it didn’t offer much else!

But as with all things, the soul of a place is often much deeper than first impressions, and turns out Ajo (pronounced “ah-ho”) has quite a rich history.

As with many SW towns it all started with mining and in this spot copper was the #1 draw. The Arizona Mining & Trading Company started working the area in the 1850’s and mining continued here until as late as 1985. For many years Ajo was really a “company town” based entirely around the massive New Cornelia Pit. In 1917 John Greenway added a touch of class with the historic downtown Plaza, built in the style of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Since the collapse of the mining industry many parts of Ajo have languished and died, but the Plaza has been restored and the town is now seeing a bit of a revival from artistic communities and folks looking for a slower pace. Pretty cool, eh?

So what do you do in a place like this?

Cool mural at the Ajo Copper News

Cool mural at the Ajo Copper News

The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Ajo

The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Ajo

Fiddling away!

More fiddlin’!

Paul peers into the massive Cornelia Pit Mine

Paul peers into the massive Cornelia Mine pit

For the Artistic Lot -> You can put on your floppy hat & stilettos and saunter down to the plaza for a coffee at the Oasis Cafe, 1920’s style. Follow this with a walk around town to admire the creative town murals, the pretty churches and check out the local artists community at Curley School.

For Lovers Of History -> If you have a penchant for history you can gaze over the massive pit up at the Cornelia Mine lookout and soak up some past at the Ajo Historical Society.

For The Nature Folks -> For those who love the outdoors nothing quite beats the 10-mile Scenic Drive around the back of the big mine, taking you through lush green desert and endless BLM roads. If that doesn’t satisfy you head on over to the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, the third largest refuge in the lower 48 covering a massive 860,000 acres just west of town.

For The RV Golfers -> If you’re a golf-nut how can you pass up 9 holes for a mere $9 at the Ajo Community Golf Course? You can even bring doggie along for the game as long as you keep her off the greens PLUS you get 3 days of FREE RV dry camping if you’re golfing or have a meal at the bar (otherwise it’s $3/night). What a DEAL!!

And what did we do? A sprinkling of the above plus we couldn’t pass up the Annual Fiddlers Contest at the golf course. For $5 a piece we enjoyed some honest-to-goodness old-time fiddling with around 60 of Ajo’s finest citizens. We might have been the youngest in the crowd (by 20 years or so), but the music was excellent and the folks mighty friendly. Entertainment at it’s best.

I have to admit that after only a week the soul of this place is seeping into me. This is exactly the kind of small-time desert town that I can grow to love. It’s quirky and you might have to dig below the surface to see it, but once you do there’s plenty to keep you coming back (those are always the best kind of relationships, aren’t they?). We have another week or so to go deeper, but I’m sure we won’t experience it all and this girl will leave us longing for the next time :)

P.S. Didn’t think I’d leave you without one of the stunner Arizona sunsets, did ya? This was just a few evenings ago and the colors were so ridiculously intense they completely overtook the RV. Absolutely no color manipulation on this shot. This is exactly what it looked like out of the camera. WOW!

There's really nothing more to say....

There’s really nothing more to say….

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52 Responses to Mining, Fiddling & Art – Ajo, AZ

  1. Mark says:

    Beautiful photos! Can’t wait to get on the road and see these first hand!!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Cheers. The sunsets have been pretty spectacular here. Had a few cloudy days recently with more air moisture (part of the reason this desert is so green), but sun is back today.

      Nina

  2. rand says:

    AHHH HOoe.. Love the name -“garlic” and the Mexican meal– garlic fried fish. Pescado ajo arriero.

  3. karen says:

    Stunning sunset. Really enjoy reading about your adventures. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Bob McQuade says:

    Sunset reflections on the side of the motorhome! Very artistic!

  5. Bob Martel says:

    Quite the find! Love that sunset.

