Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ajo, Arizona

The first leg of our Westward Ho journey was the drive from our location near Sierra Vista, AZ to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the small community of Ajo, AZ. I was concerned with the 135 mile drive from Tucson to Ajo out through what I had envisioned to be a desolate Hwy. 86 close to the border of Mexico. It turns out that there are a few places to stop along the way for food and fuel. There is even a McDonalds! There is a border patrol check station near the community of Sells that we had to slow down to go through, but was only stopping vehicles heading east. The border of Mexico isn't close enough that any fencing is seen along the route. The fears we had about our safety along Hwy. 86 to Ajo have vanished! 
Highway 86 between Tucson and Ajo is a two lane paved road. The desert comes right up to the edge of the pavement! Although the road surface is good, having the desert so close on both sides of the roadway felt a bit like riding through the desert on a 4-wheeler! This may eventually become a thing of the past, as there was road construction going on to widen the road, build shoulders, and landscape the desert back away from the road.
According to the R.V. Parks Review website, there are six r.v. parks in Ajo. Being garden lovers we chose Ajo Heights, as it has won awards for its landscaping! This is the entrance garden. Note the small plaques labeling the plants! The location is great! There is an IGA store across the street from the park. It has a great deli with tasy fried chicken! Across from the park entrance is a Mexico auto insurance business. Sonoyta, Mexico is 40 miles south on Hwy. 85 toward the U.S. border community of Lukeville.  We stayed two nights, which we felt gave us ample time to tour Ajo and nearby Organ Pipe Cactus National Park.     
This is looking from mid park toward the office. To the left of the road is a sunken garden and to the right is more nice landscaping.
This is the landscaping to the right that I mentioned.  They did a great job utilizing native plants and various rock sizes, colors, and textures!
This is the sunken garden!
This is the plaza in the center of Ajo (AH ho). The trees are date palms and are not native to the area. They must be watered to thrive in Ajo. We were told at the local museum that the Ajo plaza was built in 1917 at the request of the local copper mine owners. It was at a time when amenities were being provided to the mine workers. They wanted the wives of the workers to be happy living in Ajo, as good women bring civilization to an area! To the back of the plaza is what was once the train station. Ore trains primarily ran the tracks, but also passenger trains.   
Being a desert climate green lawns couldn't be provided for the miner's homes, so this beautiful green oasis was created as a gathering place. The raised area in the center is a bandstand. You would think the plaza today would be filled with gift shops, but it isn't. There is a resale shop, cafe, optometrist, post office, visitor center, print shop, community market, library, art studio, real estate office, and a few other businesses.
This view from the plaza is towards the historic public school built in 1919. It now provides 30 living/working residences for artisans.  To each side of this street are churches.
This mission style Catholic church was built in 1924. It is not an original Spanish mission. I was told by the museum guide, who is also a member of the church, that the scroll work on the church is done using a chicken wire and stucco technique. It looks very solid, but is in fact hollow. I have encountered stucco walls done in the same technique. They look amazingly solid, but will echo a hollow sound when tapped on! 
The Federated Christian Church on the other corner was built in 1926. It was built by the same company that built the Catholic church. The Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of the plaza and the mission style churches will have you believing that Ajo was once a historic Spanish mission!
The community of Ajo did grow-up near this historic Catholic mission. The sections of the building are connected. On the right was the church. The center section was the parsonage and the section to the left was the Indian school. Today the building is a museum.
This is the view in 1947 from the historic mission down to the copper mine. Along the edge of the mine were segregated mining camps. In the center of this picture was the Indian camp. Down the hill to the left was what was referred to as Mexican Town. The caucasians had another camp elsewhere. As the mine expanded the camps were moved to form what is now Ajo.   
This is a picture of the mine as it is today! It had a long run in that it operated from the mid 1800s until it finally closed in 1985! The mine pit is 1-2 miles across. That's Black Mountain in the background. The mining technique for the time was that there would be railroad tracks on the ledges along the inside of the mine pit. Just ahead of the tracks the miners would have loading equipment. They would blast out a section of ore and then load it onto the train cars to be hauled out. Utilizing train cars required only one engineer, as opposed to several truck drivers.
Near the mine are large piles of rocky depris removed from the pits. We were told that the rock piles could be processed again with today's modern techniques to extract more of the copper. The left side of this poster shows the old technique for extracting copper and the right side shows a more modern technique.  The poster is dated 1997, so there may be further improvements in processing.
This is a historic home of one of the mining bosses. It is now privately owned and can only be viewed from the street below.
As we headed down the hill from the mine on the road in front of the historic mine owner's home, we came across this building. We are presuming it is the old hospital, as the street name is Hospital Hill! One of the draws for miners and there families to setttle in Ajo was that they had access to the same hospital, schools, and churches as the mine bosses families. Ajo is home to the first copper mine in Arizona!