Nestled in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Ajo, Arizona, is a charming town that often gets overlooked by travelers seeking the glitz and glamour of more popular tourist destinations. However, Ajo holds its own unique allure, offering visitors a chance to discover the beauty of the desert landscape, delve into its rich history, and engage in a variety of outdoor activities. In this blog post, we will explore some of the top things to do in Ajo, Arizona, ensuring you make the most of your visit to this hidden gem.
- Discover the Ajo Plaza:
Begin your journey in the heart of Ajo by exploring the Ajo Plaza. This historic square serves as the town’s central gathering place and is surrounded by charming Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings. Admire the stunning architecture and take a stroll through the plaza, where you’ll find local shops, art galleries, and restaurants offering a taste of Ajo’s vibrant culture.
- Visit the Ajo Historical Museum:
To gain a deeper understanding of Ajo’s rich past, head to the Ajo Historical Museum. Housed in a former school building dating back to 1917, the museum showcases exhibits that highlight the town’s mining heritage, Native American history, and the unique challenges faced by those living in the desert. Explore artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays that paint a vivid picture of Ajo’s fascinating past.
- Explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:
Located just a short drive from Ajo, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. This UNESCO biosphere reserve is home to diverse plant and animal species, including the namesake organ pipe cactus. Embark on scenic hikes or scenic drives to witness the breathtaking beauty of the desert landscape, keeping an eye out for wildlife such as coyotes, javelinas, and desert bighorn sheep.
- Take a Scenic Drive along the Ajo Mountain Loop:
For an unforgettable adventure, hop in your car and embark on the Ajo Mountain Loop Drive. This 21-mile scenic route offers awe-inspiring views of the rugged Ajo Mountains, picturesque desert vistas, and unique rock formations. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the stunning landscape and keep an eye out for the diverse array of desert plants that dot the route.
- Immerse Yourself in Art and Culture:
Ajo has a thriving art scene, and one of the best ways to experience it is by visiting the International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) Plaza. This cultural hub hosts a variety of art exhibits, workshops, and performances, showcasing the talents of local and visiting artists. Engage in conversations with artists, participate in workshops, and purchase one-of-a-kind artworks to take home as a memento of your time in Ajo.
- Go Birdwatching at the Ajo Wetlands:
Birdwatchers will find paradise at the Ajo Wetlands, a haven for migratory and resident bird species. Located near the town, this 1,100-acre habitat offers excellent birdwatching opportunities, with over 330 species recorded in the area. Grab your binoculars and explore the various trails that wind through the wetlands, keeping an eye out for herons, egrets, ducks, and even the elusive vermilion flycatcher.
- Attend the Sonoran Shindig:
If you happen to visit Ajo in late February, make sure to attend the Sonoran Shindig. This annual event celebrates the vibrant culture, arts, and traditions of the region. Enjoy live music performances, dance exhibitions, local food vendors, and a lively atmosphere that will leave you with unforgettable memories of Ajo’s community spirit.
- Stargaze in the Desert:
Ajo is known for its pristine night skies, making it an ideal location for stargazing. With minimal light pollution, the desert offers a breathtaking view of the stars. Grab a blanket, find a cozy spot, and marvel at the celestial wonders above. Consider joining a guided stargazing tour for a more informative and immersive experience.
- Experience the Ajo Copper News Building:
Step back in time by visiting the Ajo Copper News Building, a historic landmark in downtown Ajo. Built in the early 1900s, this unique structure served as the printing press for the town’s newspaper. Today, it houses the Ajo Public Library and showcases the history of the newspaper through exhibits and artifacts. Take a self-guided tour and appreciate the architectural beauty and the building’s role in Ajo’s past.
- Hike the Ajo Mountain Trails:
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of hiking opportunities in the Ajo area. Lace up your hiking boots and explore the network of trails in the Ajo Mountain Wilderness. From moderate hikes to more challenging treks, these trails offer stunning views, unique rock formations, and the chance to encounter desert wildlife up close. Don’t forget to carry plenty of water and be prepared for the desert conditions.
- Sample Local Cuisine:
Ajo is a melting pot of flavors, influenced by its multicultural history. Treat your taste buds to a culinary adventure by exploring the local dining scene. From Mexican and Native American cuisine to American comfort food, you’ll find a variety of restaurants and cafes offering delicious dishes made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor regional specialties like Sonoran-style hot dogs or mesquite-grilled meats.
- Attend an Ajo Community Event:
Immerse yourself in the vibrant community spirit of Ajo by attending one of the town’s many events and festivals. Throughout the year, Ajo hosts a range of cultural, artistic, and sporting events that bring residents and visitors together. Check the local event calendar to see if there are any concerts, art walks, or community gatherings taking place during your visit.
- Explore the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge:
For nature enthusiasts seeking a more remote and untouched wilderness experience, a visit to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is a must. This expansive desert refuge covers over 860,000 acres and offers opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and photography. However, access to certain areas may require permits or prior arrangements, so it’s essential to plan ahead.
- Take a Day Trip to Puerto Blanco Drive:
For those with a sense of adventure, consider taking a day trip to Puerto Blanco Drive. This rugged 37-mile backcountry road winds through the stunning Sonoran Desert, offering a thrilling off-road experience. Be sure to have a high-clearance vehicle and the necessary supplies, as this route is for experienced off-roaders only.
With its rich history, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant community, Ajo, Arizona, is a destination that promises a truly unique and memorable experience. From immersing yourself in the town’s cultural offerings to venturing into the desert for outdoor adventures, Ajo invites you to discover the hidden treasures of the Sonoran Desert and create lasting memories in this charming desert town.