Posted by: Beemer Bob | February 29, 2012

El Camino Del Diablo


El Camino Del Diablo

I recently completed a short adventure. I know it seems it has been a while, and no I have not died and yes I am still wandering around on motorcycles of sorts getting into mischief, it’s just that for the past few months it’s been local short trips.

I was going to return to Baja but instead, I decided to go ride the El Camino Del Diablo in southern Arizona.

El Camino Del Diablo is Spanish for “Highway of the Devil”. This route earned its name by taking the lives of travelers without mercy. Even before Columbus discovered America, this passage across barren desert lands was luring travelers into its clutches and never letting go.

In 1540, eighty years before the mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, Spanish explorers traveled the Highway of the Devil. During the 1690s, it was being used by those traveling between missions. By 1800, settlers were using it as a shortcut to connect points in Mexico to points in California. During the 49ers fold rush, would be prospectors charged into its summer heat in a dash for California riches. Many of them unprepared for what they called, a trip through hell. An estimated 400 graves soon lined the narrow dusty path.

El Camino Del Diablo, is pretty much unchanged and is one hundred plus miles off sandy, shady, single track trail that winds through the Sanorum desert zone of Arizona. Along its length, it travels through a National Wildlife Refuge, a National Park, within a mile of the international border with Mexico, and through the middle if a military live bombing range.

I completed this trip on Lyekka, my not-so-trusty oil leaking Russian Hack (a Russian motorcycle with a sidecar). I based my ride through El Camino out of Ajo, AZ and rather than spend several days trying to get there and risk breakdown with Lyekka, I opted to trailer to Ajo and then go explore on Lyekka
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***** Day 1 *****
*
Rather uneventful day. Just lots of driving.

Started off at first light.
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Very foggy morning.

Stayed that way for most of the morning which made traveling slow. By noon the fog had lifted and I was able to make better progress.

Traveling through west Texas is not an exciting time. I was determined to be out of Texas before the end of the day. Not for any logical reason, other than if you drive all day you should be in a different state. That is sometimes hard to do in Texas. I plugged on and finally passed into New Mexico about 5 that afternoon.

Keep on trucking.

I make it as far as a small town called Lordsville, NM. I remember once on a trip with Hap Hazard we stopped here and were excited to find a nice, inexpensive motel. It was dark when we checked in and did not notice the motel was right next to a busy train track. We did not get much sleep that night.

Anyway, I’m by myself so I don’t have anyone to split the cost of a motel and I’m too cheap to pay for a motel, so I park the truck in the lot of a Flying J truck stop.


I lay the passenger seat back, grab some pillows and a blankie and prepare to catch some shut eye.

But first, I’m not some country bumpkin without class. I travel prepared.

I pour myself a nice tall glass of merlot to sip while I relax and type this silliness on a keyboard about the size of a postage stamp.

G’nite Y’all

*
***** Day 2
*
I slept in the truck last night, although not well. A Honda is not big enough to lie down and as the night progressed, more and more trucks pulled in and parked right next to me with their loud diesel engines running all night. All this and it was quite cold.

Anyway, as soon as I could, I hit the road. Crossed into Arizona but did not get a picture. Trust me, I went to Arizona.

Near my destination town, I came upon this sign.

What do they mean? Like what is the alternative? Are they questioning the reason for the existence of senior citizens? Perhaps I should drive on VERY QUICKLY.

I later find out that the name of the town is Why. I ask a local why Why is named Why. I’m told why not Why.

Why not indeed.

I make it to my destination town of Ajo, AZ.

I check into my motel, the Copper Sands. I had made previous arrangements with them to allow me to park my truck and trailer there while I go play in the desert.

El Camino Del Diablo crosses the Cabeza Prieys National Wildlife Refuge and a portion of the Barry Goldwater Military Range. To do that, one has to go get a permit and sign a hold harmless statement in case the air force drops a bomb on you while you are in the test range. So I went to the appropriate office to get that taken care of.

Then my next issue was that an 8′ pole with a bright flag must be attached to your vehicle while on the trail. A good portion of the day was spent trying to find the flag setup, but everybody was sold out. The next town that “might” have these flags was an hour away. So instead, I went to the hardware store and made my own from wire ties, bailing wire and duct tape. This is my homemade safety flag attached to Lyekka.
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Since I will be traveling through a military firing range, I think the flag is required to aid in their target practice. A black motorcycle wound be too hard to see from a jet, so the flag makes more of a sport of it.

