cpnha logo

Cabeza Prieta Natural History Association
A Visitor's Guide to El Camino del Diablo




When he looked back on his own summertime trip across the route in 1861, Raphael Pumpelly delivered a grim report, cheered only by his surviving the journey alive.

"In a few days we approached the worst part of the desert; the watering places became more separated and the supply smaller. Our route lay over broad gravely plains, bearing only cacti, with here and there the leafless paloverde tree, and the never failing greasewood bush. In the distance, on either side, arise high granite mountains, to which the eye turns in vain for relief; they are barren and dazzling masses of rock. Night brought only parching winds, while during the day we sought in vain for shelter from the fierce sun-rays. The thermometer ranged by day between 118 and 126 degrees in the shade, rising to 160 degrees in the sun.

On these vast deserts the sluggish rattlesnake meets the traveler at every turn; the most powerful inhabitant, his sway is undisputed by the scorpions and lizards, on which he feeds. The routes over these wastes are marked by countless skeletons of cattle, horses, and sheep, and the traveler passes thousands of carcasses of these animals wholly preserved in the intensely dry air. Many of them dead, perhaps, for years, had been placed upright on their feet by previous travelers. As we wound, in places, through groups of these mummies, they seemed sentinels guarding the valley of death."

Yet when he returned to make the trip in 1915 with his children, three daughters and a son, he waxed nostalgic for his former days in the desert, and told readers,

"The mood of the desert is never sad. It is either entrancingly smiling or terrifyingly grand; radiant in its ephemeral garb of flowers and in the golden silence of its bare plains and tinted mountains; awful at night when hell is let loose, storm rages on the heights, the cloud is alive with forked lightning and the heavens re-echo incessant thunder.... It is in the great wildernesses, on lofty heights and on desolate deserts, that one feels the greatness of Nature's mysteries."

How was your trip?

Further Information

A visit to the Ajo Museum can answer many of your history questions, as can the Pima County Library in Ajo, Cabeza Prieta NWR visitor center, and Organ Pipe Cactus NM visitor center. For information on Native Americans, visit the Tohono O'odham Cultural Center and Museum in Topawa south of Sells. The Yuma Public Library and Arizona Historical Society at Yuma offer information and exhibits, as does the Wellton Museum.

Primary Sources:

  • Bill Broyles, Gayle H. Hartmann, Thomas E. Sheridan, Gary P. Nabhan, & Mary Charlotte Thurtle, Last Water on the Devil's Highway (University of Arizona Press, 2012).
  • Mark A. Dimmitt, Patricia Comus, & Linda Brewer, eds., A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2015).
  • Richard S. Felger & Bill Broyles, Dry Borders: Great Natural Reserves of the Sonoran Desert (University of Utah Press, 2007).
    For the Camino region, this book features 1) a gazetteer of place names; 2) a full list of birds with descriptions by David Griffin, 3) a thorough list of reptiles, amphibians, and tortoises with discussions by Phil Rosen, 4) a grand list of mammals and descriptions by Bob Henry, and 5) an authoritative list and descriptions of plants by Richard Felger and others. The plant list is also available free at www.Phytoneuron under R.S. Felger and S. Rutman. "Ajo Peak to Tinajas Altas: A Flora of Southwestern Arizona," or at http://cals.arizona.edu/herbarium/content/flora-sw-arizona
  • William K. Hartmann, Desert Heart (Fisher Books, 1989).

Other good reading:

Credits and Appreciations: Edited by Bill Broyles, with the able help of friends Roger McManus; Sid Slone, Mary Kralovec, Kim Veverka, & Margot Bissell (Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge); Brent Range, Sue Walter, Rijk Morawe, & Ami Pate (Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument); Randy English, Rich Cerka, & Abigail Rosenberg (Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, RMO); Kevin O'Berry, Chris Black, Rick Whittle, & John Arnett (Luke Air Force Base, 56th Range Management Office); Mike Ringler, Charles Trost, Bryon Strom, David Letourneau, & James Vance, (US Border Patrol). Gayle Hartmann, Sue Rutman, Sandy Martynec, and Rick Martynec (copyediting); Joan Scott (design and layout); Tracy Taft and the International Sonoran Desert Alliance Print Shop; Ray and The Gloo Factory (printing). Luke Evans, Jim Malusa, Dinah Bear, Richard Felger, Richard Laugharn, Max Li, Marcus Bonn, Rick Weibel, S. Black, Susie Smith, Mark Haynes, Karla James, Dan Millis, Thom Hulen, & Jesus Garcia (ideas and information).

Photos courtesy Mary Kralovec for USFWS; Randy English for Goldwater-West; Rick Whittle, Chris Black, & Aaron Alvidrez for Goldwater-East; John Alcock; Jim Malusa; Joan Scott; Bill Broyles, and others.

Map by Lara Mitchell.

Sponsored by Friends of the Sonoran Desert, an educational non-profit citizens' conservation group.





Copyright Creative Commons

HTML & Programing by
Thomas R. Powell


Natural History of the Sonoran Desert and Refuge