In a little town called Ajo, Arizona

We stayed in the small unincorporated town of Ajo, Arizona (population 3,304), the closest town to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It is an interesting place. We stayed at the Maine hotel, which was very basic, but clean and affordable.

The Sonoran desert just outside the town of Ajo.

Thousands of years before the town of Ajo existed, the Tohono O’odham people and their ancestors thrived here in the Sonoran desert. Ajo was founded as a company coal mining town in 1847 by the Arizona Mining & Trading Company, eventually becoming the New Cornelius copper mine, an open pit mine. Not surprisingly, the mining company massed produced housing in segregated neighborhoods- Indian Village, Mexican Town and the rest of Ajo for white families. We are happy to say that the town seems quite integrated now.

Strikes and a drop in copper prices led to the mine closing in 1985; many people left and the town went into decline. Retired people then moved in and bought the vacant houses for cheap, ushering in a new era for the town. The International Sonoran Desert Alliance (International meaning the neighboring Tohono O’Odaham Nation, Mexico and U.S.) also helped with the resurgence. “We’re creating something that Ajo needs badly,” said Tracy Taft, former executive director of the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, which is spearheading a multipronged project to bring artists and arts events to Pima County’s far-flung town. “Ajo’s only hope for becoming really a flourishing town again is that kind of niche tourism.”

Most recently, the increase at the neighboring Custom and Border Patrol station from 24 to 400 agents have resulted in another influx of residents. To the consternation of local residents, the federal government spent $12.7 million to build new houses to attract people to apply for the new Border Patrol jobs while existing houses remain vacant. There is also a 27% local unemployment rate, so why not hire locally?

Defunct open pit copper mine just outside of Ajo.
In Ajo we met, Bill Wolfe, an environmental activist who was fired as a whistle blower for the New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection. He worked for the Sierra Club, and was a founding member of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and nows lives in his eco bus, writing a blog. He has a lot of interesting things to say about the current election and environmental matters.

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