Organ Pipe National Monument, Bureau of Land Management, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, United States Marine Corps
OPNM, CPNWR, BGWGRW
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
Stock SUV with High Clearance and 4 Low
There are numerous portions of the trail that are comprised of deep sand. There are sections of the pinta sands that could be impassable. On the western end of the trail, there are several off-camber descents/ascents in small washes.
In dry weather, the trail is easy to traverse. Avoid when wet.
(Last reset on 12/06/2021)
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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.
1. Last Fuel Stop in Ajo (0
If coming from the North, this is your last chance for gas, ice, snacks, etc. There is a small convenience store here and you can purchase Mexico insurance if you were heading across the border. El Camino Del Diablo stays entirely on the US side of the border.
This is the eastern end of the El Camino Del Diablo. If you intend to exit in Yuma or Wellton - this is your starting point. If you are traveling from those places, this would be your exit point. There's an easy to find sign on Highway 85 to point the way. The best landmark of all, however, is the large mine tailings pile. The road starts just beyond the last one.
3. Scenic Loop Fork - Stay Left (0.38
Here you will encounter your first fork in the road. To the right is the "Scenic Loop" road that travels up and around the large copper mine tailings piles, and eventually rejoins the El Camino Del Diablo further west. The BLM Road that you will proceed on is BLM 8114.
You will find dispersed camp spots on both sides of the road (north/south) here.
4. Dispersed Camping Areas - Continue Straight (1.25
If you are planning a two - three day trip across the El Camino Del Diablo, it's good to plan an evening arrival at these dispersed camping areas and start out very early in the morning to maximize your daylight. This spot is located near the distinctive feature called "Locomotive Rock" and is relatively off the main road.
5. BLM 8115 - Stay Right (3.63
This is the second fork. The road to the left leads through the desert to a road called Cuerda de Luna (strong rope to climb to the moon) and eventually leads back out to Highway 85. But that's not the way we are going, stay right and continue on El Camino Del Diablo.
6. BLM 8114G - Stay Left (4.01
This road leads off to the north and eventually connects back to the Scenic Loop road in Waypoint 3. The road is a two-track and has a well worn OHV sign just inside the entrance. Stay left here to continue on El Camino Del Diablo.
7. Dispersed Camping - Continue Straight (4.9
Eastern entrance, there is a loop road that leads out to the base of some hills to the south. At the apex of the loop is a fine camping spot. The loop returns you to the El Camino Del Diablo a short distance west of where you entered.
Western exit to the small campsite loop. Stay right here or turn left if you are exiting the loop.
9. BLM 8114C - Bear Left (7.94
Up until this point you have been traveling on BLM 8114. The fork here splits off to the left and the El Camino Del Diablo becomes BLM 8114C. Stay left at the fork.
Good luck reading the sign with the hubcap on it.
10. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Northeast Gate - Continue Straight (11.12
You have arrived at the first of three administrative areas you will be traveling through. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This is one of our national parks and has a splendid loop road and campground through it. The fee is currently $25 and you can pay it at the box at this location. However, you will only be traveling across a small portion of the monument.
There is a relatively large open flat area to the east of the OPCNM fence. You can camp here fee free.
11. Rescue Beacon #1 Water Drop and Road to Bluebird Mine - Stay Left (14.02
In a few places along the El Camino Del Diablo, certain humanitarian groups have placed water barrels as a migrant support method. This one is located adjacent to a US Border Patrol rescue beacon, which says, push-button, wait one hour and water will come. (Which is contradictory because water is right there). Keep an eye out for blue flags marking these water caches.
This road leads up to the Bluebird mine and eventually can be followed all the way back to the "Scenic Loop" road.
12. Historic Bates Well Homestead - Park or Stay Right to Continue (15.24
This is the historic Bates well ranch house site. If you are planning to spend any time here, you should probably pay the $25 entrance fee. This money goes to help preserve this site. If you are not going to stop and explore here - you could be out of the Organ Pipe Cactus Monument in 20 minutes.
There is an interpretive sign here about how the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was formed in 1937, but the Grey family were the last hold out cattle ranchers and remained here until 1976!
