Jim Barnett

South of Yuma

Jim Barnett
South of Yuma

After having worked a 65 hour week at a work conference Olivia and I needed to get out and decompress, we knew we wanted to go somewhere warmer than our last trip and neither of us had been to the extreme south end of Arizona so we decided it was time! I didn't have a ton of time to plan this trip out given my crazy work schedule which lead to a few issues which you'll read about later, we got off work on Thursday afternoon so we took the rest of the day to plan and prep so we could leave early Friday morning. We had a stop planned down in El Cajon to see our good friends down at Pelfreybilt, Pelfrey has been monumental in the building of my truck over the past few years and I can't say enough great things about Tyler, Satin and the whole crew down there. After grabbing lunch and checking out their new shop it was time to head even further south, our original plan was to camp in the Jacumba area but when we got on the trail there was a construction crew working and said the trail wouldn't open for another hour or so....It was at this point late afternoon/evening and we needed to find camp so waiting another hour wasn't gonna happen, we hopped back on I-8 and headed east, I didn't know the area at all but found some 4x4 trails on my topo maps wish some cool looking topography so we headed that direction. After searching through the trails and it almost dark we found a great spot that had a fire ring but it looked as though no one had been back there in quite some time. We set up camp, cooked some dinner and relaxed by the fire watching shooting stars and constellations as there was no moon this night so we could see everything perfectly.

The next morning we woke up to cook breakfast, make coffee and explore our surrounding area which proved to be pretty interesting, I knew there was a prospect mine at the end of the wash but we found that there used to be a structure just across with us that was littered with old cans and artifacts from a lifetime ago. We had no time schedule so we packed up and headed east towards Yuma stopping at a rather well known hot spring which we thought we might take a dip in but it was so packed we decided to keep trekking.

We stopped in Yuma for gas and to grab lunch in Old Town Yuma where we ended up walking around and checking out the area for a little longer than we should have, this is what caused us to get to camp way too late. After that we hit the road, with it approaching evening and still being 3 or so hours away from where we planned on camping we thought we'd stop in the Sonoran Desert National Monument to camp but we didn't find anything worthwhile but we did catch an epic sunset and cool FJ40 at the gas station!

Since we didn't find a good camp spot we figured lets just get the driving over with and head towards Organ Pipe that night and get to camp late, well this is where the problem really started...Once we got into Organ Pipe we weren't able to find any dispersed camping because when researching the area I misunderstood their definition of backcountry camping which really means you have to park your car along the road and hike 1/2 a mile off the road which doesn't really work when you wanna sleep in your camper haha. So we ended up in a campground which I can't stand but I just wanted to get out of the truck and relax, nothing really worth taking photos of in a campground...After a good nights rest we woke up and made a delicious breakfast to get us ready for the long day ahead of us.


Organ Pipe is a very special place but you have to set your expectations, I personally can't stand National Parks and Monuments for the most part because I hate crowds and tourist traps. That said Organ Pipe is not like that in all areas, there are definitely spots in the monument you will find yourself shoulder to shoulder with other people but there also are areas where you will be totally alone and are super remote. We opted to do one of the more well known routes called Ajo Mountain Rd before heading off into the more remote parts of the park. Despite the name Organ Pipe National Monument it is also home to the largest cactus species in the US the Saguaro, Saguaro's can grow over 40ft tall with the largest one ever recorded at a whopping 78ft tall! It can take up to 75 years for them to grow their first "arm" and some may never grow any arms at all, they're all very unique and if you haven't been down to see them I highly recommend you do! The second most well known park is the Organ Pipe which is the 2nd largest cactus here in the US and has a much different shape which you'll see why they're called that as they can resemble the pipes behind an organ. There are some very impressive examples of both cactus along with many others along this drive.

After the drive through Ajo to see the Double Arch we headed towards the more remote section of the park along a series of 4x4 trails that takes you South and west across the park and then back out through the North. Along this route you'll see a lot of really cool scenery, mines and old cattle camps. 

As you can see the terrain is vast and varies quite a bit, before continuing on with the trip I'll quickly address the buttons you'll see out in the middle of nowhere (see photos above). The monument runs directly along the boarder of Mexico and smugglers can be found in the more remote parts of the park so these buttons are used for emergencies. We never once felt unsafe but did come across boarder patrol trucks racing past us with the people carriers on the back so we can only assume they'd found some people and we were totally unaware. You will run into jugs of water left out to help people and these signs everywhere but in my opinion it's no reason not to visit such an awesome place.

Ok so back to to the trip, we continued north towards the edge of the monument where we were to camp on BLM land, we stopped at a few more cattle camps and ranches. One of them that stood out to us was Bates Well Ranch which was founded in 1935 by the Gray family and was operated and developed by Henry Gray from then until he died in 1976. The Gray family started ranching here before the park was ever established so they were allowed to continue to do so despite struggles with the NPS and their conservation efforts as the ranching caused heavy erosion and vegetation trampling. The ranch houses are still there mainly un-touched and you are able to walk around and get a taste of a lifestyle long lost.

What a beautiful view they had right? I couldn't help but think about how peaceful it must have been back then. After checking out the ranch for a while we headed to find camp, I had marked a few places I had found on google earth. It took us about an hour of navigating some easy trails to find the perfect spot and along the way we kept seeing these piles of rocks stacked up, anyone know what they are? We ended up finding the perfect spot that had a great view so we set up and got to cooking dinner, the wind started to pick up so we retreated to the Flippac to play 3D tic tac toe which I highly recommend as a camp game if you haven't played it!

It wasn't all fun and games this night though....the wind picked up to nearly 40mph which was causing the Flippac tent poles to bend and it nearly impossible to sleep so we had to make a game time decision which we ended up agreeing we should just pack up and find somewhere with less wind. Luckily the Flippac only takes a couple of minutes to go from sleeping to driving so we got on the road and hopped on Windy to search out calmer lands and we did, we pulled off the 10 and found a good spot to get a few hours of sleep. We woke up to a pretty cool area and we ended up driving some trails around the area marking off good camp spots because we definitely will be going back!

After a couple hours of exploring we decided it was time to head towards home as we had a long drive and wanted to avoid traffic if possible but we had one more stop to make....This is one of Olivia and I's favorite areas and we visit it often, it's full of mines and petroglyphs so we stopped by to make lunch and hike around a bit before making the long drive home.

As always thank you for reading I really hope you enjoyed the report because we had such a fun trip and sorry for the lack of wheeling photos but not all trips are about hitting trails as much as they are about just getting outside and enjoying this beautiful country we have!