I enjoyed a nice lunch in the historic downtown. For a small town, they have a beautiful square.
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There were several more interesting buildings and museums that I wanted to explore, but then it started to rain so that plan got canceled. If I have time when I return from the desert, I want to explore this town more. From what little I saw, I was impressed.

In the morning I will meet up with a fellow Ural rider and we will begin the trail. I will be out of cell range for the next couple of days.

Tomorrow: El Camino Del Diablo

G’nite Y’all

*
***** Day 3
*
I met up with my new friend, Walt, at a downtown spot. We had breakfast together, then headed out on the trail. Walt was a very young 76 year old dude ready for adventure.

We begin our trip from Ajo cutting through a portion of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Walt was quite capable of riding at a brisk pace through the desert obstacles and it was a challenge to try and keep up with him. This guy can haul ass through the rugged terrain. His Ural, however, was encountering some various mechanical issues that necessitated several stops for some “adjustments”. First issue was the sidecar brakes were dragging.
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This section of the Mexican border is brutal for the illegal immigrants attempting to cross in to the U.S. This is a desolate desert where it is next to impossible to carry enough water to survive all the way through the desert. This issue brings up an emotional conflict. On one hand, I want strong border security but not to the point to allow those attempting to cross to perish in the desert. Sometimes, you can see blue flags in the distance such as this.

These flags marked locations of water.

Obviously the border patrol is watching these sites and the Mexicans realize this, but this at least offers the Mexicans the choice of being captured by the border security or perishing in the desert.

Some shots along the way.

Some of the trail is very rough and bouncy. The Urals have the suspension of a tank so the bumps were quite jarring. My tachometer broke loose of its mount and was just hanging by a connecting wire. I had to stop and snip the tachometer off and put it away. After traveling a bit further down the road, Walt had to perform a vasectomy on his oil temp gage that had broken loose of its mount. Next problem Walt had was some loose wires related to his ignition switch. We would be riding along and then his scooter would die. He finally found if he shook some of the wiring behind the headlight and some applies some Russian profanity, it would start again and we could continue for a while until offending wire shook lose again. Then Walt would repeat the same procedure of off we go.

The first historically significant spot we came across was the main house of the Bates Well Ranch. The Bates Well Ranch was one of the fifteen ranches and line camps in the Gray family cattle business in the Sonoran Desert country north of the US-Mexico border in Pima County, Arizona. Operating for nearly 60 years, the ranch is now part of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The Bates Well property represents a very complete and intact example of the frontier ranching pattern in Arizona typical of the Sonoran Desert during the first third of the twentieth century. The Gray family controlled essentially all ranching operations in the Organ Pipe National Monument area.

When we were here, there was a project going on to restore the building so we were not to get close or go inside. Some volunteers and archeologist were on site that we had the opportunity to visit with were looking for the secrets from the past that the building and it’s foundation would reveal.




Some of the folks there were intrigued by our odd looking vehicles and came to visit.

Moving on, we leave the National Park land and enter Cabeaz Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

While we may have been in a remote area, we were far from alone. We would encounter a Border Patrol Vehicle every hour or so. They would always want to talk to us and ask us were we were going, how long we would be in the desert and ask us what the hell were those things we were riding.

As we rode along, you could see these monitoring towers. I was informant that there contained some pretty sophisticated sensing equipment to detect movement so that border patrol could be alerted.

Every now and then, we would encounter one these locators.

The primary purpose of these was for an illegal immigrant to call for help if they were hurt or unable to survive the harsh desert anymore. The rescuer was the border security so if you were an illegal, you would be caught, but at least you would live to try and cross the border another day. Note that the instructions are not only in Spanish and English but also in native Indian. I later learned in a discussion with a native American that there are tribes in the area (north and south of the border) that have held on to their native language and not necessarily learned English or Spanish.

A lot of these kind of locators and water stations were as a result of a book written by Luis Urrea titled “Devils Highway”. In the not too distant past, border security was lax in this area because most illegals would die before the made it through the desert. Mr. Urrea did extensive research and tells the story of a group of men that attempted to cross the border through this deadliest region of the content in May of 2001.. Fathers, sons, brothers and strangers would enter a desert so harsh and desolate that even the Border Patrol was afraid to travel through it. For hundreds of years, men have tried to conquer this land, and for hundreds of years the desert has stolen their souls and swallowed their blood. Along the Devil’s Highway, days are so hot that dead bodies naturally mummyify almost immediately. And in that May, twenty-sex men went in.

Only twelve came back out.