13. Bates Well Actual - Foot Trail (15.24
The actual Bates Well is dry. There are several windmills on the site and behind one of the barns is an Arrastra which was used during the gold rush to pulverize the ore. The millstone is missing but the circular pestle rocks are still here, along with the central pivot. The building to the right was likely built after the gold rush because it would have been hard to get the donkeys around the circle with it there.
Lots of corrals, outbuildings, and artifacts lying around on the ground remain out here. Leave them right where they are for the next explorer to enjoy.
14. Growler Wash - Straight Through (20.17
A rather unremarkable double wash crossing greets you here but as you cross, ponder the following important story. "The Devils Highway" by Luis Alberto Urrea" describes the prevalence of this wash as a migrant route for in 2001, 26 people began their journey north from Mexico along this streambed, only 12 were alive when they were found and rescued, on the way to Interstate 8.
A particularly compelling passage:
"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 Devils Highway, days are so hot that bodies naturally mummify almost immediately. On that day in May, twenty-six went in, and only twelve came out".
15. Pozo Nuevo Road (21.49
This is a relatively major intersection with the Pozo Nuevo road which heads due south to the Mexican border. The most important features this road travels through and to are the Cipriano Pass (One of two on the El Camino Del Diablo) and the Quitoboquito well, which is a 1-acre pond fed by a hot spring. Near here you will be on the original El Camino Del Diablo but most all of the trail on the Mexican side has been obliterated by the Federal Highway #2, which you can see occasionally from the US trail. (Watch for Semis passing by to the south as you get near the border.
16. Rescue Beacon #2 - Stay Left (22.16
This is a similar beacon to the first one. The sign looks like the rescuer is delivering some windshield wiper fluid. This one is much more necessary than the first because there is no water jug nearby. Each of these beacons has a wind-driven shiny flasher for day visibility and a solar-powered blue strobe light for wayfinding in the darkness. It's slightly eerie to camp out on the El Camino and look out over the desert floor, see all of the flashing blue lights and realize what they mean.
17. US Border Patrol Forward Operating Base #1 - Stay Straight (24.13
Also known as "Camp Grip" this major operating base has fuel, water, sleeping quarters, offices and a large number of vehicles that stage from here for their daily patrols. These resources are for the government only so you can't fill up your gas tank or water jug. There is a lot more going on at Camp Grip than three photos can do justice to.
18. Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Entrance - Stay Right (24.23
This is a major waypoint on your trip. You will pass from the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument into the next administrative area, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Travel on the road here is limited to a 50' swath on either side. Camping is allowed only in designated spots. (No dispersed camping permitted) You are required to sign in on a card here however there may be no cards to fill out in the box.
19. Tree Tunnel - Continue Straight (27.06
A large stand of mesquite and ironwood trees close in over the road here. The road surface becomes deep sand and at one time, there were aircraft runway mats placed along this stretch to aid in traction. They are no longer present, however.
This long straight section has a splendid view of a Sonoran Desert cactus forest. You will find almost all the species encountered in this biome here. If you look carefully, you might catch a glimpse of some of the area's wildlife, like Sonoran Pronghorn antelope or the elusive Desert Bighorn sheep amongst the rocky hilltops.
21. Papago Well Campsite - Stay Right (38.05
With just a single picnic table, this Papago Well campsite is primitive and shadeless but there are at least a dozen flat spots back here that can support camping. This area looks to be 'snake central' so use extreme caution setting up here. This spot is about 1/4 of a mile from the water source at Papago Well.
22. Papago Well - Straight Through (38.24
A welcome respite for early travelers to be sure, there is a tiny amount of shade here, and a spigot for you to refill your water tank should you be running low. There are some marker/information signs that highlight the distances to Ajo and the next well (Tule Well) provided by JeepExpedition.org. Although it's tempting, it's not legal to camp near the well. Use the camp spot at Waypoint #21.
23. US Border Patrol Foreward Operating Base #2 (41.71
There is another, smaller US Border Patrol outpost that also has water & Fuel bowsers but they are on the backs of trucks and not as much a permanent installation. At least you would know where to come to ask for help if you needed it. You can see some of the aircraft runway mats that once lined the El Camino Del Diablo's sandier parts. The sign heading east said AJO 42 miles, the one heading east said Tule Well 32 miles.
24. O'Neil Grave Site and Pass - Stay Straight (42.43
Immediately on the north side of the road is the Dave O'Neil Gravesite. It is easy to just drive by this spot if you aren't looking for it, so keep an eye out for a wide spot in the road that looks like a pull-out.
The story goes that O'Neil was a prospector that either died from exposure and was interred here, or he was drunk, fell into the wash behind his grave and drowned during one of the wet periods. If this is true, so the legend goes, he would be the only person to drown on the El Camino Del Diablo.
It's a good idea not to press your luck on this treacherous route and leave an offering here, as many have, of some kind of trinket, a coin, sunglasses, etc.
25. Pinta Sand Flats - Stay Straight (46.24
The beginning edges of a huge dry lakebed form the Pinta Sands. This immense flat area is a place you do not want to be when it's raining as you will see going forward. You should be able to see traffic passing to the south along the Mexican Federal Highway #2. (Usually, the large trailers of semi's are visible) The sand is fine, powdery and easily thrown up. If you have an open vehicle (Or a jeep with a bad cover, request the lead position for the next few miles).
26. Playa Start - Multi Track - Choose Best Route (47.45
This section is really the most dangerous part of the entire trail. The Playa is a dry lakebed, that easily fills with a few inches of water during heavy rains. You can see the large mud ruts that have been etched into the desert floor by constant patrolling, intrepid explorers, etc. If you get stuck out here, there is very little likelihood of self-extraction so consider alternate plans if you can't avoid bad weather.
You can either try to place your tires on the high sections or ride the ruts, it doesn't really matter but be sure you have very high clearance if you choose the latter because being high centered here is no joke.
27. Playa End - Stay Straight (48.6
Depending on your travel direction, this is either the end or the beginning of your peril in the Playa. The pink sands of the Pinta smooth out here for a small while until you approach the lava beds of the Pinacate.
The huge Altar desert to the south on the Mexican side is covered in volcanic cinder cones. Parts of the El Camino De Diablo are bracketed by these volcanic vents as well so the Pinacate Lava Flow is a multi-mile section that requires good tires, careful placement and a diligent eye for sharp rocks. Plants are sparse, wildlife almost absent, and you'll think you are driving across those rocks that inhabit the bottom of your barbecue grille. But it is uniquely beautiful here, and the views of the volcanic/granite hills are stunning.
There is a tire stuck in the side of the road saying "STOP DRAG HERE" which refers to the 7 tires pulling apparatus the US Border patrol uses to groom the dirt roads
to turn them into foot print detectors. There are numerous East-West roads throughout this region called 'drags' that are used to expose foot traffic across the desert. Obviously, you can't drag across the rocks of the lava flow.
Be particularly careful with your dog on this stuff. Almost a guaranteed paw laceration on the sharp rocks.
29. Nameer 1871 Gravesite - Stay Right (51.79
No one really knows who "Nameer" was or if he was even a person at all but it's rumored that he was a Camel drover that came to Arizona at the behest of the US Cavalry to support desert Operations. The timing isn't right however because a much more documented Camel operator was the Turk " "Hadji Ali" who is buried in Quartzite as "Hi Jolly". An Ottoman Turkish citizen of Greater Syria, Hadji Ali worked as a camel breeder and trainer. He served with the French Army in Algiers before signing on as a camel driver for the US Army in 1856. So it's possible that Nameer could have been one of his 7 compatriates out here on the El Camino Del Diablo. The camels frightened the army's mules and horses and the American Civil War brought an end to the American Camel experiment in 1864. So it's at least conceivable that Nameer was a contemporary.
What is definitely unusual, if Nameer was in fact a Turk and a Muslim, why was he buried under a pile of rocks arranged as a cross?.
Another tire saying "STOP DRAG" marks the end of the Pinacate Lava Flow. You are now in another set of deep sands but these are a little more unique. This is a great spot to stop for a bit and scan the volcanic cinder cones all around you.
31. Pinta Sands Slot Wash - Continue Straight (58.54
For several miles, you are in a kind of 'Slot Canyon' wash with eroded sides. Some of the cliff-like structures can rise to 7 feet on either side of you. The driving here is easy, though windy so you can't really build up much speed. (There is a rollover danger if you try to negotiate one of the tight turns to quickly. So keep your speed to a reasonable level and just enjoy the grandeur before you. You are climbing out of the low spot on El Camino Del Diablo but you are still only a few hundred feet above sea level.
32. Tule Mountains - Continue Straight (63.16
Ahead and to both sides, you'll be entering a significant set of mountains/hills called the Tule Mountains. There are lots of water catchment granite rock formations, springs, mines, restricted roads to be found here. Still, there are wonderful vistas and abundant cactus to greet you.
33. Tule Well and Cantina - Stay Straight (69.66
When people talk about El Camino Del Diablo, this spot is usually what pops into their psyche. This is roughly the middle of the journey, with reliable water. An important intersection with the road to Christmas Pass can be found here which leads 7 miles north to the finest camping spot on the entire Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
The pink building before you is the "Cantina", which represents Downtown El Camino Del Diablo. The little cabin was built in 1989, replacing an earlier structure. A logbook is inside for visitors to sign. There are picnic tables inside and outside, a small fireplace inside and a scribbled graffiti in Spanish and English that reads "Tu Madre no Vive Aqui!" Clean up after yourself. On this trip, the building was inhabited by bees so we passed it by.
Upon the hill behind the Cantina, accessed by a small foot trail, is the "Boy Scout Monument" complete with a fresh US Flag. The earliest stones from a Phoenix troop were installed in 1930. It's worth the short hike up here to take a look.
The sign, also graciously provided by the JeepExpeditions.org folks says Christmas Pass 7 miles, Tacna 50 miles, and Wellton 49 miles. The last two destinations are on Interstate 8.
34. Tule Well Campground (69.63
There's some relief from the beating sun here as some Palo Verde/Mesquite Ironwood and Tamarisk trees can be found along a small dry streambed across the El Camino Del Diablo from the Cantina. The Tule Well Campground has 3-5 spots with a couple having picnic tables and barbecue grills.
35. Circle 8 Grave Site Turnoff - Stay Right or Left Turn (78.89
As you travel west, along the recently widened and silky smooth road (Graders were out there as we traveled it) keep a sharp eye out for Tordillo Mountain to the North, a dark lava mound on top of a much lighter granite base. Tordillo means "dappled" or "gray." This is the distinctive landmark that will lead you to an unmarked two-track that leads to the south. There are several tracks here and it's easy to head down the wrong one (including the one that has bollards which is NOT the road you want. You will find a non-descript large open area to the south that will lead to the Circle 8 grave. The track leading out of this parking area seemed to be the most worn. Since you are still on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, you should NOT DRIVE south. Park in the large open lot and WALK the 1/2 MILE TO THE GRAVESITE.
36. Circle "8" Massacre / Grave Site - Out and Back (78.89
About 1/2 a mile walk south of the El Camino Del Diablo, along a well-worn two-track, you will find a stone circle, bisected by a line of stone, with an obvious number 8 pattern. There are two theories about what this represents:
This is a grave marker (and is listed on the topo as such, representing the massacre site of a family of 8 pioneers and their final resting place.
"In 1896 surveyor and soldier David D. Gaillard reported that "an entire Mexican family of six or eight persons" had the calamity of its glass demijohn of water breaking about eight miles east of Tinajas Altas; all perished and the site is now commonly known as the Grave of Eight. "The wagon tracks made when the [unfortunate] Mexican drove his exhausted team to one side of the road, were plainly visible thirty years afterward....".
This is a way marker showing the distance between known water sources - 8 miles back to Tule Well, and 8 miles ahead to Tijinas Altas (High Tanks). The bisecting line of rocks does in fact point to these two places
That's part of the allure of El Camino Del Diablo, you just don't know the real story.
37. Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge West Boundary/Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range West - Continue Straight (83.48
Another major administrative area boundary is found here. The western end of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge meets the eastern portion of the Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range West (but if you look at the BGWGR as a whole, you are more in the middle than the East). If you are traveling east, this is your sign-in point.
Remember that permit you got online BEFORE you came out to the El Camino Del Diablo? Here's where it pays off. You will not be a designated target out on the gunnery range if they know you are going to be out there. If you are not checked in, all bets are off and maybe a weapons-free boom boom is in your future. It's not uncommon to be buzzed by fighter jets or helicopters out here on the gunnery range. In fact, your rigs are likely pilot entertainment.
