El Camino Del Diablo
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (July 2012)|
El Camino Del Diablo
El Camino del Diablo at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge boundary
|Nearest city||Lukeville, Arizona|
|Governing body||AIR FORCE|
|NRHP Reference #||
|Added to NRHP||December 01, 1978|
El Camino Del Diablo is a historic 250-mile Spanish colonial trail route, which originally ran from Caborca, Sonora through Quitovac, Sonoyta and Quitobaquito Springs, before continuing through extremely remote and arid desert to the Colorado River at Yuma Crossing, now Yuma, Arizona. From there, travelers could reach the Spanish colonies of California.
History of the Trail
El Camino Del Diablo is believed to follow Native American footpaths dating back at least 1,000 years. In 1540, accompanied by native guides, Captain Melchior Diaz led a detachment of the Coronado Expedition through this vicinity in route to California. The first Europeans definitely known to have transited the route were in the party of Jesuit Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, Commander Juan Matheo Mange, and Father Adamo Gilig, who along with attendants and Native American guides (who knew the location of vital water sources needed along the route) first made the crossing in February 1699. The trail offered a shorter route than sailing around Baja California, while avoiding most of the more hostile Native American tribes. However, the 1781 Quechan (Yuman) Indian uprising at Yuma Crossing on the Colorado prevented travelers from reaching California via the trail. Although Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Fages managed to rescue captured Spanish survivors of the uprising in December of that year, El Camino del Diablo largely fell into disuse until 1849, when the gold rush in California brought many new migrants from Mexico to the California gold fields. Afterwards, the trail was used by both U.S. and Mexican boundary survey teams, mapping and cataloging the land bought in the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. A second wave of miners used the trail in the 1860s when placer gold was discovered along the Colorado River. Many of these migrants would die from thirst and heat exhaustion en route. As a later traveler noted, "frequent graves and bleaching skulls of animals are painful reminders of unfortunate travelers who died from thirst on the road."
Historically, the trail ran from Mexico to Yuma Crossing at the Colorado River. The most difficult stretch of the trail was the 130-mile stretch from Sonoyta, Sonora to what is now Yuma, Arizona. In summer, temperatures here soar to 120 degrees F and people require two gallons of water a day just to survive. