Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Modern Ajo

Odometer 54464

Ajo, AZ

My last two blogs were about the founding and the growth of the town of Ajo.  Today's blog is about the town Ajo is now.

The large Olympic size swimming pool built by the copper mine is now closed, and filled in- forgotten to history.

Ajo Pool   picture courtesy of Pima County
Today there is a pool owned and operated by Pima County.

Biggest drawback for us winter visitors; it's not open after Labor Day, even when the temps are still in the 70s and 80s- bummer!

Actually the pool is only part of the much larger E.S. "Bud" Walker Park, which includes a very large green space, a skate boarding park, baseball, football, soccer fields, tennis courts, and a community center building.

 There are several restaurants in Ajo.   Soon to be one more...

The Agave Grill will open soon in Ajo, AZ

The newest is not quite open yet.  There is a buzz of anticipation surrounding the opening of the newly created Agave Grill restaurant.  The story is that there will be a real chef in charge and he will be featuring Asian cuisine- we will have to let you know if this is correct, when it opens and we can sample the offerings.

Marcela's Cafe in Ajo, AZ

Ajo's staple restaurant is Marcela's Cafe.  It has been open for about 15 years now and it is the survivor of all the restaurants that have come and gone in that same time period.  Marcela's fare is a blend of  USA Diner food and authentic Mexican food.  They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  There is a nice shady patio for outside dining.

100 Estrella Restaurant and Tap Room
One Hundred Estrella (the restaurant's address) advertises the "Best Burgers in Town" and most of us would say that is exactly right.  Add to this the fact that they have beer including some craft brews on tap and you have a winning combination.  This weeks menu features two sliders with grass-fed beef, topped with pork belly bourbon jam.  The special includes a golden pile of hand-cut french fries.
The week before was seared Ahi tuna salad. The featured dessert is chocolate mosaic cake. Add a nice draft porter, and it's impossible to beat.

Ajo's Roadrunner Java

Not really a restaurant, but another anchor business for Ajo is the Roadrunner Java shop.
Open 5 days a week Friday-through Tuesday.

You can get coffee or espresso and Millie has a glass case full of cookies, pastries, and donuts baked on site each day.

The only nod to a chain store restaurant is our local Pizza Hut.

To be fair, there are other places where you can get fast food, we have convenience stores at the Chevron and Shell stations,  a new start up ice cream parlor,  a Circle K, and a deli in Olsen's IGA, but for full on restaurants this is our line-up.

Duke Energy Solar Energy Project, Ajo, AZ
Ajo is the site of a fairly large solar electric generating plant.  Thirty-eight acres of desert covered with 25,000 photovoltaic panels which track the sun from east to west.
Built in 2011, the array can produce up to 6 megawatts of electricity and is conveniently located within a half mile of the Ajo substation.

One of the advanced features of this array is that the site did not have to be graded perfectly flat before the panels were installed and linked into the mechanism that keeps them pointed at the sun as the sun sweeps from east to west.The panels use a cutting edge articulating driveline system that allows for panels to be installed on undulating terrain.  (Click here to read more)

Some residents have adopted Ajo in a big way.  Here are a few special houses that Joan and I really enjoy seeing.

This is the former Greenway mansion, now in private hands and getting an interior renovation by it's current owners.  General John Greenway, the mine manager, picked out a prominent hill above the town and close to the mine for his spacious home.

Best Desert Hideaway
Voted best fence (by us)

The Hotel Cornelia  
The Hotel Cornelia makes our list, only because we'd love to see it all fixed up.  The Hotel which was not owned by the mine, fell into disrepair and is in tough shape, but it has a wonderful charm.

Ajo is remaking itself as an art community and the evidence is everywhere;

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Copper! The Story of Ajo, Arizona Part 2

Odometer 54464

Ajo, AZ

In my previous post I began a brief history of the small Arizona town where we spend much of the winter.  In that post I located the town of Ajo within the state as well as describing how it came to be a boom town during the hey day of copper  mining.   Click this link to jump to part 1 (Ajo Part 1)

As John Greenway was building the infrastructure of Ajo, he was losing no time in laying out plans for what would become at one time the 4th largest copper mine in the US.
Another hurdle to opening the mine was the lack of a good supply of water.  Ajo's water came from a scattering of very poor wells, and Greenway knew this would not be nearly enough to operate the mine.
Ajo's early hand dug wells

In 1924 Greenway's geologists located a promising spot for a new well north and east of town.  A shaft was hand dug 645' feet deep and a pump was installed.  Over the next decades new wells would be drilled into this same aquifer to supplement the water supply, eventually bringing in 13 million gallons a day at the height of operations.  The water comes out of the ground at over 106 degrees.  In the winter the water sitting in the above ground storage reservoirs cools so that tap water is tepid, in the summer, residents turn off their water heaters... the water in the above ground steel tank reservoirs never really cools that much and the hot tap becomes the cool water (sitting in your hot water tank) and the cold tap is, well.. hot!
  After the mine shutdown, Phelps-Dodge the owners at that time, saw the wisdom of continuing the supply of water and sewer services, even as they sold off the mine- owned housing.  Needless to say with the mine shutdown Ajo has plenty of water!

