Tag Archives: Ajo Scenic Loop

Abandoned Mine

Standard

IMG_4746

Before I got to Quartzsite for the Rubber Tramps Rendezvous (RTR), my new friend Iggy told me about the hikes he’d taken the year before near the site of the RTR and the abandoned (and not so abandoned) mines he’d discovered out on that BLM land. It sounded cool and interesting, and I said I wanted to see an abandoned mine too. Iggy and I went on a hike the day after we both arrived, but we had to turn around to beat the sunset before we ever got to a mine. After that, I was always too tired or too busy to go hiking with Iggy, and then the RTR ended and we went our separate ways.

I went to Ajo, AZ next and spent a few days boondocking on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop. One morning, as I was driving down the loop, headed into town, I saw a sign that said Abandoned Mine. What? I thought about Iggy of course, so that afternoon after parking the van in my spot, I walked down the road to see the mine. I didn’t have to hike or climb or avoid cacti to get to the mine. It was right next to the road. I took a couple of photos, and that was that.

The most interesting thing I learned was that Arizona has a state mine inspector. Who knew?

Before I wrote this post, I decided to do a quick Google search on abandoned mines on BLM land. I learned a few things on a couple of BLM webpages too.

According to a Bureau of Land Management webpage (http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/Abandoned_Mine_Lands.html),

BLM maintains an inventory of known abandoned mine lands on public lands. Most of the sites are abandoned hardrock mines. As of April 18, 2014, the inventory contained nearly 46,000 sites and 85,000 features. Approximately 23% of the sites have either been remediated, have reclamation actions planned or underway, or do not require further action.  The remaining 80% require further investigation and/or remediation. [Emphasis theirs]

Here are some pertinent questions and answers from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/Abandoned_Mine_Lands/frequently_asked_questions.html:

What is an abandoned mine?

The AML [Abandoned Mine Lands] program addresses hardrock mines on or affecting public lands administered by BLM, at which exploration, development, mining, reclamation, maintenance, and inspection of facilities and equipment, and other operations ceased as of January 1, 1981…with no intention of resuming active operation.

For many abandoned mines, no current claimant of record or viable potentially responsible party exists.

What are examples of AML hazards?

  • Physical hazards: Unsecured AML sites pose a risk of death or serious injury by falling down open mine shafts.
  • Human health hazards: Exposure to toxic gases and chemicals, cave-ins, explosives, and water hazards endanger human health.
  • Environmental hazards: Water contaminated by mine tailings threatens nearby communities and destroys habitats.

Which types of sites become cleanup priorities?
The decision is made on a site-by-site basis, but typically the following factors are taken into consideration when determining priorities.

For physical safety sites:

  • Safety: Death or injury has occurred;
  • Public use: Have high public visitation;
  • Accessibility: Are easily accessible;
  • Population: Are located nearby populated areas;
  • Cost: Have cost-effective partnerships available.

What are some of the ways BLM addresses hazards at abandoned mine sites?
BLM addresses physical safety hazards associated with abandoned mine sites by:

  • Posting warning signs and fencing off access to dangerous areas;
  • Closing horizontal opening (adits) to keep people out. Where bats are present, BLM uses bat gates that allow them to use the adit for habitat;
  • Closing vertical openings (shafts) either by filling them, or by covering them with little roofs (cupolas); and/or
  • Removing and properly disposing hazards such as mining and milling equipment, oil and chemical drums, and other debris.

This aforementioned webpage also says that as of January 2, 2015, the number of known abandoned mine sites in Arizona was 6,229.

IMG_4747

I took this photo from outside the flimsy material fencing off the mine. (You can see said flimsy material on the far side of the hole.)

A Few Things I Know About Cacti

Standard
IMG_5177

I took this photo on the BLM land near Saddle Mountain in Arizona.

I didn’t grow up in the desert, but after two guided tours at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and a couple of hours at the Desert Botanical Garden, I’ve learned a few things about cacti and other desert plants.

For example, what makes a plant a cactus? I first contemplated this question when Ranger Mark told me during a restroom break on the Ajo Mountain Drive tour that the ocatillo is not a cactus. When I asked him what makes a plant a cactus, he admitted he didn’t know. Low and behold, at the Desert Botanical Garden, I found the answer. All cacti have areoles. If there’s no areole, the plant is not a cactus.

IMG_4920

All cacti have areoles. If there’s no areole, the plant is not a cactus. This photo was taken at the Desert Botanical Garden.

 

So just what is the areole of a cactus? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/science/areole),

Cacti can be distinguished from other succulent plants by the presence of areoles, small cushionlike structures with hairs and, in almost all species, spines or barbed bristles (glochids). Areoles are modified branches, from which flowers, more branches, and leaves (when present) may grow.

IMG_4902

It is easy to see the areoles on the Straight-spined Barrel Cactus in this photo. The areoles are the dark areas from which the spines are growing. Notice that several spines grow from each areole. I took this photo at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/plant/Caryophyllales#ref594853) elaborates,

 Areoles are universal in the cactus family (at least in the juvenile phase)…Almost all species of cactus have tufts of spines that develop from the areoles. These spines are of two basic types, stiff central spines located in the middle of the areole or radial spines that grow out laterally from the edges of the areole; the former are probably protective or when brightly coloured attract pollinators, while the latter are often white and reflect sunlight, providing shade and protecting the plant body from solar radiation. In addition, these spines may be variously modified, depending on the species; for example, they may be curved, hooked, feathery, bristly, flattened, sheathed, or needlelike.

IMG_4752

I took this photo of an ocatillo on BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona . While I was visiting, I saw no ocatillo with leaves or flowers.

So if an ocatillo isn’t a cactus, what is it?  According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum plant fact sheet (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Ocotillo.php),

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)…are…large shrub[s] with long cane-like unbranched spiny stems that grow from a short trunk.

I’ve recently learned many things about the saguaro cactus, most importantly, it is found only in the Sonoran Desert. Although the saguaro may be the cactus that really represents the desert for for a lot of people, if you see a saguaro representing the desert in New Mexico or Utah, or Nevada, well, that’s just wrong. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saguaro,

[The saguaro] is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California.

I also learned saguaros often grow with the help of a nurse plant. According to a brochure I got at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument,

IMG_4856

This photo shows a saguaro cactus growing within the protection of its nurse plant. I took this photo on the Red Tanks Tinaja hike in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

[a]lmost any plant can become a nurse plant. Shade from the nurse plant protects the delicate cactus seedling from temperature extremes and sunburn. Shaded soil holds moisture longer. Slowly decaying leaf litter adds nutrients. Leaf litter hides the tender young plant from hungry birds or animals…

A nurse plant is not mandatory for the growth and health of a saguaro, but as the brochure says,

The saguaro cactus seedling grows best in this protected, humid environment and enriched soil beneath its nurse plant.

Finally, I learned that saguaro cacti grow very slowly. It takes about 10 years for saguaros to grow one inch! Saguaros will have grown about one foot tall after 30 years and about three feet tall after 50 years. Saguaros get their first flowers after about 70 years, when they are approximately 6 and 1/2 fee tall. They get their first arm at 15 to 16 feet tall, after about 95 to 100 years, and they reach their full height of about 43 feet when they are around 200 years old. (All of the information in the preceding paragraph is from the brochure mentioned earlier.)

IMG_4739

I took this photo of an organ pipe cactus on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stenocereus_thurberi,

Stenocereus thurberi, the organpipe [sic] cactus…is found mostly in Mexico, mainly in Sonora and southern Baja California. It is also known to the United States, but is much rarer, with the notable exception of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The plant is predominantly found on rocky hillsides up to 3,000 feet (910 m) in elevation. It is sensitive to frost, so the species is rare in low desert areas, which can be more susceptible to frost.

Unlike saguaros organ pipe cactus don’t rely on nurse plants for early help. The brochure says,

Most organ pipe cactus grow out in the open in totally unprotected settings.

IMG_4742

This photo of a cholla cactus was taken on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona.

And then there’s cholla cactus. According to the Desert USA website (http://www.desertusa.com/cactus/cholla-cactus.html),

Cholla cactus represent more than 20 species of the Opuntia genus (Family Cactacea) in the North American deserts. Cholla is a term applied to various shrubby cacti of this genus with cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. These stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions — water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.

[C]hollas are the only cactus with papery sheaths covering their spines. These sheaths are often bright and colorful, providing the cactus with its distinctive appearance.

IMG_4858

I took this photo of a chain fruit cholla cactus on the Red Tanks Tinaja Trail.

Opuntia are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from…stems. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.

Before this year, I’d never given much thought to cactus and had no idea how varied and fascinating they are. Now I’m excited to learn more about them.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4673

Seguaro and the moon. I took this photo from my camping spot on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Homestead

Standard

IMG_4613

Along the Ajo Scenic Loop, I saw what appeared to be an old homestead.

IMG_4595

I interpreted this sign to mean, you can be in here, but don’t touch, damage, or destroy anything.

Going west on Darby Well Road, almost to Scenic Loop Road, there was a fenced off area on the right. Although there was a fence, there weren’t any “No Trespassing” signs, and there was an opening in the fence (more like a purposefully made entrance than like a place where fencing had fallen or been pulled down) where an adult could easily walk through. Near the entrance opening, there was a sign. I interpreted this sign to mean, you can be in here, but don’t touch, damage, or destroy anything. Ok. I knew I could handle that.

A brochure about the Ajo Scenic Loop I got from the Ajo Historical Society Museum says,

Junction of Darby Well Road & Scenic Loop Road. This intersection is unmarked but it is obvious. Parts of deserted buildings are on the right–this is Darby Well.

I walked around and didn’t see any signs naming this place or any evidence of a well. What I did see was a lot of rusty metal and a lot of broken glass, much of it green. IMG_4608

IMG_4609This site looked more like a dump than a homestead. There wasn’t a trash pile, no single area where broken glass and rusty metal was heaped. Broken and rusty things were spread out all over the place.

In New Mexico, people love to make “art” from rusty metal. I call this “tetanus art.” This place would have been a jackpot for a “tetanus art” artist, if all of this rusty metal had been up for grabs.

It was a bit hard for me to imagine any of this junk being “fragile or irreplaceable.” I suspect I felt this way because this trash was relatively modern. I know trash can tell archaeologists a lot about a society, but because this trash didn’t look terribly old, it was easy to think there was nothing going on here more than this was a place where people who didn’t pick up after themselves lived.

IMG_4626

The remains of an old car (truck?) sat on the property. I thought this old automobile body was interesting. We can see from the dashboard that this vehicle was made by Chevrolet. IMG_4624Anyone have any ideas about the model or the year?

As I do whenever I walk through abandoned places where people once lived, I wondered about the people who had lived here. Who were they? Why did they leave? Where did they go? Are they dead now? Where are their descendants? Do those descendants ever come here and look at the trash of their ancestors and think, My grandfather may have drunk from that bottle of Sprite. Did my grandmother wear that shoe? 

Whose grandmother wore this shoe?

It was easy to forget–when I didn’t see or hear another human being–that this had once been a place where people lived and worked and laughed and cried and sang and cooked and loved and hated.

Someone built the house that was now only a wall, probably several someones, probably without power tools or other fancy equipment. What was left of the house held the sweat and probably the blood and the tears too of the people who built it and the people who lived there.

Who slept on these mattress springs? Who ate the food out of these can? Who cooked on that stove? Who lived in that house?

Who slept on these mattress springs? Who ate the food out of these can? Who cooked on that stove? Who lived in that house?

Who’d lived in that house? Had people made love there, birthed babies there, died there? Who’d cooked dinner on the stove now sitting in the sand, slept in a bed whose springs were now abandoned and rusty, awoken in this place each morning?

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4619How much longer will the house stand before nature reclaims the land?

Nature wants to reclaim the land.

Nature wants to reclaim the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4623

Ajo Scenic Loop and BLM Land

Standard
IMG_4589

Afternoon sunlight on the Ajo Scenic Loop

When Coyote Sue told me about Ajo, I was excited to hear there was plenty of free camping on BLM land right outside of town. Between what Sue told me about Darby Well Road and the brief write up on the Free Campsites website, I found the BLM land with little problem.

IMG_4556

Beyond these two saguaros, one can see the giant wall of earth. Beyond the wall of earth is the New Cornelia Mine.

IMG_4557

“Property of Freeport Minerals Corporation–No Trespassing”

Freeport-McMoRan owns the land across from the BLM land.  Freeport-McMoRan’s land is fenced off, with “no trespassing” signs affixed to the fence. Beyond the fence, are massive walls of earth. Beyond the walls of earth is the New Cornelia Mine.

Later, when I read the brochure for the Ajo Scenic Loop, I realized that Darby Well Road is part of that picturesque 10 mile drive.

IMG_4672

This photo shows the view I had when I opened the side doors of the van.

The first couple of nights I stayed in the area, I kept my camp fairly close to Highway 85. On the third day, I drove the whole Scenic Loop and saw how much public land was available for camping. From that night on, I parked the van in a spot where I was surrounded by nature.

IMG_4591At the intersection of Darby Well Road and Scenic Loop Road is a sign warning people that smuggling and illegal immigration may happen in the area. I didn’t see anything that even vaguely resembled smuggling or illegal immigration, although I did see Border Patrol trucks zooming way too fast down Darby Well Road. The only other people I saw were boondocking on the BLM land.

Like on most BLM land, there is a 14 day camping limit here. However, there was no camp host in the area, and no IMG_4646permit was required for camping. I did not see any BLM employee during the time I  spent in there.

Camping in the Darby Well/Scenic Loop area is definitely primitive. There’s no running water, no drinking water, no picnic tables, no shade structures, no trash cans, no dumpsters, no showers, and no pit toilets. Nothing is provided and anything packed-in certainly needs to be packed-out.

This was the view from the other side of my van.

This was the view from the other side of my van.

What I liked best about camping on this BLM land is that even though Ajo is just a couple of miles away, I couldn’t hear the low roar of vehicular traffic in the distance. I couldn’t see the lights of the town. The only signs of civilization I saw were the RVs belonging to the other folks camping out and the occasional automobile tooling along Scenic Loop Road.

IMG_4631

This organ pipe cactus is visible from the Ajo Scenic Loop.

There is a lot of organ pipe cactus, as well as other varieties of cacti on the Ajo Scenic Loop. A brochure from the Ajo Historical Society Museum states,

Essentially all Sonoran Desert plants, for this elevation, are readily spotted on this easy self guided tour. Many say there are more Organ Pipe Cacti here than in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Saguaro, Organ Pipe, Hedgehog, Barrel, Prickly Pear and Cholla Cacti, Ocotillo and Jojoba, Mesquite, Iron Wood, Palo Verde and Elephant Trees, Fairy Duster and Brittlebush all are well represented or in abundance as are many more desert varieties.

[The overzealous capitalization in the above quote is thanks to the writer of the brochure and not to me.]

IMG_4742

Cholla–pronounced \ˈchȯi-yə\–cactus.

Saguaro in the afternoon light.

Saguaro in the afternoon light.

IMG_4649

The BLM land on the Ajo Scenic Loop is definitely one of my favorite places to boondock. It’s quiet, it’s dark at night, and the scenery is fantastic! IMG_4641