The book, “Devil’s Highway” is considered a literary masterpiece and had been a finalist for the Pulitzer. I read it prior to embarking on this trip and although interesting, I found it hard to follow, but then again I’m not a literary kind of guy. But Mr. Urrea showed the world that these 14 men that died trying to cross where not just illegal immigrants but they were people looking for a better life. They were someone’s father, brother or son. Now the Border Patrol is very active in the area and serves as much of as a rescue operation as they do border security.

Every now and then, we would come across these

The Border Patrol will drag these tires behind their trucks to smooth the sand on the trail. The purpose was so that if someone tried to cross over, they would leave footprints. The Mexicans have learned to strap large sections of carpet on their shoes to hide their footprints, but a depression is still made although much more difficult to track.

Our next stop was a site called the Papago Well. Another of the wells used in the ranching operations years ago by the Grey family. This seemed like a good spot to stop for lunch and a break.

At the well site there was another of those locator beacons to signal for help

The well is still a working well but I would not drink the water myself. I noticed, however, that there was a fresh water spill. Had someone just travel through here that needed water?

As we continued our journey. We met up with a group of guys on dirt bikes that had come from the other direction.

Every time you ride with someone new, you lean something. Walt lives in Colorado but is a winter Arizonian and stays the winter at the Pipe Organ National Park as a camp host. As such, he is an experienced desert dweller, he knew to bring some shade.

This is the remains of some poor chap that attempted to cross the desert in the summer of 1871. Perhaps a prospector hoping to find gold in California.

A few random shots of the desert.


Next we encounter some nice folks coming from the other direction on 4x4s.

We visited for a while. You meet some of the nicest people in the middle of nowhere.

Walt and I rode through a pretty rough washed out section with deep ruts that made travel tenuous. I was too busy dodging 3 foot deep ruts that I forgot to stop and take a picture. So just trust me on this one.

Next we rode through the lava fields. “Back in the day” there were some active volcanoes that spewed lava rocks in this area.

The picture does not do the reality justice. Some of these rocks were quite large and sharp. I was sure glad I had installed a skid plate prior to this trip because I could hear rocks hitting on the plat frequently.

Near the end of the day, we reach Tule Well. Tule well was the most significant of the wells in the area. This site even boasted a nice adobe building.

We made camp for the night. Walt set up his tent, but for me I sow no reason to let a perfectly good adobe hut go to waste, so I made my camp inside. Walt, who I believe was jealous, kept telling me that the hut would be where the snakes go to get out of the sun. When that didn’t deter me, he then started ranting about all the scorpions. There was a table inside the hut, so I lay my sleeping bag on the table away from the snakes and scorpions.

Beautiful sunset in the desert.

Our campsite. Note that even though we are truly in the middle of nowhere, the national preserve folks had actually placed some picnic tables and grills at this site. Pretty nice set up all things considered.
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It was a long fun day and we are tired. I have a nice wholesome dinner of something dehydrated and went to sleep.

G’nite Y’all

*
***** Day 4
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The following photo did not come out well at all but the hut actually had a little fireplace in it. It gets pretty chilly in the desert at night (and it is February), so in the early morning a started a little fire in my hut.

When dawn broke, there had been very heavy dew almost like it had rained. Some of the dew was actually frozen. Walt complained of how cold he was during the night but I pointed out that me, the snakes and the scorpions had done quite well in our cozy heated hut.

Sunrise in the desert.




On a nearby hill, there was a monument of sorts that Walt and I hiked up to see what it was.

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This monument was actually erected by the boy scouts in honor of Major Frederic Burnham. In 1936, the Arizona boy scouts mounted a state-wide campaign to save the Bighorn sheep, leading to the creation of the Cabeza Prieta wildlife refuge that we are currently riding through. The Scouts first became interested in the sheep through the efforts of Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the noted conservationist who has been called the Father of Scouting.

Not only was the monument itself very interesting, the views from atop this hill were fantastic. The valleys were covered in fog making the scenery quite picturesque and the morning sun broke through.





Time to hit the trail and continue our journey.

This area is covered with Saguaro Cactus and the shapes are very interesting. These cacti would come in all interesting shapes. Much like one can look at clouds and imagine various shapes, the same can be done with the Saguaro.
Some have the traditional arms slightly raised
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This one had a surprised expression with its arms waiving high in excitement.

Younger ones (under 50 years) have no arms at all.

Some over 100 years old have many arms

Some were just relaxing

And some, like this poor fellow, seemed a bit embarrassed and felt the need to cover his “privates”
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Proceeding down the trail we left the wildlife refuge and entered the Barry Goldwater military range. The range, sadly, was much better maintained and so the challenge of the ride was lessoned. Walt and I picked up our pace, enjoyed the scenery and finally arrived at the sidecar rally site at Martinez lake north of Yuma.

