Apparently to assist Border Patrol trucks, a short section before Bates Well was "paved" w
The graded road was rapidly becoming more of a two-track, and a few deep washes added some interest. We stayed in two-wheel drive, letting our long wheelbase walk us through. There were a couple of spots that might encourage a small SUV to turn around. We wondered if this was the start of the "4" difficulty rating. We veered left to climb over Tinajas Altas Pass. Numbers on military marker posts seem to have changed, and mileages can vary significantly, so our GPS gave us a warm fuzzy feeling when nothing else matched. We were still not looking for unexploded ordnance.
Things got a little weird around marker A15, A16-or was it A16a? There was an unmarked triangle that was missing signs. One road went northwest, following Camino Del Diablo Este (east). We had been following Camino Del Diablo Oeste (west). (Yeah, there are two main trails.) What we were looking for was the unmarked track to the Tinajas Altas, or "High Tanks." Containing agua escondido ("hidden water"), they are a string of nine natural rock basins running up a cliff in the Tinajas Altas Range. When full, they can hold 20,000 gallons of precious water. Often the lower pools are dry, and the upper tanks are only reached by a difficult and dangerously steep climb. Many died from being too weak to reach them, or fell to their deaths in the attempt.
It was obvious how the Organ Pipe Cactus got its name.
At length, we found a sign pointing down some well-used ruts to a turnaround. A 10-minute hike brought us to the lower tinaja. It was half full of stagnant, tea-colored water. Nothing you would want to drink. On the other hand, two hundred years ago, this was the only water source for perhaps a hundred miles. If you were exhausted from the 110-degree heat and had been without water for two days, this would have looked like a cold bottle of Perrier or an icy Corona. (Sorry, no lime.)
Backtracking to the ambiguous junction, we took the most obvious road southeast and soon entered the Cabeza Prieta Refuge. A couple of Border Patrol trucks stopped at the entrance parking area to check on their passengers, half a dozen illegal immigrants trying to sneak across the border. We began to see the stately, sometimes humorous, Saguaro cacti. This area is closed to the public from March 12 through July to protect the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn, unless otherwise adjusted. There are over 300 kinds of wildlife calling this parched land home, including 24 species of snakes, six of which are rattlers. Over 90 percent of the refuge is designated Wilderness Area. Vehicles may park and camp up to 50 feet from the main road in areas previously used by others.
Flaming Ocotillo flags gave color to the desert.
Long sections of soft sand prompted us to stop and lock the hubs, but our lowered tire pressure was enough to continue in two-wheel drive. We like to keep four-wheel drive as an option. If you get stuck, you can almost always flip a lever and back up to assess the situation. If you're already in 4x4 mode, you have a problem. Much of the sandy sections had been "graded" using a strange contraption of seven tires chained together and dragged behind a Border Patrol pickup. We assumed the smooth, untracked surface would make it easy to spot illegal foot traffic.
We made a quick stop at Tule Wells to sign the guest book and check out the old adobe shac
About 11 miles from the entrance to the Cabeza Prieta Refuge, we saw an unmarked trail lined with rocks on both sides. It looked like the entrance to a campground or something important. We followed a graded road that shortly turned into several washouts, requiring four-wheel drive and low-range to crawl through. After a little over a mile, our GPS map clearly showed we were driving straight toward the Mexican border. We backtracked and made a quick stop at Tule Wells to sign the guestbook. The Jeepers were camped there, so we moved on to find more solitude.