Beyond this point, you can see the road stretching out across the Lecheguilla desert floor straight as an arrow toward the Tijinas Altas mountains. One witness, Lt. N. Michler in 1855, reported somberly, "All traces of the road are sometimes erased by the high winds sweeping the unstable soil before them, but death has strewn a continuous line of bleached bones and withered carcasses of horses and cattle, as monuments to mark the way."
38. Old El Camino Cut Off - Bear Left Through Construction Site (87.23
This is a very confusing spot so you have to pay close attention to the track and the instructions here. The construction of the US Mexico border wall has necessitated a large construction yard to be created right at the intersection of the El Camino del Diablo western track and the El Camino Del Diablo eastern track to Wellton. The sign that shows you where this track goes is behind a sand pile. (It may not be there when you get there, but on this visit, it was obscured). Although it might make you uneasy to do this, you have to drive through the construction yard to pick up the trail again. You are looking for a small (12" x 12") brown sign with an arrow that says "Road Trail". That points the way to El Camino Del diablo as traditionally laid out.
39. El Camino to Tijina's Altas Straightaway - Continue (88.01
This beautiful yardstick straight section of the El Camino Del Diablo is part of the original trail. You can find many dispersed camping opportunities here, and multiple other roads leading south toward the border (Marked A# to follow the gunnery range inventory system). This kitty litter sand, cactus, and two-track experience are what many expect to find on the historic trail. Before you spread the inspiring granite peaks of the Tijinas Altas mountains.
40. Tijinas Altas Tank Camp Spots (89.06
One of the most important stops on the El Camino Del Diablo is the Tijinas Altas Tanks or High Tanks.
There are dozens of camping spots here marked by scattered fire rings. You are not allowed to camp within 1/4 mile of the water. There are numerous signs here warning you of this and marking the boundary for camping.
The flat land that lies about forty feet above the elevation of the tanks is sometimes called "Mesa De Muerte" or Mesa of the Dead" It may sound kind of creepy but there are over 40 pioneer graves scattered about here. This was the last "somewhat" reliable source of water in the desert before you had a difficult trek to hit the Colorado River to the West. These tanks generally will have water but they are only rain replenished. On a dry year, or if a large cattle drive was there just before you, there would be no water for you and you would likely die of exposure. There are nine tanks in the granite canyon, one above the other. When the lowest tanks were emptied, you faced a dangerous climb up a steep rockface to get to the higher ones. Frequently, dehydrated and exhausted people simply couldn't make the climb or fell to their deaths.
Today, camping is serene, the views spectacular and the experience truly one of the best parts of the El Camino Del Diablo.
41. Tijinas Altas Tanks (89.11
One of, and perhaps the most important, of many water basins found across the El Camino Del Diablo, is the Tijinas Altas. There is a multitude of signs of human presence back here amongst the rocks that form the"High Tanks".
You can see dozens of "Morteros" or "Metates" which were smoothed out depressions used by ancient peoples to grind grains into flour. The presence of grinding holes (known as mortar holes to archaeologists), provides a glimpse into the life of the Native people who lived in the region. With heavy stone pestles, they ground mesquite pods into meal in these holes, which are found near virtually all tinajas along the El Camino Del Diablo. You can also find pictographs and historic graffiti scrawled into the rocks all around the canyon. Pictured here is the lowest of the 9 tanks and a view up the canyon of the climb you face to get to the higher tanks.
As a reminder, in case you missed all the signs, there is no camping allowed in this canyon.
42. Tijinas Altas Camp Turnoff Hill - Turn Right (89.11
As you leave the campsite, to continue on El Camino Del Diablo, there is a hillside road that leads down into the wash that emanates from the Tijinas Altas. After you are in the wash and pass the fork, you continue to the right.
This is a fork that leads into the Tijinas Altas Pass. Stay left here as you begin your journey through the amazing sights while passing through the Tijinas Altas mountains.
