Skip to main content

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the El Camino del Diablo

Back in 2012 I visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in western Pima County for a winter hike in the Sonoyta Mountains.  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is located directly north of the border with Sonora, Mexico and is generally traversed by Arizona State Route 85.


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was created in 1937 and is the only place in the United States where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows.







The land that Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument lies on was donated to the Federal Government during prohibition by the Arizona State Legislature with hopes the Federal Government would improve it.  The land Organ Pipe National Monument was a traditional Spanish route travel known as the El Camino del Diablo (The Road of the Devil) between Caborca in Sonora 250 miles northwest to Yuma Crossing at the Colorado River into California.

El Camino del Diablo dates over 1,000 years as tribal route and likely was used by the Spanish Coronado Expedition in 1540 to cross the Sonoran Desert.  The Spanish were guided to the Colorado River by local tribes who previously used El Camino del Diablo as a crossing of the Sonoran Desert during the winter months.  El Camino del Diablo was an ideal crossing of the Sonoran Desert due to various natural wells that were located on the route.  The first confirmed Spanish use of El Camino del Diablo was in 1699.

El Camino del Diablo largely fell into disuse after Quechan uprising along the Colorado River at Yuma Crossing in 1781.  Fort Yuma was built in 1848 to protect travelers crossing into California.  Coupled with the onset of the California Gold Rush of 1849 the route of El Camino del Diablo became a popular crossing of the Sonoran Desert to reach California.  In 1853 the Gadsden Purchase was completed which ceded much of the Mexican lands south of the Gila River to the United States.  This act placed the El Camino del Diablo north of Sonoyta within the U.S. territory of New Mexico which later became part of Arizona Territory in 1863.  In the 1860s placer mining claims along the Colorado River near Fort Yuma increased traffic on El Camino del Diablo.  When the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Yuma in 1877 El Camino del Diablo fell largely lost its popularity due to the dangers of crossing the Sonoran Desert presented.

El Camino del Diablo was a deadly route of travel with estimates stating that anywhere from 400 to 2,000 travelers have died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert.  The well at Tinajas Atlas near the Gila Mountains is known to have 65 confirmed grave sites.

In modern context the route of El Camino del Diablo largely has been replaced from Mexican Federal Highway 2 between Caborca and Sonoyta in Sonora.  On the Arizonan side El Camino del Diablo largely remains as it always has; a primitive ungraded dirt road crossing the Sonoran Desert.  The route of El Camino del Diablo enters Arizona at Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and follows Pozo Nuevo Road northward to Cipriano Pass.  In Growler Valley El Camino del Diablo swings westward out of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  The map of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument below shows the route of El Camino del Diablo from the border near Quitobaquito Springs to the northwest.


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Park Map

The route of the El Camino del Diablo continues west through what is now Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and partially the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range to the Gila Mountains.  The El Camino del Diablo crosses the Gila Mountains near the Mexican Border and emerges near Fortuna Foothills at County 14th Street.  This 1938 Arizona Highway Map quadrant shows the El Camino del Diablo entering Arizona in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument with a westward course to US 80 on the western flank of the Gila Mountains.  The El Camino del Diablo can be identified by following; Bates Well, Papago Well, Tule Well, and the Fortuna Mine as way points.

1938 Arizona State Highway Map 

Today the remaining portion of the El Camino del Diablo is most easily reached from AZ 85 south of Ajo via Darby Well Road south to Growler Valley in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Back in the 2000s I did go out to parts of the El Camino del Diablo with some friends who had prepped four-wheel drive/high clearance vehicles.  My word of caution is that this route is for season off-roaders and vehicles that can handle the terrain.  Most publications advise carrying at minimum two spare tires along with enough water to last at least 7-10 days in the Sonoran Desert.  These two publications offer more details on traveling the El Camino del Diablo.

desertusa.com on the El Camino del Diablo

azstateparks.com on the El Camino del Diablo

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Horace Wilkinson Bridge (Baton Rouge, LA)

Standing tall across from downtown Baton Rouge, the Horace Wilkinson Bridge carries Interstate 10 across the lower Mississippi River between West Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parishes. Unusually, the bridge is actually named for three separate people; three generations of Horace Wilkinsons who served in the Louisiana State Legislature over a combined period of 54 years. Constructed in the 1960s and opened to traffic in 1968, this is one of the largest steel bridges on the lower Mississippi. It’s also the tallest bridge across the Mississippi, with its roadway reaching 175 ft at the center span. Baton Rouge is the northernmost city on the river where deep-water, ocean-going vessels can operate. As a result, this bridge is the northernmost bridge on the river of truly gigantic proportions. Altogether, the bridge is nearly 2 ½ miles long and its massive truss superstructure is 4,550 ft long with a center main truss span of 1,235 ft. The Horace Wilkinson Bridge is one of the largest

Sunshine Bridge (Donaldsonville, LA)

Located about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in southern Louisiana, the Sunshine Bridge spans the lower Mississippi River near the city of Donaldsonville as part of the longer Louisiana Highway 70 corridor, which connects Interstate 10 and Airline Highway (US 61) with US 90 in Morgan City. In the years following World War II, the only bridges across the lower Mississippi River in Louisiana were located in the area of the state’s two largest cities – Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Postwar agricultural and industrial development along the river in this region led to the planning of a series of infrastructure projects in southern Louisiana that were aimed at spurring this development and modernization of the Delta region. One of these projects was known as the Acadian Thruway and was developed in the 1950s as a toll road intended to connect greater New Orleans with Lafayette and points west while providing a high-speed bypass of the Baton Rouge metro area. The Thruway, which

Veterans Memorial Bridge (Gramercy, LA)

When we think of the greatest engineering achievements and the greatest bridges of North America, we tend to focus on those located in places familiar to us or those structures that serve the greatest roles in connecting the many peoples and cultures of our continent. Greatness can also be found in the places we least expect to find it and that 'greatness' can unfortunately be overlooked, due in large part to projects that are mostly inconsequential, if not wasteful, to the development and fortunes of the surrounding area. In the aftermath of the George Prince ferry disaster that claimed the lives of 78 people in October 1976 in nearby Luling, LA, the state of Louisiana began the process of gradually phasing out most of its prominent cross-river ferry services, a process that remains a work in progress today. While the Luling-Destrehan Ferry service was eliminated in 1983 upon completion of the nearby Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge, the ferry service at Gramercy, LA in rural St.