  6. We took a liking to Ajo over the years as well. Again it is one of those small towns which has fallen on hard times but one has to look past those results. Like Olsen’s grocery store there. And that downtown Plaza just has a great natural charm. Library is in there. We met the fella who painted a lot of those murals. Mike (Wanderwolf) lives in Ajo & has a studio there. He was a wandering RV Blogger who landed in Ajo one day & never left again. Great area out around Darby Well Road with many choice boondocking sites. We have so many great memories of that whole area you are in right now. Great sunset on the rig:))

    • libertatemamo says:

      As usual you know all the good stuff, Al! Great info on the murals and the local artist who painted them. I’ll be going back into town to see if I can find more.

      Nina

  7. We never got into the town of Ajo when we boondocked for the few days out near you last year. We are looking forward to spending more time seeing the area next winter. Thanks for such a comprehensive tour of the town:) Sounds like you are soaking it all in…enjoy the rest of your time.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I think you’d like this area Pam. Not a ton of hiking around, but lots of exploring and off-roading opportunities. If we had a true 4WD we’d go off and explore more of the massive Wildlife Refuge west of town. Tons of isolated spots out there, but most of them require 4WD.

      Nina

      • We love to just go off and explore, fun! I love anything desert:)

        Is the Wildlife Preserve the Kofa Preserve? Al, from the Bayfield Bunch, has been doing several awesome Jeep trips and small exploring hikes. I’ve been Pinning them for next winter.

  8. We had a wonderful time in Ajo.
    The reflection of the sunset is absolutely gorgeous!

    • libertatemamo says:

      We’re really enjoying it too. Quite an interesting and varied little community. I can see this becoming a regular stop for us in our SW travels.

      Nina

  9. Betty -Shea says:

    Hi! I had forgotten about Li’l old Ajo….
    Goin’back….Thank you!

    • libertatemamo says:

      We had actually planned to come here for years, but never made it. So happy we finally get to experience this area!

      Nina

  10. Awesome read and one of the greatest sunset shots ever! Thank you.

  11. Jodee says:

    Ajo is definitely on our list! Your review is just enough to peak the interest and leave us wanting even more, more, more. Several years ago a few of my retired aunts and uncles bought some property in Ajo and built hay-bale homes. They have all moved on but they told great stories about the area and “those artist kids” who were going to “save the little town.”
    The sunset shot? Just Wow!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Hay bale homes…how interesting!! And definitely very artistic in it’s own way. Seems the artists community is really thriving here. There are still lots of older (and sadly neglected) areas in Ajo, but the vibe is good and I sense the town is making a turn-around.

      Nina

  12. Brenda says:

    Interesting little town, it’s great that you look beyond the surface. Love the mural shot and the sunset shots – beautiful.
    Brenda

  13. Marshall says:

    Your sunset shot is just pure art!

  14. Rowanova says:

    Beautiful pics, especially that sunset, just amazing.
    I love the shunpiker’s approach to travels and explorations. These are the hidden gems to many people rush on past, never knowing what they’ve missed.
    Thanks for sharing another RVing gemstone.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Totally agreed. We definitely enjoy a slower pace of RVing…at least a week at each spot if we can, with smaller drives In-between. So much to enjoy if you just slow down and smell the roses :)

      Nina

  15. Lee and Shelia says:

    Oh My Goodness that Sunset shot is AWESOME….. Ever think about making $$$$$$ with your photography. You could supplement Paul… LoL…..

    Thanks so much….

    • libertatemamo says:

      LOL..Sadly the market for landscape photography is a very slim one. You either gotta be very lucky, or very famous…or preferably both before you see anything more than a few cents a shot. You never know what might happen of course (maybe I’ll be “adopted” by a random millionaire who just happens to love RVing?), but I think Paul will be supporting us for a while longer :)

      Nina

  16. Dan says:

    Amazing sunset. You’re camera must still be recovering from over stimulation. Neat town and that open pit mine reminds me of the one in Yerington, NV. You guys find the neatest places to hang out.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I think I must have taken 40 shots of that sunset. It just kept wow-ing me the whole time! Not often the colors get so intense.