The rally was an unofficial not-so-organized gathering of sidecars. The area selected was large and crowded as there were several other boating and fishing events going on at the same time. Walt and I were unable to find the main cluster of sidecars but we did find a group of about 5 or 6 Urals, so we set up out tents there.

Not much to talk about or take pictures. We ate dinner at a nearby restaurant, visited, told lies, and went to bed.

G’nite Y’all

*
***** Day 5
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Pretty good night last night, not near as cold or morning dew. I was able to snag this picture of one of the attendees as he left. This gentleman looked the part of a rider on a vintage rig, or was that a vintage rider on a rig?

Walt and friends start tearing into the wiring trying to discover his mystery connection problem.

My flag is beginning to look a little battle worn.

I hooked up with the two folks planning to do the west-to-east back through El Camino. They said they were not in a big rush, so I had a leisure breakfast at a nearby grill and took my time packing up and when ready to go, well … They brought a new meaning to the term “not in a rush” They had packed everything. I’m pretty sure there was a kitchen sink in there somewhere. Grill’s burners, ice chest, you name it. After they prepared their gourmet breakfast they loaded up.


By time they got everything loaded up, it was noon. I was afraid that they were then going to unload everything so they could make lunch. But at last we are on our way. By time we gassed up and they replenished their groceries, it was 1:30 in the afternoon.

I prefer for my culinary moments to be at home or at a restaurant but when I’m on a road trip, I prefer to be on the road. Each to their own.

An “oddity” about Arizona is that it is an open carry state. Both of my new riding mates were packing as well and one had a shotgun in the sidecar in addition to his sidearm. One carried his pistol strapped to the gas tank. Should we enter a war zone, I guess we are ready.

When you stop at a gas station, folks have their side arms on them. It looks like a scene out of the old west. As I understand it, so special permit is needed, no training classes, etc. If you meet the requirements to buy a gun, you just strap it on. I felt a little uncomfortable with all the open carry of guns by any Tom Dick and Harry.

Anyway, we finally get on our way. Opps, one of their ice chest came off. Had to recover that, re-strap it on and go back to town to get replace the ice and the broken eggs.

But at long last, we head on the trail. A portion of the route parallels one of Arizona’s famous irrigation canal systems.

We wondered if it was legal to put a small boat in one of these canals and putt up and down. It would be fun, but I did not bring a boat.

Along the trail

Came upon an old armored tack vehicle. I assume this was used in border security or as target practice by the Air Force?

Leaving the Goldwater range, we enter into the refuge area.




We plod along and make it to Tule Well again and make camp.

We visit, tell lies and generally conclude that I am a wimp because I refuse to carry a gun  I’ll leave it to you to guess as to how a 3 time combat veteran with a purple heart may feel about that assessment.
• Note, I am not opposed to carrying pepper spray, tazers or bear spray (of which I do), I just refuse to carry anything that has the potential of killing someone.
G’nite Y’all

*
***** Day 6
*
Pleasant weather for camping. The desert is so quiet at night it is almost unnerving. That quite was disturbed frequently by the Border Patrol making their rounds and they would investigate our camp site to see if all as legit. Sometimes they would ask if I was a U.S. citizen and I would respond with “Si Señor!”

No not really – just joking. Actually all they would do was shine their lights around our campsite, then head on. One of my fellow riders had a dog. It was a nice well behaved dog but in the middle of the night when I would get up to relieve myself, the dog would go into a barking fit. The dog was actually doing its job, but I have to go pee at night.

Some shots of our campsite in the early dawn.
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My Hammock

The weather was so nice that the other guys just put up cots and slept under the stars.

I had not mentioned this before, but the other two guys are cousins and have known each other all their lives. As a result, they were on a common wavelength. It was apparent that I was not on the same wavelength and we were getting on each other’s nerves. Our riding styles were different our interest were different. We were very different. I decided that if I wanted to maintain any kind of friendship with these two, I needed to split off go my own way.

So I decided to head over a trail called Christmas Pass and they continued the traditional El Camino route. This route would actually take a more northerly route and eventually loop back to the main highway (Hiway 8) east of Welton, AZ

Christmas Pass from Tule Well The Christmas Pass Trail sweeps up, following the line of the Mohawk Mountains and then crossing the wide, flat, sandy Mohawk Valley. I have no idea as to why it was named Christmas pass and was not able to find any information as to the origin of the name.

As you gradually gained altitude, the terrain become more desolate with less vegetation and the tall Saguaro cacti was no more. This would be the shorted route to civilatation for those trying to cross the desert on foot, but also the hardest to travel. Evidence of those that did not make it were plentiful.

Several unmarked graves dotted the landscape. Some were right along the trail, but most were in the distance requiring a short hike to find them.





The trail and terrain being less traveled are a little rougher.


As I wnt through the actual pass, the trail was very uneven requiring me to go very slow and work to keep the sidecar from tipping over.





I made it through the pass OK, but had to stop many times to let the clutch and engine cool down. Onve through, I enter the valley. Miles and miles of nothing.

Another locator station.

The wording on this one was a little different. It specifically warned you that you could not make the remaining section on foot. Call for help or die.

Once in the valley there was SAND! Lots and lots of sand. Sand so deem walking was difficult.

It seems that I was the first vehicle to cross through since the trail had been “drug”. The sand had been piled in the center of the road and was quite difficult to navigate through. This is a view of a section recently passed. Not how my track had almost been swallowed by the deep sand.

The flat landscape of the valley with the mountains in the background held their own kind of beauty.

As I left the refuge and reentered the Goldwater range, I took advantage of the shade area next to the sign to take a brake and have lunch.

As I pulled out of this area, I hit a very deep section of sand and Lyekka was gaining all she had to get through and once we emerged from the deepest of the sand, Lyekka let out a puff of smoke and informed me that I had just melted her clutch.

I let her cool down to see if that would help. But I pull the clutch lever and nuttin. I adjust the clutch linkage as much as possible, but nuttin. There just ain’t no clutch.

I’m able to get it in natural by pulling on the reverse lever. I start her and then cram the gearshift into first. For the first several times, once I got it in gear, the engine would stall. But at last, I am able to get her in gear and get some momentum so off I go. Once rolling, it’s easy enough to shift without a clutch. The technique is called speed shifting, but to use the word speed and Ural in the same sentence is conflicting.

Anyway, I make it to the highway and head to Ajo. When I don’t hav e the drag of the sand, it is not as difficult to force it into first gear (although not gracefully).

I arrive in Ajo. As I’m loading Lyekka on the trailer, I see one of my other riders from this morning. I go to visit and learn that one of their rigs broke down big time (final drive failure) and they had to leave it in the desert and hitch a ride with some ATV folks that passed by. I offer to use my 4 wheel drive truck and pull a trailer to go get there rig, but they declined. The rig is fairly new and still under warranty and said the dealer would go get it. Anyway I give them my cell number and tell them that I am spending the night in Ajo before I head home, so if they need me to help give me a call.

I’m tired, I find me a motel and go nighty-nite.

G’nite Y’all

*
***** Day 7
*
Good morning. I had a nice breakfast on the square in downtown Ajo (pronounced AH-hoh) . As I previously stated, Ajo was a surprisingly beautiful town. Surprising in the sense that it is a small town (population less than 4,000) in the middle of nowhere not far from the border. Most such small towns, in my experience, are dumps. But not Ajo. So I decided to hang around a bit and sightsee. Unfortunately, their museum did not open until afternoon, so I took a walking driving tour of the town.

Other buildings around the square




The old historic Hotel Cornelia currently being renovated to resume operation

The Elks

A local community outreach center with hand painted murals

An old school that has now been converted to an artisan condo.

A nearby hill with a big ‘A’ to mark the town site of Ajo.


A condo complex overlooking the copper mines

The coper mine.

Well it’s time to head home. As I’m traveling east on I-10 (insert a big yawn here), I see a sign for Tombstone, Az. Sure, what fun is a trip without a side-trip (or two). So I detour to Tombstone.

My first stop was the famous “boot hill” cemetery.














The old Tombstone courthouse
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I walked on down to downtown Tombstone. A bit touristy, but still interesting.








Its lunch time so I stop at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon
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Big Nose Kate, BTW was the first prostitute in Tombstone as well as Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. I looked around and could not find a picture of Big Nose Kate to see why she was called that but could not find one. I did find this bartender that must have been there as a modern day “Big Nose Kate”. See how your eyes (if you’re a guy) are immediately drawn to the size of her nose(es)
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Inside shots
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I was told by the bartender that they have the best Ruben in the state, so that’s what I get and wash it down with a Big Nose Kate local brew (or two)

They had a small group providing entertainment. ‘Click on picture to play video’.

It’s time for this traveler to go home
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I take the scenic route back and stop in Columbus, NM, find a nice motel and sleep. Next morning, I don’t do anything but drive. I do, however, make it home in time to take my best girl to the movies that night.

That’s the end of this trip.

Gota go now and pack for my next trip. Heading to Big Bend

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