While most snowbirds RVing to Arizona immediately think of Quartzsite or Yuma, the desert around the tiny town of Ajo presents a few possibilities. Once you hit Yuma, go east on I15 to Gila Bend, then go south on Hwy 85 to Ajo.
Originally founded as a mining town in the 1800s, Ajo is now a popular place to retire, as well as home to the Border Patrol; Ajo is just 43 miles from the Mexican border.
One of the stand-out landmarks in the town is a gorgeous Spanish Colonial Revival style train station, built in 1917. The old train station now serves as the town center, home to the post office, and a variety of shops. The Catholic Church and the Curley School Building are also architectural masterpieces of the Spanish Colonial Revival style.
However, Olsen’s Marketplace, at 1961 Ajo Gila Bend Hwy, is where you’ll do most of your shopping; Olsen’s is a full-service grocery store plus an Ace Hardware Store. There is also a Family Dollar and a Dollar General store in town too.
RV Camping Around Ajo
Ajo is deep within the legendary Sonoran Desert, and the landscape is filled with majestic saguaros and graceful ocotillo, plus 360-degree mountain views.
There are several, affordable, full-service RV parks in town, as well as very inexpensive RV parking at the Ajo golf course for $5 a day, and at the Ajo Regional Park north of town, at the Equestrian Arena Camping Area.
The Denison Camping Area at the Ajo Regional Park is free; the park is wide open, level, and natural desert. It’s very close to town, and has good cell service. There is no water or dump station, but you can go to one of the RV parks in town for that.
Darby Well Road
However, many Rvers want to go deeper into the open desert; just south of Ajo is Darby Well Road, for boondocking on BLM land. Of course, be cautious before going in, it’s always a good idea to scout out a spot on foot, bike or with your car or truck before driving in with the RV.
There are lots of spots for RVs of all sizes and the views are amazing, with vast mountain vistas and stately saguaros.
Don’t be put off by the border patrol or smuggling signs, it’s just a fact of life this close to the border. Of course, use caution, but trouble with illegal border crossers is rare.
If you depend on your mobile internet, the closer you stay to the main highway, the better your cell signal will be. The further down Darby Well Road you go, your signal is sure to fade away.
Darby Well Road GPS: 32.3393, -112.8495
Why Why AZ?
Why Arizona is just 10 miles or so south of Ajo, and also presents some good opportunities for snowbirds wanting to enjoy the Arizona sunshine. There are less than 200 residents here, so it’s more of a community than a town.
There are three RV parks in Why, the Hickiwan Trails, and Coyote Howls East and West. While all are affordable, Coyote Howls East is unique; there are no hookups, and most campers here are on solar. But there is water, showers, a dump station, wifi, and a laundry room for less than $200 a month. The spaces are huge, so it’s almost like boondocking.
However, if you want a real boondocking experience, just down the road from Coyote Howls East is Gunsight Wash. It’s on the west side of Hwy 85, near milepost 55. The best bet is to hang a left at the information sign; going right, the road is more rutted and impassable, and you could get into trouble.
Gunsight Wash GPS: 32.2395, -112.7508
Camping at Organ Pipe National Monument
Right along the Mexican border is the only place in the country where the organ pipe cactus grows naturally. In 1976 the Organ Pipe National Monument was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
The organ pipe cactus look somewhat like the saguaro, but rather than one large, central trunk, the organ pipe has many long, narrow stems growing up from the ground. The cactus can grow anywhere from 15’ to 25’ tall. It takes 150 years for these unique denizens of the desert to mature.
Twin Peaks Campground is set in a spectacular desert setting, with 174 sites for RVs and 34 tent-only sites. A few campsites can handle RVs up to 45 feet in length. There are restrooms with running water and some have solar showers. There are no hookups, but there is a dump station with potable water. The campsites are $20 per day, in addition to the $25 entrance fee, which is good for a week. Best of all, cell service is pretty good here.
The Alamo Canyon Campground at Organ Pipe National Monument is for tents, vans, or truck campers only. No RVs are allowed.