      Nina

  17. Sherry says:

    Sign me up for the Wildlife Refuge and the sunset which is just jaw dropping. Although I’m sorry to hear about the need for 4WD in the WR since I don’t have it. Maybe I’ll just go on the mural hunt, that sounds like great fun. I remember Al’s interesting posts about the area, so glad to read yours.

    • libertatemamo says:

      There is one road you can do in the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge with 2WD (possibly bits of others too) plus they do have a lovely visitor center in Ajo, but the remainder of the roads are rough and remote. It’s an enormous refuge!!

      Nina

  18. Hey Nina did you hear from anybody if there was any turquoise in the BLM around the copper pit area? According to the books the desert around copper mines will have turquoise as a “float” in those areas. Just a piece here and there scattered across the desert floor. Sounds like a great little town.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I had not heard that, but I admit I didn’t ask either. How interesting! The entire pit is actually quite colorful. Streaks of purple, blue, orange…and although copper was the main metal they did mine small amounts of other stuff such as Molybdinum, Gold, Silver, Zinc and gemstones. Wouldn’t be surprised if there was turquoise around here too.

      Nina

  19. Terry M says:

    Ah yes! I love it when an image comes out perfect right out of the camera! We strive to accomplish this with every image but it is rare enough that we get excited when it actually occurs. Nice, nice, nice!

    • libertatemamo says:

      I do, in general, try to do as little processing as possible to my pics (except when I play with black/white and selective color), but it’s always great when a pic needs nothing at all!

      Nina

  20. Lynda says:

    We felt the same way about Ajo, and are looking forward to returning. There is so much more to the town than a “drive-thru” offers. When I was researching the name I found Ajo could also refer to “o-oho”, the Tohono O’odam word for paint….

    • libertatemamo says:

      Nice piece of history there, Lynda. Thanks! We’ve not seen a ton of the Native American Indian History of the area, although we did find a lovely mural downtown covering information about segregation during the mining years and some of the hardships they encountered. Possibly the Ajo Historical Society has more info, but we haven’t made it there yet. I would like to learn more.

      Nina

  21. Jil mohr says:

    Glad you found the artists community…we like that twn a lot!

  22. Caryl Kirk says:

    Hi Nina: just a little update….the home is a week on the market and I truly believe that all things are coming together for the many things that have to to make this happen. I still think we probably have six more months still but with each day we are just a little closer!

    I think the US Dept of Commerce should hire you (maybe they already have ;))!! You do such a wonderful job (and such a service) for small towns! We can hardly wait to start our own “Dept of Commerce” soon…excellent article!

  23. LuAnn says:

    Having lived in AZ for 20+ years you would think I would know more about what there is to do in Ajo but it seems it took a gal from Denmark to shine the light on this little town. :) That is one fabulous sunset. AZ has some of the best! :)

    • libertatemamo says:

      I have to admit I was quite surprised at much this place had to offer. A culturally rich and diverse town!

      Nina

  24. Rattlesnake Joe says:

    I suppose with 4,000 population that there is a police presence there? What with the Mexican drug Cartel making the border so lawless I decided not to go there to Boondock. Better safe than sorry I figured. I know RV Sue Boondocked there and got away with it only because of her two vicious dogs protecting her :) Poncho the great rascal General maybe was there back in the old days. Did you know he raided a town in New Mexico? Yep and we sent the U.S. Army into Mexico to teach him a lesson and we never even saw his dust. Now days it seems to risky go below Hwy 8 just like long ago. What next I wonder…Apache Uprising?

    • libertatemamo says:

      Honestly I have to admit I don’t worry too much about these things. We have 700 border patrol guys just up the road as well as helicopters buzzing the RV on a regular basis. I guess it’ll keep some folks away, but we feel quite comfortable. Anyway I have my two killer cats :)

      Nina

  25. […] chose this spot as a base to explore Ajo (~10 miles away) and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (~4 miles from entrance) and it turned out […]

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