Much of the land around Ajo, AZ is in a reservation of some kind. There is the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, the Organ Pipe National Monument, the Tohono O 'Odam Indian Reservation, and the 2.1 million acre Barry M Goldwater Air Force Range. Initially established in 1941 by Presidential order, the part closest to Ajo, has had several names and is now called the Ajo- Gilia Bend Aerial and Gunnery Range.
The Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge is actually totally within a little used portion of the BMG Air Force Range.
The range is still active, as as a matter of fact, according to the historians at Luke Airforce Base, all of the F-15E and A-10 pilots and at least half of the F-16 pilots that flew in the Gulf war, were trained here.
While Joan and I were at the Port Orford RV Villiage last summer, we met a fellow RVer Mark Lankford, who coincidently has been coming to Ajo in the winter months for many years. We made a pact to look each other up this winter while we are both in residence. Mark has a great love of the desert, and is intrigued with finding artifacts and photographing them. Mark invited me go with him on an outing today and I jumped at the chance.
Before civilians can enter the ranges, they must watch an informational video that outlines the dangers that are inherent to not only the range, but also to any desert travel. After signing all the waivers of liability, the military will issue the applicant a permit. When you want to enter the range area, you call Security at Luke AFB, and they will log you in (and back out) if the ranges are safe to enter.
Today dawned bright and beautiful, the high temperature forecast to be 64 degrees. I packed a light lunch and loaded up a day pack with survival gear, and lots of water.
Mark took me to some crash sites he has found over the years. The first site we visited was about a half mile hike- straight up! It was an F-100 crash site on the top of a knife edge ridge.
The debris from the crash was strewn all over the hillside, and it was like a scavenger hunt all the way up. Mark convinced me that it is best to be an observer, and let others that follow have the same excitement of discovery- so we take nothing and leave the pieces we handle- where they were found.
On the way to the next site we found a flare canister and it's parachute.
We may not have seen it if an expired mylar balloon glinting in the sun, hadn't found the same spot to snag up in a bush. Mark tells me that the desert is where old mylars come to die- according to him they are everywhere.
The last site we visited was a more current F-16 crash site which had the misfortune of being too accessible. It appeared that most of the wreck had been loaded up and hauled off. That's not to say that it wasn't fun and interesting. Mark and I picked through the debris pile that was left, finding shards of aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium, and fiberglas, along with wiring, bits of circuit boards, tiny servo motors.
Mark showed me how to use a hand-held GPS to navigate to his known sites and then how to find your way back. All the roadway based GPS units I have used did not prepare me for the very different interface on these hand-helds. I was very glad to have Mark's instructions.
I returned back to the RV at 5 PM after a happy day of traipsing through the beautiful desert.
Your Traveling Friends,
Jeff and Joan