Ajo's desert heart

Time to recharge ― and let out your inner coyote ― in a historic town
Tim Vanderpool

Coyote yelps ring from the shadows of a giant saguaro as brilliant sunlight slips down tawny mountain slopes. But this cactus is a wood cutout.

And the coyotes? They're kids howling like the real thing at Ajo's annual Sonoran Shindig, a yearly celebration of a lovely Arizona desert town blessed with graceful Spanish colonial revival architecture, a nearby nature preserve, and a gorgeous backdrop of cactus, canyons, and rich mining history.

Sonoran Shindig. Cowboy music to Native American and Mexican folk dancing, and booths devoted to flora and fauna, from cactus to horned owls. WHEN: 10-4 Mar 18. HOW MUCH: Free. WHERE: Bud Walker Park, off Fifth St. (1 mile north of the Plaza); 520/387-7742.

 

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The park is a desert gem where patient visitors might see a kangaroo rat or a rattlesnake. Stop at the Visitor Center for a map and drive along N. Puerto Blanco Dr. HOW MUCH: $8 per vehicle. WHERE: From Ajo, take State 85 south for 34 miles; www.nps.gov/orpi or 520/387-6849.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Want to take advantage of that SUV? High-clearance two-wheel-drive vehicles can travel the 17-mile Charlie Bell Rd., slicing among ridges and ironwood-laced washes in this primitive, wildlife-rich preserve. At 8½ miles, a historic windmill makes a good picnic spot. WHEN: 7:30-4:30 Mon-Fri (closed 12-1). WHERE: Free maps and required permits are available at refuge headquarters, 1611 N. Second Ave.; www.fws.gov or 520/387-6483.

 

Plaza Deli. Order a picnic lunch (try the classic Reuben) and gourmet coffee. Then stroll across the street to the Plaza and dine in the shadow of grand architecture. WHEN: Breakfast and lunch Sun-Fri. HOW MUCH: $. WHERE: 28 Plaza St.; 520/387-6434.

Ajo Historical Society Museum. Learn more about New Cornelia Mining Co.'s legacy. The eccentric outpost in a onetime Tohono O'odham mission overflows with frontier-era artifacts and mining relics. There's a great viewpoint nearby of the New Cornelia's massive, multihued mine-pit slopes. WHEN: 10-4 daily. HOW MUCH: Donation suggested. WHERE: 160 W. Mission St.; 520/387-7105.

Info: Ajo is 135 miles west of Tucson and 111 miles south of Phoenix. Contact the Ajo District Chamber of Commerce (520/387-7742).