The New Cornelia was the first mine in Arizona to embrace the use of the new powerful steam shovel.  John Greenway's work on the Panama Canal made him a firm believer of the power of the technology of the day.  This powerful shovel and lots of dynamite would make open pit mining economically feasible.

Ok, this is not from the New Cornelia- however it is similar ;->)
In 1948 the mine saw advantages in replacing the steam shovels and steam locomotives, with not diesel, but electric models.  Workers laid out 400 volt electric cables to the mobile shovels, and the locomotives were diesel/electric.  Laying the track at no more than 3% grade was necessary to allow the engines to climb out of the pit with their complement of seven to eight haul cars fully loaded. Each power shovel could load an 80 ton load into a single rail car in about 5 scoops.   According to the docent at the mine overlook, the mine employed a crew of 200 just to lay track.  A double row of tracks went in a spiral up from the bottom of the mine and out in loops on the tailing piles.
The New Cornelia Copper Mine 2013

Each of the stepped rings you see in the pit above is 40 feet tall and more than 40' wide.  The pit is a   mile and a half across, and over 1,100 feet deep.  The haul distance from the bottom of the pit to the waste dump was 7 miles, and to the crushers, 5-1/2 miles.

 Greenway was brilliant mining engineer as well as a competent and compassionate manager.  To attract quality miners, and to keep a stable workforce he built worker housing, and provided them at a reasonable cost.  At full operation the mine employed more than 1400 workers, and supported numerous other support business around town
Typical Ajo Mine Workers House
Each house came complete with a 4 foot high chain link fence around the lot and each came with a "mine standard" garage off the alley in the back yard.

Each mine house came complete with a shed or garage off the alley
The standard garage is roughly 20 feet long by 12 feet wide on a concrete slab, wood framed with galvanized metal roof and walls- one for each house.

Now that the houses have been sold into private hands many have been cleverly updated.
Nicely Remodeled Mine House
We met and talked with the owners of this beautiful home in Ajo.  They are from the Tacoma, WA area, and have been living here full time for more than 10 years now.

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Copper! The Story of Ajo, Arizona Part 1

Odometer  54464

Ajo, AZ

I thought it would be a good thing to write a blog posting about the community that we frequent in the winter months- Ajo, AZ.

Map of southern Arizona

As you can see from the location of the push pin above, the town of Ajo is located about half way between Tucson in the east and Yuma in the west, and coincidentally, just above the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  The town site is also about 40 miles from the Mexican border, and 100 miles from the ocean at the Sea of Cortes.
 Map of Arizona topography
By Mortadelo2005 Wikipedia

As you can see on the map at the right, there are three layers to Arizona, a high plateau on the top right, a mid line transition zone and a basin and  range area to the bottom and left side.
The Plateau area averages 5,000- 8,000 foot elevations (Flagstaff 6,910') while the Basin and Range zone averages sub-2000' elevations.  (Tucson 2400' and Yuma 141')

Ajo comes in at the high end of the basin and range at 1760' feet high. The relative height above the lower parts of the basin keep the Ajo area just a tiny bit cooler and a little wetter, making this a very green looking desert compared to most.

Photo of lush vegetation in Organ Pipe Nat Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
The Ajo area has long been a source of mineral wealth.  First to extract minerals were the Native American tribes that inhabited this area.  In the mid 1800s Spanish explorers discovered these high grade gold and copper ores along with other minerals, staying long enough to dig a 60 deep shaft all the while being harassed by native warriors.  It wasn't until 1886 that a white rancher named Childs came to the area to find the Spanish encampment empty.  Childs and a group of investors ran a successful copper mine under the name Arizona Mining and Trading Co.  The ore had to be sent by ship, around the tip of South America and across the Atlantic to Wales for refining, still the town of Ajo was doing very well.  Incidentally, the name of the town comes from the native word for the area "o'oho" which translated into "red" for the reddish pigments they found in abundance here.  The Spanish heard the word as "ajo", their word for garlic.

