We stayed in the rural community of Why, Arizona, named for a Y intersection where State Roads 85 and 86 used to intersect. Originally named Y, it was renamed Why due to an Arizona law that required town names to have a minimum of three letters.
Apparently, few can resist the temptation to play around with the name Why. And so the one general store in town, which sells everything from jewelry to food to Mexican insurance (for those driving across the border) is named Why Not.
Our campground, Coyote Howls East used to be part of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and is currently owned by Why Utilities. The campground offers a $40 weekly rate for dry camping that is a great value. Our original idea was to camp on BLM land. Which meant a $10 fee for dumping. So basically, for $30 we have access to showers, laundry and fresh water.
Coyote Howls East consists of over 200 acres with 600 randomly shaped campsites. Our campsite in the “weekly row” overlooked the desert, and across the dirt road behind us was one row for daily campers.
Monthly/seasonal/annual campers get to choose their site from the rest. While we were there we were one of two rigs in the weekly row and there was no one in the daily row. It felt like boondocking. And it was a great place for Angel, lots of soft dirt and not many cacti.
A quick note on Coyote Howls West, across the road but owned by the same group; it has full hookups but is small and packs RVs in pretty tight, and we would not choose to stay there. But both are frequented by coyotes.
The town of Ajo, ten miles away, is definitely worth a visit or two. The native Americans of the area, the Tohono O’Odham named this place o’oho – their word for paint, because they used red paint pigments from the area. When the Spanish arrived, they mistook the name for ajo – the Spanish word for garlic, apparently wild garlic grows there. And the name remained.
Ajo is yet another town that came about because of mining, and there is an enormous open pit copper mine, the New Cornelia Mine, on the edge of town. The New Cornelia Mine began full operations in 1917, the first large open pit mine in Arizona, and closed in 1985.
The pit is the depth of the Empire State Building at its center and a mile and one half wide at its widest point. A mine lookout was closed when we were there, but we still got a pretty good view of this giant hole in the ground.
A great place to learn more about Ajo is the Ajo Historical Museum, located in what used to be St. Catherine’s Indian Mission.
The museum is housed in a structure that used to be a church, currently under restoration, and its adjacent school. There are tons of artifacts depicting Ajo’s history, and, though there are few interpretive signs, Louie Walters, the curator, will fill in all of the blanks.
The curator was an ex-teacher of history who was a fountain of information about any and all of the artifacts. A cute thing that I’ve never seen before was a room filled with yearbooks from the local high school going back to the 1930’s. The earlier books were scrapbooks with little photos stuck onto them. It was fascinating to see the evolution of the young people in the photos over the years.
Other displays include lots of mine artifacts, rocks, dioramas, photos and maps. Another interesting display is a handmade map of what used to be Mexican town, no longer in existence. Both Mexicans and Indians lived in their own segregated sections of town. The person who donated the map used to live in Mexican town, and drew placeholders for each house with the name of the family who lived there. This apparently is the topic of some debate as other previous residents argue that some of those are incorrect.
As the town of Ajo grew, there was much focus on building a proper school. As our museum host said “a school would help to keep the ladies in town, who would in turn make the town a more civilized place”. The school, a massive Moorish style building with a bell tower was built in 1917. More recently, the school was converted to artist and artisan residences and attracted some artists to the town but the building is now for sale.
The town plaza, across the way, was built around the same time as the school and for similar reasons. It has been restored and was festively decorated for Christmas, complete with cozy sitting area for Santa Claus – who wasn’t there when we visited.
Ajo has definitely had tough times, and there are several abandoned buildings around the town. But its beautiful setting in the Sonoran Desert, beautiful architecture and rich history make it a standout.
In fact, there is a 10.9-mile loop by Ajo, the Ajo Scenic Loop, over a gravel road. The drive is a great introduction to the area before driving down to the Organ Pipe National Monument, about 20 miles south of Why.
Many of the plants of the Sonoran Desert can be seen along the road: organ pipe cacti, saguaro, prickly pear, cholla, ocotillo, mesquite trees, palo verde trees and others. Not to mention the lovely mountain views.
After a peaceful Christmas at our campground, putting away the compact Island Girl Christmas decorations was not too difficult.
We’ve moved on to Yuma, Arizona and want to wish all of our readers and friends a Happy New Year. The journey wouldn’t be the same without you. And stay tuned for another post about the breathtaking Organ Pipe National Monument.