Head south out of Phoenix, take a right on RT 238 and you’re in the Sonoran Desert. Hang a left on 85 in Gila Bend, continue south and now you’re really in no man’s land. Pass through Ajo, Why, a very good question, and sitting directly on the Mexican border is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. A 517 square mile park set aside in 1937 to preserve a pristine example of Sonoran Desert habitat. And not a clue anywhere to tell me I had arrived. I parked the pickup on a dirt road in the middle of absolutely nowhere, climbed into the bed, leaned against the cab, and sat there just to see what 105 degrees feels like.
Somewhere between Why and Ajo, on the way back, I was stopped by the border patrol. A tiny glass hut and two jeeps miles from nowhere. Sunglasses, short sleeved uniform, and sunburned arms leaning into the window of the pickup. ” Whatcha doin in Ajo ? ” My first thought was, you mean I’m actually someplace ? I just pointed to my camera on the passenger seat. ” You’re a long way from home, aren’t you ? ” ” Just visiting friends in Paradise Valley “, I said. That seemed to satisfy him. Funny how the slightest interrogation in a strange land can convince you you’ve done something wrong.
William Least Heat-Moon passed through the Sonoran Desert while writing Blue Highways.
” I was in one of the strangest pieces of topography I’d ever seen, a place, until now, completely beyond my imaginings. What is it in man that for a long while lies unknown and unseen only one day to emerge and push him into a new land of the eye, a new region of the mind, a place he has never dreamed of ? Maybe it’s like the force in spores lying quietly under the asphalt until the day they push a soft, bulbous mushroom head right through the pavement. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. ”