In 1911 John Campbell Greenway came to Ajo and bought the Cornelia Mine and became the manager for the newly formed Calument and Arizona Mining Company.  Greenway had plans to modernize and expand it on a grand scale.  Greenway laid out a town site with churches, schools, a hospital,markets and general stores, and the jewel of Ajo, a grand plaza.

Ajo Plaza circa 1911-12
Very importantly, about this same time, the TC&GB railroad spur was built down from the mainline at Gila Bend,giving the mine an economical way to haul the enriched ores to far away smelters.

Ajo's railroad terminal anchors one full side of the plaza

Greenway felt very strongly about making the town wholesome to attract good employees and families.  The mine paid to have two churches built, one Catholic and one Federated

Ajo AZ Catholic and Federated Churches
Ajo Catholic and Federated Churches

Schools, of course were very important and Greenway made sure Ajo had a very good one.

Ajo, AZ Curley School  taken  2016
Ajo's Curley School built circa 1919
This is actually the front of a complex of three schools that occupy two city blocks.  If you are interested in learning more about the Curley School complex and how it came to be revived into artist's housing click this link to one of my previous blogs Read more

Ajo would also need a first class medical facility, and Greenway did not skimp here either.

Ajo, AZ Hospital building taken 2016
Ajo Hospital built in 1930 

This modern 29,000 sf hospital was competed in 1930 and served the mine and the community for 55 years until the mine closed in 1985.  The hospital sits on a 4 acre site and has commanding views of downtown and the surrounding desert.   The building has sat empty for 31 years.  Ownership has changed hands a few times, and schemes and plans have been kicked around for years.  At present it is on the market for $350,000.  

Stay tuned for part two on a brief history of Ajo.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Visiting Friends

Odometer  54,464

Ajo, Arizona

We had a little bit of rain here, late afternoon and overnight.  It usually means that we can expect some beautiful blooms.

Joan on the Streets of Ajo

A local example of a "crested" cactus
Succulents including a Saguaro or an Organ Pipe cactus can get a somewhat rare genetic disorder that causes a defect in the tip, making it convolute into a crown shape.  These are called "Cristate".

Desert Camping Site for Our Friends
Joan and I were super excited when we got word form Howard and Mary Kay, our friends and neighbors from Oregon, that they would be visiting us here in Ajo, AZ.  Howard and Mary Kay have been on an extended RV trip and are now on their way back home to Oregon for the winter.  They gave us enough notice that we did some scouting and found some interesting and scenic places where they could wild camp on the BLM property south of town.  We spent a couple of days catching up on all their exploits since we last saw them in June.  We also took a tour of Ajo and the New Cornellia copper mine that is the reason for the townsite here in the Sonoran Desert.  The four of us also were excited about taking a trip to Organ Pipe National Monument, so we took a full day to visit the campground, visitors center and take the east loop drive through the scenic hills.

Friends Howard and Mary Kay at Organ Pipe National Monument

It was a whirl-wind 2-1/2 days, and before we knew it they were off again heading west to California before heading north to Oregon.

Your Traveling Friends,

Joan and Jeff

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Getting my Just Deserts

Odometer 54464
Trip 0 miles

Ocotillo leafing out

The Ocotillo in the desert here are undergoing a transformation.  After a substantial rain, the plants quickly sprout lush green leaves and go into a growth spurt.  As the water dries up the leaves will drop off and the plant will become dormant again.  These green cycles can last weeks or even months.  Spring and Summer the cycles often terminate with beautiful spray of red flowers at the tips of the stalks.

Ocotillo dormant- no leaves

While dormant, those unfamiliar with the Ocotillo, often mistake it for a dead plant.  This is true for many desert plants, which look like dead sticks until the proper conditions for growth come around again, and life flows into the stick-like branches once more.

Mark and I were exploring in the desert again today and I noticed this very interesting looking saguaro.  It must have taken a very long time to grow this very tortured looking shape

Tangled Saguaro Cactus 
Mark and I drove out to look at an F-84 crash site that Mark had located last summer, one that we had searched for unsuccessfully two winters ago.

1988 "Tin Top" Suzuki Samurai
Time to break out the ultimate desert transport, Marks Suzuki Samurai.  There are a lot of these Suzukis in Ajo because they work so well on the narrow rutted roads.  A little over 200,000 of these vehicles were imported to the US between 1986 and 1995.
The Samurai has a 1.3 liter, 4 cylinder engine that churns out 63 horsepower through a 5 speed gearbox.  The best ride comes from dialing in the hubs on the front axle, and selecting low range- 4 wheel drive.  The Sammi will crawl along easily over any terrain all day long,without throwing the occupants all around.

