El Camino del Diablo—A Baptism of Fire

El Camino del Diablo—A Baptism of Fire

El Camino del Diablo, or the Devil’s Highway, has earned its ominous name. This Native American and pioneer trail snakes through the formidable Sonoran and Yuma Deserts in Arizona, uniting Ajo to Yuma amidst the Tinajas Altas Mountains.

During our ride through the devilish road, our friends Beth and Ken joined the expedition in their 4x4 Sprinter van. It’s a good thing, too, as the vehicle became our indispensable chase truck.

Rich in history, El Camino del Diablo dates back millennia and was initially used by Native American tribes like the Tohono and Hia C-ed O’odham. With their guidance, Spanish explorers, missionaries, and traders navigated it later, further adding to its historical tapestry.

Crossing the trail can be a perilous journey, and it has claimed more than 2,000 lives since European arrival. That said, the challenges are sporadic and even a novice sand rider should do fine.

The February desert unfurled a breathtaking tableau as we traversed its stark beauty—landscapes adorned with saguaro and teddy-bear cholla cacti, expansive dunes, and rugged outcrops. You need permits to enter the Barry M. Goldwater Range and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge; a simple online form-filling exercise with no associated charges.

From SR 85, the journey takes you to Darby Well Rd, about three miles from Ajo. Keep watch for the towering heap of mine tailings as you head south on a relatively easy path.

After around 12 miles, you’ll cross a cattle guard and officially enter the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. There’s a water station and an emergency beacon here—make use of the former and hopefully not the latter.