Ajo, Arizona

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This “Welcome to Ajo” tile mosaic is on Highway 85, just south of the Olsens Market Place grocery/hardware combo store. I don’t know who created this mosaic, but I like it a lot.

My friend Coyote Sue spends part of her year in Arizona, around the towns of Ajo and Why. She invited me to visit the next time I was in the area. When I left the 2016 RTR (the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous–read more about it here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/23/report-on-the-2016-rubber-tramp-rendezvous/), I decided to drive down to Ajo to visit Coyote Sue and do a bit of exploring.

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This is “A” Mountain–official name, Camelback Mountain–in Ajo, AZ. The elevation of this mountain is 2,573 feet. I believe I was on Indian Village Road when I took this photo. I was definitely on my way to the history museum when I took it.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajo,_Arizona, Ajo

 …is a census-designated place (CDP) in Pima County, Arizona… The population was 3,705 at the 2000 census. Ajo is located on State Route 85 just 43 miles (69 km) from the Mexican border. It is the closest community to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

If you thought, as I did, that Ajo was named for the Spanish word for garlic, you would be, as I was, wrong. Although the DesertUSA website (http://www.desertusa.com/cities/az/ajo.html)–which doesn’t site any sources–says,

In Spanish, ajo means “garlic.”  Wild garlic plants (the Ajo lily or desert lily – an onion-like plant) that grew in the surrounding hills were responsible for the naming of the community…

I’m more inclined to believe the explanation on the Ajo Chamber of Commerce history webpage (http://www.ajochamber.com/explore/history-of-ajo/).

Before the community of Ajo was settled, the Tohono O’odham [the local indigenous people] used water from a series of potholes in the area they called Mu’i Wawhia or Moivavi (many wells). Mexican miners later called the site Ajo, perhaps influenced by another O’odham name for the area –-au-auho—for the pigment they obtained from the ore-rich rocks.

Ajo exists because of mining. The aforementioned Chamber of Commerce history webpage details the history of Ajo and mining. I’ll cover that information when I write about my visit to the New Cornelia Open Pit Mine Lookout.

Ajo has a lovely town plaza.

IMG_4704According to http://www.ajochamber.com/attractions/local-attractions/, the plaza

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This photo shows the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, which is west of the Ajo plaza.

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This photo shows the Ajo Federated Church, which is west of the Ajo plaza.

was built in 1917 under the direction of John Greenway’s wife Isabella. The Spanish Colonial Revival style town square features a center park surrounded by retail shops, a post office and restaurants accented with two mission-style churches. The [Immaculate Conception] Catholic Church was built in 1924 and the Federated Church in 1926…The plaza was purchased by the International Sonoran Desert Alliance in 2008 and is in the midst of a multi-year process of restoration and revitalization.

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This photo shows Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and mountains. I appreciate the crisp whiteness of the churches against the starkness of the mountains.

According to http://www.desertusa.com/cities/az/ajo.html, the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church

was designed by George Washington Smith, a Santa Barbara, California architect…The Protestant church [the Ajo Federated Church] was built in 1927 and influenced by the same architect. He died however before it was built and does not get full credit for it.

The Curley School is another historic building in Ajo. The Ajo Chamber of Commerce (http://www.ajochamber.com/attractions/local-attractions/) has the following to say about the Curley School:

Easily visible from the town plaza, Ajo’s Curley School is an architectural masterpiece of Spanish Colonial Revival style that harmonizes seamlessly with the rest of the historic downtown. The main building on the seven acre campus was built in 1919 with additional buildings added in 1926 and 1937. The Curley School has been renovated by the International Sonoran Desert Alliance into 30 affordable live/work rentals for artists…

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This is the Curley School, named, according to http://www.cunews.info/curley.html, for Michael (“Mike”) Curley, first mine manager of the New Cornelia mine in Ajo. Mike Curley died in 1945.

A good place to start a visit to Ajo is the visitor center in the Ajo train depot, on the plaza. I found information about IMG_4680the New Cornelia mine and the Ajo Scenic Loop, as well as a map for a self-guided walking tour, all in that one spot.

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This photo shows the building housing the Ajo Historical Society Museum. The building was originally St. Catherine’s Indian Mission.

Another place to learn about Ajo’s past is the Ajo Historical Society Museum, housed in the former St. Catherine’s Indian Mission. According to http://www.ajochamber.com/attractions/local-attractions/,

the museum houses many artifacts and mementos from Ajo’s past. The displays include a complete blacksmith shop, a dentist’s office and an early print shop.

I visited the Ajo Historical Society museum. No admission fee is charged, but donations are accepted. The first few displays, including the print shop, the dentist’s office, and blacksmith shop, are well organized and clearly labeled. However, the further back I went in the museum, the more the displays took on an elementary school social studies fair feel. Many of the displays seemed cluttered with items that were certainly old (by the standards of the Southwest) but didn’t seem necessarily significant.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in Ajo and would be pleased to visit again in the winter, when the weather in the desert is perfect.

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I took all of the photos in this post.

7 Responses »

  1. Did you run into Michael Da Wolf Baker there in Ajo? He’s done several murals in the area and lives out of his van on a property there. Cool guy.

    • No, Steve, I didn’t run into Micahel Da Wolf Baker out in Ajo. I was only there briefly. I bet I saw at least one of his murals. Maybe I’ll meet him if I ever go out that way again. I’d love to meet another vandwelling artist.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment too!

      • Hey, Steve!….How ya been, dude?…Nice to meet ya, Blaize….I just discovered this blog yesterday.( Hop David turned me onto it)…I actually live in an old class c van-based motorhome, but thats close, right? LoL…Anyhow, Ajo Artists are all “gearing up” for another Party in the Alley again this coming March…in fact, this next one will be way more fun and interesting to be part of than the one 2 years ago was!…5 days and 4 nights of music, comraderie, and paint fumes!…what wall dawg could ask for anything more?? Word is that we even have an artist coming over from Barsalona, Spain to paint with us this year!….Awsum! If you happen into the area around mid-March…come on down!

        • Glad you discovered the blog, Michael. I’ve been hearing about you…

          I don’t recall having met Hop David, but it’s nice that he’s spreading the word about my blog. Please tell him I said “thanks” next time you see him.

          I’ve been in touch with the artist from Barcelona. She seems like a nice gal.

          If I’m out that way in mid-March, I do look forward to meeting her and you and other mural folks.

          Thanks for reading and commenting.

        • Hi Michael. Doing well here in Albuquerque. Getting my studio in order this weekend. Hope to start doing some art soon. Adding more paint to the back fence! It’s the latest project. Happy New Year to ya!

    • There is certainly a lot of natural beauty in Arizona and so many free areas for boondocking. It’s a state I’m learning to love. Ah, the desert…

      Thanks for reading and commenting on this post, Sierrs Night Tide.

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