El Camino del Diablo

4.8/5 (6 reviews)
Ajo, Arizona (Pima County)
Last Updated: 12/07/2021
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Trail Information

Highlights

Serving as the southern route to California for hundreds of years, the El Camino Del Diablo (or sometimes called Camino Muerte - Road of Death and also as the Devil's Highway) has carried travelers from the days of the Spanish conquistadors across the sweltering desert from water source to water source until they reached Yuma. The road saw heavy use by the gold rush pioneers in 1849 as it was the only route that even the Apache's wouldn't travel in the summer, which drastically reduced the number of ambushes the pioneers suffered. Today, the original route (which started in Caborca Mexico) has been modified to pass through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, and the Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range to exit on the Yuma side of the Tijinas Altas Mountains. This road is iconic and should provide some of the finest views of the Sonoran Desert you can find. The sense of self-reliance only surpasses the scenery you will experience as you must carry everything you will need with you. There's no gas, phones, electricity to rely on here. However, there is a sprinkling of watering holes, wells, and rock water tanks that you could depend on just like the pioneers did. Many of these unfortunate travelers did not make it across the El Camino Del Diablo alive; You may encounter some of the hundreds of graves that are rumored to line the road during your trip. (About 50 are marked). For more interesting detail about El Camino Del Diablo - CLICK HERE You can read about Raphael Pumpelly's trek across Arizona Here. (pp. 31-98 in particular)

Trail Difficulty and Assessment

Trail Navigation

El Camino Del Diablo is a long remote route best accomplished over 2-3 days. It is possible to traverse the entire 129 miles in one day, however, it would not be advised. The road is a straight through and can be started from the east (as outlined here) or from the west in reverse order. The views seem typically better from east to west but not remarkably so. There are relatively few obstacles to consider other than the "Playa" (which is a usually dry lakebed) at the Pinta Sands. When you encounter these, you will be in deep mud grooves that will prove impassable if there has been recent rain. This area comprises the distance between Waypoints 25 and 28 and should not be taken lightly. There is virtually no tree capable of supporting a winch recovery should you get stuck. This entire trail, from one end to the other can be accomplished with a high clearance SUV with at least All Wheel Drive as you will encounter frequent deep sand sections. There are some washed out sections in the Tijinas Altas Pass that will require picking a line, but nothing serious.
There is a real danger of encountering illegal smuggling or immigrants out on this trail. Much of the El Camino Del Diablo is 2-5 miles from the US - Mexico international border. You will encounter US Border patrol officers. If there is rain, consider avoiding the Playa dry lake bed. There is little hope of calling for help and having any come out there to tow you out. You will be 50 miles from Ajo and 81 miles from Yuma at this point.

Trail Reviews

4.8/5 (7 reviews)
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 11/11/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

While El Camino del Diablo is changing, it still does not fail to amaze and remains a bucket list trail. The history, geology, and landscape is just pure awesome. The new moon dark skies of Papago Well are great for milky way photographers.

It was far more busy than it used to be, granted I did travel on Veterans Day weekend. Recent years' border wall construction and the explosion in popularity of UTVs and overlanding since the pandemic has changed the nature of some of the route. Be prepared to find an alternate disbursed camp site along the route in case your planned options and main campgrounds are occupied.

As of 11/15/2022 the route needs some minor adjustments near the Tijanas Altas mountains as management officials have closed many of the minor side routes just east of the mountains to allow the desert to recover from excessive route creation:

  • Point 43 - stay straight / right (left is now closed / blocked)
  • Point 44 - needs to be moved to the A16 intersection at 32.32526, -114.04957
  • Point 44a - bear left at the A15 fork 32.3248, -114.05364

A15 and A16 are signed intersections and can be found on the BMGR West Avenza map

This time I took the northern Tijanas Altas pass between signs A15 and A13 on the BMGR West map. I would rate that option 4/10 or mild moderate. There are some nice isolated disbursed camping sites along this less traveled option. Any pickups including Gladiators and Tacos will be dragging tail crossing some of the deep and narrow washes. Most of the disbursed camping spots can be reached from the west (A13) side without the narrow wash crossings.

I traditionally take the Fortuna Mine route (right/straight at point 56) and this trip was no exception. It does add a little bit of difficulty to the trail with a tiny bit of route finding at a few washes and a much rougher driving surface. However I saw someone else take a 2500 RAM pulling a 25ft Black Series backcountry camper through this alternate path and the camper remained oddly (unexpectedly) unscathed. Fortuna Mine offers a two mile hiking loop trail with about 14 interpretive sites and signs. There is an effort to add the mine area to the national register of historic places. There is a Fortuna Mine scout route writeup also on the TrailsOffroad site.

Note on overland trailers: even though El Camino del Diablo is appropriately rated easy, it is still rough enough to be very hard on overland/camping trailers. Make sure you have a reinforced, articulating hitch and a well-maintained trailer suspension with high clearance. Trailers have been known to fall apart on this route (another group this same weekend had such an event). Washboard and terrain flex are far harder on trailers than you might expect.

A few extra safety tips:

  • Cell service for T-Mobile and ATT can be obtained in some areas of the route if you are within visual range of the boarder wall and you have international roaming enabled. Verizon is (still) out of luck. A satellite communicator is recommended if you need to call for help, but remember that satellite communicators may have issues in some of the tighter passes and valleys.
  • As mentioned in the write-up above there are practically no trees to winch from on the playa if you have to get unstuck from mud or old ruts. I recommend you carry traction boards, just in case.
  • As of this trip border patrol seems less present along the route than they have been in the past. Keep that in mind as you think through rescue options. We did not get our usual first night visit nor second night "headlights in the distance" check up. There were however unmarked helicopter fly overs in the early mornings (8-8:30am-ish).
  • Note on your map(s) where the emergency beacons are located before you leave.
Trail Review: El Camino del Diablo - Gatewood Green
Trail Review: El Camino del Diablo - Gatewood Green
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Status: Open
Visited: 02/05/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Easier

Did a quick overnight in the area east of the Organ Pipe Monument entrance, road is fully graded with washboards for the border patrol to speed along. The desert in the spring is fantastic, 65 by day and 40's at night. The buds are on the 'trees' and i did see one bloom. Both pictures are of exploring on the side roads. At first i was wary of staying in an area so talked about by the talking heads, but on reflection and seeing the evidence of people being taken (shoes and medication left as they either fled or were taken somewhere) I felt sure that immigrants would do all they could to avoid me, or if desperately in need that i would help. Did almost get run down by the patrol going over 40 and me crawling along with a trailer.
Trail Review: El Camino del Diablo - Fritz
Trail Review: El Camino del Diablo - Fritz
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Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 01/03/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

First time to the Sonoran desert and definitely not the last. Great trip: varied landscapes, gorgeous views, and at least while we went during the week in January, almost nobody on the trail. Loved all the points of interest included in this guide. One guide correction - it is the tinajas atlas (not tijinas) - definitely our favorite camping spot! In the Barry Goldwater range after the tinajas Atlas Mountains the sand road gets reallllllly bumpy. We have a pretty rugged little trailer and it was jostled quite a bit - like 20 miles of bumpy sand road. Another note - there’s almost no reception along the trail and in offline mode the app scrambled the order of the points, but I had exported to Gaia and also had the website view downloaded for offline, so I was fine.
This trail guide's difficulty was changed on 12/07/2021
Jim Long
Official Crew
15500
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 02/03/2021

In preparation for the 2021 visit to El Camino Del Diablo, I watched the new Range Pass video. It's very good. You'll need to watch it ON their site to get credit toward your range pass, but here it is in case you are wondering what ECDD is all about. All Areas Permit for 2020-2021 This permit is required for general recreational access to all authorized public areas of the CPNWR, BMGR-W (Marine Corps), SDNM Area-A, and BMGR-East (Air Force): Area B, Bender Springs, and Ajo Air Station. Permittees are required to follow the stipulations and rules of the permit, and are required to check-in upon entering the area via the iSportsman app. If unable to check-in via the app, try contacting the appropriate land managment agency depicted on the downloadable maps/brochures, and shown below. Groups of 10 or more vehicles require a special use permit. Members of official institutions conducting official studies or activities also require a special use permit. Contact the land manager for the area you plan to visit: BMGR-E--Luke AFB Range Management Office, Public Affairs at 623-856-7216 or 623-856-1758 for more information. CPNWR HQ: 520-387-6483 BMGR-W--MCAS-Yuma: 928-269-3115 SDNM Area A--BLM: 623-580-5500

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