Wednesday, March 8, 2017

In Search of Mexican Poppies

Odometer 54446
Ajo, Arizona

Today word was spreading quickly around the RV resort- "the Mexican Poppies are blooming in the desert!"  Joan and I had some inside intel on on one of the best places to see carpets of blooms, so we did not hesitate to set out for an afternoon of discovery.

Hat Mountain Locator Map BMGR Area B
Our destination was Hat Mountain, some 26 miles north and east of town.  Getting to Hat Mountain requires receiving permission to enter onto the Barry M Goldwater Gunnery Range (BMGR) an Air Force practice range for combat aircraft.  Area B that we wanted to enter is usually quiet enough that permission is granted.  Entrants have to watch a safety video and fill out registration forms before being assigned  permit number.

When entering the range, one must call the phone number given on the permit (Luke Air Force) and be prepared to give names, permit numbers, vehicle description, license plate numbers, est. time in the area, etc.

Since this was once an active range it is still possible to find un-expended ordinance on the ground. The safety briefing explains the importance of leaving any ordinance found, undisturbed.  The picture above is one of two bombs that Mark and I discovered in the Hat Mountain area.  We called them in to Luke AFB and they sent out Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) techs to remove or destroy them.  GPS coordinates come in very handy for this.

Typical Desert Road on BMGR
The crisp boundary at the bottom of the white area on the map above, is Arizona Highway 85 which runs between Interstate 8 at Gila Bend and the Mexican border at Lukeville.
We could have driven up Highway 85 to gate 9 and driven in- but I chose to drive the 4 wheel drive trail up that parallels the highway.  This is a good section of the road, the local arroyos wash out many areas that make transit much more technical.

Slovan Well
The Tohono O'odham native Americans that inhabited these lands (and still have a sizeable reservation here) called this area "Moivavi" meaning "many wells" because a hand dug hole had a good chance of producing water.

Our chosen route offered us a chance to check out Slovan Well on what used to be the Childs Ranch.  I Googled-up Slovan Well to see if I could find out how it got that name.   Finding nothing on the net, I have to assume that the earliest well on this site was dug by none other than the Slovans.

Concrete reservoir at Slovan well

The well we see today has a metal casing, which leads me to believe that it was no longer a hand dug well.

The Wind pump that used to be here has been removed, but the large concrete and rock reservoir and the cattle trough are still in fairly good shape.

One can only imagine the herculean task it was to form, mix and pour the concrete for this roughly 20' x 20' by 8' high concrete reservoir back in the day.

A pebble dropped into the well produced a satisfying splash at the bottom, indicating water is still available.

A-10 Thunderbolt (military photo)

Not long after leaving Slovan well we could hear Air Force A-10s passing overhead and the distinctive whine of their ducted fan jet engines.  The A-10s don't drop any ordinance on this side of Highway 85, but there is a lead-in area on this (east) side (shown on the map above that is cross hatched in blue.)
From our vantage point on the east side of the highway we could watch as a pair of A-10s did strafing and bombing runs on targets west of the highway.  At times their path took them right over our car!

After we tired of watching the A-10s we turned east away from Highway 85 and headed towards Hat Mountain.  This road would take us along the flanks of the Sauceda Mountains.  Several times we took side trips off the main road into a canyon where we found what we had come for- carpets of green with millions of golden- yellow poppies all in full bloom.

Petroglyphs near Thanksgiving Day Tank
One trip into the hills brought us within hiking range of these petroglyphs.  The unstable cliffs above are eroding and the falling rock and boulders are slowly destroying the ancient artworks below.

Too Beautiful
 This canyon road ends in about a quarter mile, but the side trip here was very worthwhile!

Hat Mountain is an iconic landmark around here.  Visible from nearly anywhere, it allows you to instantly get your bearings.  Its distinctive shape is unmistakable on the skyline.  The road continues from here into the Saucedas and the East Tactical Range, which we do not have clearance for today.

We take one last photo of the desert blooms, and reluctantly head back to Highway 85 and our home on wheels.

This has been the wettest winter we have seen here (which isn't saying much!) but the pay-off is this amazingly green and flowering spring in our corner of the southern Sonoran Desert.

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan


  1. yep we had to leave the sonoran desert just before the bloom, enjoy it for us too...

  2. A10's are awesome, as are petroglyphs and desert blooms!