44. Intersection - Turn Left Into the Pass (89.7
A non-descript intersection leads off to the northeast and northwest here. There once was a sign guiding you but all that remains is its concrete base. Stay along the bottom of the mountains and turn left here. The road will be a little washed out and you will have to choose a good line, but it's not too challenging. The road to the northeast leads back out to the construction site and the Wellton eastern exit portion of the El Camino Del Diablo.
There are actually 3 routes through the pass, this one, the Southern route, is the longest, the middle and Northern routes are much more technical requiring 4-wheel drive.
There are several box canyons along this section appropriate for dispersed camping.
Perhaps one of the most humbling portions of the El Camino Del Diablo is when you are in the geographic middle of the Tijinas Altas pass. The granite spires rise above you to dizzying heights on either side, the cactus explodes out of the landscape and the silence, you are greeted by absolute peace here.
Opportunities for camping are plentiful.
46. Tijinas Altas Pass Exit - Bear Right (92.33
This major intersection is well marked and actually a triangle so if you miss the right fork, you could recover and head right a little further ahead. Stay right at the marked fork and continue to the northwest along the El Camino Del Diablo. The left fork leads to a road that heads to the US Mexico international border. A staged US border patrol pickup truck on this road implied it was not a good idea to go that way.
47. Rescue Beacon #3 & El Camino Del Diablo Fork - Stay Right (92.62
Another rescue beacon, this one had a slightly different message on it: "Push the button, wait one hour - zombie will come". The purpose of these beacons is much more serious, however, as they have saved many lives.
48. Tijinas Altas Pass North Exit - Stay Left (95.43
The northern, more technical pass route, rejoins the El Camino Del Diablo here. Which of the three routes is the actual El Camino Del Diablo road has been lost to history. The posted signs all say the southern track is the correct, historic trail, and that's the one we followed.
49. Survey Marker - Stay Right (98.01
There is an abundance of these out here on the El Camino Del Diablo. Survey parties used these as benchmarks for a variety of purposes including, finding the actual US Mexico Border, identifying the relative location of archeological artifacts (including human remains) and finding where some stuff that should have gone boom didn't actually go boom but could go boom which would be a bad thing to some un-suspecting offroad adventurer. If you see anything sticking out of or lying on the desert floor, steer a wide berth of it.
This particular marker said we were standing at 834 feet above sea level.
50. 4x4 Road and Laser Use Warning 4 Way Intersection - Continue Straight (100.11
This is a major four-way intersection with many signs. The roads to the east and west are restricted and not open to the public. There are several 7 tire drag apparatuses strewn about here. When you see these, you can be relatively certain you are headed for very smooth road travel ahead. With a few small wash crossing exceptions, the remainder of the El Camino Del Diablo will be a smooth groomed dirt road.
51. Cipriano Pass Turnoff - Stay Left (101.46
Cipriano pass, as opposed to the one located on the Pozo Nuevo Road, passes back to the East through the Tijinas Altas mountains and exits at the Wellton eastern exit road of the El Camino Del Diablo. There is some kind of odd column made of wood, with cut-outs and screens that served some purpose at one point, but now it's simply a silent sentinel. Some speculate it was a cameral holder box, as it appears there are conduits in the desert floor for cables.
The fourth and last (or the first if you are traveling east) rescue beacon is here. This is a very distinctive ridge and intersects with BGWGR road A9, which leads northeast into Spook Canyon. This is a great spot to stop for lunch as there is plentiful shade here.
54. Impact Area - Road Closed - Stay Right (106.92
Besides the 'Flintstones' hills to your north, there is a gate and a sign to the west labeled 'Impact Area'. Not really sure what has impacted but this area is not open to the public. But, the ridge to your right is certainly worthy of some cool rig photos.
55. Yodaville Roadside Plaque - Stay Left (110.1
A small pullout on the northeast side of the road describes the large bomb target complex built out in the desert called "Yodaville". this simulated town made of shipping containers is used by all manner of combat aircraft to practice precision urban combat scenarios. If you stand up on top of your rig with binoculars, you can just see some of the taller buildings. The area across the road, however, is off-limits and has several 'laser in use" signs warning you off.
56. Fortuna Road Intersection - Turn Left (114.8
One of the more traditional forks of the El Camino Del Diablo lead through the historic now abandoned mining town of Fortuna. In fact, should you choose to go this way, the exit is the alternate a little further east on County Road 14. To the right, you will have to negotiate some more difficult terrain to get to Fortuna. The left is the path designated as the current El Camino Del Diablo. Turn left here.