F84 crash debris
Since Mark has already been to this site, the trip was mostly for me, and it was easy to know when we had arrived at the crash site.  This site has a fair amount of debris scattered over a large area.
There are actually two impact areas, this plane hit and skipped before coming to a stop, which may explain the quantity of interesting finds.  (I took about 60 different photos- I'll not bore my readers by posting).

This is a good piece to study the riveting style

Today's hike in the desert was just what I needed, warm weather, fair skies and a slight breeze.  Add in the excitement of a find of this magnitude and I am very happy.  As I've said before the fun is in the finding, and all we take are photos.  Leave this where it is so that others can share the excitement of finding it just as we have.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ahh Ajo!

Odometer 54464
Trip meter  0

Wow- what a moon!

The clear skies over the Sonoran Desert gave us the opportunity of a lifetime to see the Super Moon clearly as it rose above the horizon tonight.
Super Moon photo by Jeff Smith
Of course I was scrambling to figure out how to operate the SLR after a long absence.  I searched in vain for he tripod that I am sure I packed away somewhere.  The shot ended up being handheld braced against a picnic table.  Oh-Well.
Our Ajo site photographed by light from the Super Moon
I was on a roll so I decided to do a shot of our motorhome illuminated only by the moon.

Ajo Plaza

Desert selfie-  Getting the GPS tracker set-up before our trek
One of the reasons this is my favorite place is because I get the opportunity to hunt for lost aircraft crash sites with my buddy Mark.  Mark is a bloodhound when it comes to finding old, long forgotten crash sites.  Mark operates off the crash reports that were filed by the AAF at the time,  however the data is not always transcribed accurately, and Mark has a second sense about what is trustworthy and what is likely not to be.
The major debris from and early AT-6 crash near Ajo, AZ
Mark took me on an easy hike to an AT-6 crash site near town.  These sites are the proverbial needle in the haystack.  Even with good GPS coordinates, if you aren't careful you can walk by without seeing the evidence.  We have been told by some of the long time residents of the area that the larger structures like, engines, landing gear, wings and fuselage were either hauled off or buried.  The flash floods that ravage this area from time to time, have also buried or carried off some of the evidence.  We take lots of photos and study the parts to be able to identify similar parts and structures when we find other sites.  To be allowed access to the gunnery range is a privilege, and we sign a pledge not to take souvenirs, and we take that promise very seriously.

Some of the parts we find are remarkably intact, like the clockworks shown here.  (probably not a clock however)

Remains of an instrument at the AT-6 crash site
Solar charging setup
Near the crash site Mark and I discovered a damaged solar panel and charging base for a two-way radio.  Nearby were also empty water bottles and some canned food.  It's probable that the set-up was used by a spotter who guided illegals through the area.  It looks like the Border Patrol may have damaged the equipment to keep it from being used again.  Mark and I climbed the nearby hilltop and walked the ridge for a short distance.  There were a lot of water bottles and food cans and wrappers in evidence, Most of them showing a lot of age.                                                                                                                                                                We had a wary guard watching us.  This guard was a wild burro, who kept its distance.  As we approached the site the burro snorted loudly from his perch above us on the hillside.  Later as we descended the ridge the burro had moved out on to the valley floor and again snorted and stomped as we passed.            Great first hike for this season.
Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Old Familiar Roads

Odometer 54464
Trip 459 miles

Pahrump, NV to Needles, CA
202 miles

Shortly after I had finished my breakfast this morning I heard a very slight knock at the front door.  One of our neighbors from the RV behind us introduced herself and asked what my plans were for dumping our holding tanks.  I should back up a moment and say that yesterday afternoon as I was hooking up the utilities I found that even with my extension hose, the sewer connection was just too far out of reach, missed by 2 feet.  I reasoned that we would just empty in the morning.   Once we were down off the jacks, and before we left, we would back up 3 feet and connect up, and do the deed.
She and I had a good laugh as I explained all this to her.

This RV park has several spaces like this one, where the utilities are all well behind the parking area for the RV.  Pretty unusual because the sewer hookups are typically along side the RV space.  We have a main hose which is 15' long and an extension that adds another 8' or so, meaning that this sewer inlet was about 25 feet behind our outlet bay.

Joan and I were off to an early (for us) start today.  Up at 7 AM, Packing up at 8AM, tanks empty and pulling out at 8:30.  After a few minor adjustments, lights are working on the car and we are off...  Our plan was to drive east on Hwy 160 to Las Vegas and skirt the southern edge of the city, catch Interstate 515 south which soon splits into US 95 to Laughlin or US 93 to Kingman.

While transiting the south corner of Las Vegas a passing gravel truck, chucked a rock at our nearly new right hand windshield.
We searched for a chip and thought for a moment that we had dodged the proverbial rock.  By the time we turned onto I- 515 we saw the trail of an advancing crack.  We were just sick.  We'd had this glass for little more that a year.  I suggested finding a glass shop to drill the crack and inject it with a filler.  Joan called all around and couldn't find a shop in the Bullhead-Laughlin area that would even answer the phone.  In order to save time and not backtrack, we decided to find a hardware store and get a glass drill and crazy glue- see if we could get some more miles out of it before the crack was up in our field of view.

We had agreed to stop in at a friends vacation house near Needles to check on it for them, so we took 95 south through California, then took the bridge over the Colorado River to our friends house.  The gate lock was frozen tight and no amount of penetrating oil or taps with a hammer would loosen it up.  I took out the trusty zip wheel and cut the lock off, allowing us to park comfortably in the side yard and hook up to power.

Honda towbar pin
When I unhooked the car we were chatting with one of Dave's neighbors and I did something very stupid- I placed the pins that attach the towbar to the car on the part of the towbar that stays with the car- rather than putting them into the towbar arms like I have 100 times before.  As we drove to the hardware store to get the glass drill and superglue one of the two pins fell to the street in downtown Needles.  Remarkably, against all odds, the other pin stayed on the towbar all the way there and back.  It wouldn't be until the next morning when we went to hook up, that I would discover the horrible mistake I'd made.

Meanwhile, drill in hand we tried three separate holes before we got one to stop the crack at the very end.
We drilled the crack to keep it from running

We did some needed fix ups on Dave's cottage and turned in for the night.  The next morning after breakfast, we closed everything up, moved the motorhome out to the main road and using the new lock we bought, locked the front gate behind us.  Joan moved the Honda up to the motorhome and I stared down in disbelief as I saw one pin balancing on the towbar and one GONE!

Towbar pin lies in the street
I was in shock!  "Quick! we have to re-drive our route to the hardware store and find that pin", I screamed.  Joan, being more of a realist, says no way we're going to find a hitch pin in all of downtown Needles.  "Humor me" I yelled as I jumped into the right hand seat of the Honda.

Joan drove as slowly as traffic would allow, we covered the first 1/2 mile of the trip, across the Colorado on K street, Right onto Needles Highway, and BAM!  There it was- our pin lying in the street!  I dove out and scooped it up, nearly kissing it with joy!

Okay, a little melodramatic, but I was not wanting to use my backup pin, purchased in Eureka, Montana, in 2004, the last time I pulled a similar stunt.  Back then we purchased a farm implement pin of a similar diameter but much longer, from a tractor supply before we found the original pin.  That time I had put one pin in the towbar and one pin in the car.  While out driving around I looked down and was certain I had lost the one pin- it wasn't until we got back to the motorhome that I discovered the other pin was there.

Needles, AZ to Ajo, AZ
267 miles

With all this excitement we didn't get underway until 9:45.  We headed east on AZ 95 which swings south along the east bank of the Colorado all the way to Parker, AZ.  We had a hasty lunch stop of about 15 minutes, and pressed on to AZ 72 which took us south and east to interstate 10.  Once on I-10 we hustled 80 some miles on to Buckeye, where we turned south once more on AZ 85 which took us on the final 84miles of this journey to Ajo, AZ

We arrived in Ajo at about 4:30 PM, topped off the diesel tank and checked into Shadow Ridge RV Resort

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Odometer 54005
Trip 133 miles

Goldfield, NV to Pahrump, NV

Short trip today.
I hate to bore you more with the umbilical, but we had hookup problems again this morning.  The socket on the car finally failed also.  We decided to go ahead and drive to Pahrump and look for a replacement.  The kit we bought last summer from the tow bar manufacturer came with replacements for the wire and both sockets, but we'd had no problems so I didn't feel I needed to replace those pieces.  I brought one socket with me, and left the other socket lying on the workbench back home.
That came home to roost today.

We checked into the Nevada Treasure RV Resort on the outskirts of Pahrump and hooked up the motorhome.  There is an RV store in Pahrump- of course it's on the other side of this very long stretched out city (12 miles away).  The RV center did not have the socket, however we were able to get one at an auto parts store, and it is now installed in the car.  Hope it works when we hook up tomorrow morning.

The Nevada Treasure is a high end resort, however they have a few normal spaces for overnighters like us.

The exclusive spaces have nice pavers all around, a grotto of trees and a thatched roof huts for you to entertain in.  Some even have outdoor kitchens.  That's all above our wants or needs.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan