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.

The 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 the El Camino del Diablo as a crossing of the Sonoran Desert during the winter months.  The 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 the El Camino del Diablo was in 1699.

The 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 the 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 the El Camino del Diablo.  When the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Yuma in 1877 the El Camino del Diablo fell largely lost it's popularity due to the dangers of crossing the Sonoran Desert presented.

The 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 the El Camino del Diablo largely has been replaced from Mexican Federal Highway 2 between Caborca and Sonoyta in Sonora.  On the Arizonan side the El Camino del Diablo largely remains as it always has; a primitive ungraded dirt road crossing the Sonoran Desert.  The route of the 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 the 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 the 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

California State Route 58/Old California State Route 178 west of CA 43

This past week I drove California State Route 58 west of CA 43 in Kern County over the Temblor Range and La Panza Range to US Route 101 near Santa Margarita of San Luis Obispo County.


CA 58 west of Bakersfield and CA 99 in general is a mostly two-lane highway that traverses some very remote territory of Central California.  I chose to cover CA 58 west of CA 43 specifically due to the changes in the alignment that are to come when the West Side Parkway connects to the Centennial Corridor project.  The Centennial Corridor will connect CA 58 west of CA 99 to the already completed segment of Freeway on the West Side Parkway.

Westside Parkway and the Centennial Corridor; Future California State Route 58

CA 58 from Barstow west to Bakersfield was carved out of what was US Route 466 during the 1964 State Highway Renumbering.  CA 58 west of Bakersfield to Santa Margarita was carved out of what was part of CA 178.  The change from CA 178 to CA 58 west of Bakersfield to Santa Margarita can be ob…

California State Route 118

This past month I drove the entirety of California State Route 118 from Ventura County east into Los Angeles County.


CA 118 is a major 47 mile State Highway which begins in the City in Ventura County and traverses east into Los Angeles County by way of Simi Valley and Santa Susana Pass.  From Santa Susana Pass CA 118 continues eastward through San Fernando Valley within the City of Los Angeles and terminates at Interstate 210.  CA 118 contains within it's right-of-way some of the most historic highway corridors in California history.

The precursor route of CA 118 was Legislative Route Number 9 which was first added to the State Highway System during the First State Highway Bond Act of 1909.  The original definition of LRN 9 was from San Bernardino westward to LRN 4 in San Fernando. LRN 9 was extended westward to LRN 2 near Montalvo (modern day Ventura) in 1933.

In a August 1934 Department of Public Works Guide the Signed State Highways were announced.  CA 118 was announced to be a…

Chisholm Ferry/Bridge Location and early Legislative Route Number 10

This past month while viewing the site of Chisholm Ferry along the Kings River of Kings County I noticed that route being illustrated resembled an early Californian State Highway.  My suspicions proved correct as the location of Chisholm Ferry was part of the original alignment of Legislative Route Number 10; a precursor to California State Route 198.


The Facebook in question above was posted on the Antique Images from the Collection of Michael J. Semas and can be viewed below:

Michael J. Semas on Chisholm Ferry and Bridge

The location of Chisholm Ferry is located just south of Jackson Avenue/Old CA 198 on the Kings River about 4 miles west of Lemoore near Avenal Cut-Off Road.  This particular section of the Kings River was once the northern most extent of Tulare Lake.

Tulare Lake was once the largest fresh water lake west of the Great Lakes by surface area.  Tulare Lake was first surveyed at an approximately 570 square miles in 1849 and was later surveyed to be 690 square miles in …