57. Range Road A5 - Continue Straight (116.91
A5 Range road is a short cut of the soon to be encountered 90° turn to the north. Everything on the south side of this road is off-limits and restricted. Here you may get buzzed by a fighter jet on approach to a bombing run in Yodaville. Fingers crossed the arming pins are all secure.
These wooden post road marker signs are placed by the US Marine Corps, which manages the gunnery range. These markers are highlighted on a map you can obtain at the Range office in Yuma on 3rd avenue. You can also find the .pdf version of the range map here.
There are roads that you might come across with signs marked with an "S" or no sign at all. These roads are not open and it is not permitted for the public to drive on them.
58. El Camino Del Diablo Sign - Right Turn (118.48
A major intersection is here, with an important right turn. The sign describes a bit of the history of the El Camino Del Diablo and shows a map of what's ahead, assuming you are traveling east, this is a left turn then. From here the road heads directly north to the exit.
59. El Camino Del Diablo Western Trail End/Start At County Road 14 & S Ave 13E (125.53
This is the Western terminus of the El Camino Del Diablo at Ave 13E and County Road 14. This area is wide open for many rigs to stage, drop trailers off, and even camp in your motor home if you choose to do that. This is a great spot to air back up and prepare for pavement travel.
You can find fuel to the north at Interstate 8.
Camping is plentiful here. On the Eastern side of the trail, you can camp in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument or in Alamo Canyon for a fee. There are dozens of dispersed campsites near Waypoint 4 all the way out to Waypoint 8.
Once you enter the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife refuge, your camping options are limited to the following:
Papago Well Campground
Tule Well Campground
or 7 miles north of Tule Well, Christmas Pass Primitive camping area.
Some of the finest camping areas can be found in the Tinajas Altas Mountains (particularly at the "High Tanks") shown below. Be warned though, there are over 40 pioneer graves scattered around out there.
For a campfire, there are plentiful fire rings established. There is not very much firewood out here, and you must bring your own. Cutting of wood is not permitted, but you can pick up anything that is dead and down on the Barry Goldwater Gunnery range. (but ordinance, that you should not pick up).
From Phoenix - head west on Interstate 10 and turn left/south on Hwy 85. Continue through Gila Bend and on to Hwy 85 south toward Ajo. It's about 113 miles from downtown Phoenix to downtown Ajo.
From Downtown Tucson taking Highway 86 West - it's about 132 miles until you reach Ajo, via a right turn at Why. (You will pass by the trailhead to get fuel, or you can get fuel in Why at the Texaco station.)
From Downtown Ajo, head south on Highway 85 until you reach the curve at N 2nd Ave (Hwy 85) and Solana Ave (Also Hwy 85). This is the Shell station and the last chance for fuel, ice, etc. From here, head south about 20 miles past the tailings piles on your right until you reach the Darby Well Road on the right. This is the start of the El Camino Del Diablo.
This site is used to obtain a visitor access permit for current or former military lands of the Sonoran desert in southwestern Arizona:
Barry M. Goldwater Range - East public areas: Area B, Bender Springs, and the Ajo Air Station (Air Force)
Barry M. Goldwater Range - West public areas: Blocks A, B, and C (Marine Corps)
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
Area A of the Sonoran Desert National Monument
New All Areas Access annual permit hint: Ensure you have viewed the Safety Video under the "My Safety Briefs" tab on the blue bar of your home page, then you should be able to see the new permit to add to your cart.
For iSportsman account support, contact: 623-856-7216 for the East/Air Force areas; 928-269-3115 for the West/Marine Corps areas.
For general rules and other contact information, download the rules and maps for the area(s) you plan to visit from the Visitor Access Rules and Maps tab above. Paper copies of maps are available at the Cabeza Prieta NWR office in Ajo during business hours, at MCAS Yuma main gate, or at the Gila Bend AFAF gate.
Each individual 18 years or older must have a permit prior to entry. Individuals under 18 years must be accompanied at all times by a permitted adult. Place a copy of your permit on the vehicle dashboard and carry a copy on your person at all times when recreating on the BMGR-East, BMGR-West, CPNWR and Area A of the SDNM.
The Barry M. Goldwater Range is the third largest military reservation in the United States. Since its establishment in 1941, the Goldwater Range has served continuously as a tactical air combat training center. The restricted airspace that defines the Goldwater Range covers about 2.7 million acres and contains 57,000 cubic miles of airspace. This airspace extends over most of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, but no ground-based military activities occur there.
Permits are required by guests of these areas to facilitate public awareness and safety, prevent interference with military training and protect the desert environment. The interactive map depicts real-time information for areas of the BMGR-East and BMGR-West that are open or closed due to military operations, as well as the available recreation areas of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Area A of the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
All permitted areas may present hazards associated with historic military use and the harsh environment of the Sonoran desert. Visitors are responsible for their own safety when recreating in these areas. Know and follow the rules of the areas you visit.
The Sikes Act, 16 U.S.C. 670a, requires the Secretary of Defense to carry out a program consistent with the purpose of military installations to provide for the conservation and rehabilitation of natural resources on military installations and, while ensuring safety requirements are met, to provide for public access to military installations for the multipurpose enjoyment of natural resources including hunting, fishing, trapping, and non-consumptive uses, such as camping, bird watching, and other recreational activities.
Epic adventure. Scenery was amazing, stargazing more so. Went on Veterans day with two rigs, met a few other groups on the trail. Was a great time. Give yourself time to explore.
Danger - avoid the Fortuna Mine road. It *may* be passable, but only for the smallest vehicles, but do not attempt when towing or in a full size truck.
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
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.
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.
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
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
SDNM Area A--BLM: 623-580-5500
Traveled across the El Camino from Ajo to Yuma over two days. I camped out in Alamo Canyon the first night - which set me back a rather hefty $25 because it was located in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The weather was amazing, and the wildflowers in abundance on the western side. We experienced quite a bit of evidence of the US/Mexico border wall construction and you will lose the trail if you don't follow the track exactly (The sign for the Road/Trail is obscured by a sand pile). There was an unsettling amount of people out here this weekend, and one of the fellow campers at Tijinas Altas camp said there was a recent Arizona Highways Magazine article touting the allure of the ECDD. I guess people are now 'aware' of this Sonoran desert gem.
This is a bucket list type trail for the Overlander at heart. I found it very enjoyable, there is plenty to see in terms of scenery, but even more with the dramatic history of the early pioneers who traveled the road and left behind plenty of graves and stories of angst.
However, while on the route, we did witness a good amount of activity of dump trucks and other heavy equipment working on the border wall. Hopefully, that activity calms down soon!
From the Community
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Mapping Crew - Arizona
I moved to Arizona in 1984 and bought my first offroad vehicle the next year. I had lots of adventures, seeking out the Old West on paper topo maps in my Toyota FJ40 and can say, fortunately, that I never had to walk home. In 2005 I saw the prototype for the FJ Cruiser, and in the middle of my FJ40 resto project, someone came into my garage with cash and bought it out from under me. (Some regrets) In 2008, I flew out to LA to pick up my FJ Cruiser, special ordered with the Offroad Package (Locker) and MT6. My area of operations has been Southern Arizona, from the New Mexico to California borders. Unfortunately, the FJ Cruiser burned in a fire in August 2020. Now I'm building up from the ashes, literally, salvaged parts from the FJ are going on my Lexus GX470. SO, that's what's coming out next.
I have been an active member of AZFJ.org where I'm the top post contributor, and have many trail reviews posted there that I plan on enhancing, revisiting and documenting for this authoritative source. I have a login to Ih8Mud and fjcruiserforums but don't lurk there very much.
in my career, I've had the pleasure of traveling in Canada, the Caribbean, and Australia but never had the opportunity to wheel there. (bucket list). But, I hope my 30 years of Southern Arizona discovery, teaching and leading people into the backcountry will finally benefit a wider audience here on Trailsoffroad. There's nothing I enjoy more than finding a historic site, a little-used trail that had significance or the opportunity to take that one photo that defines what we do. (I stink but I'm willing to learn).
Oh..Added benefit...I'm the GIS analyst for a fire dept and as such have some skills in ArcGIS.
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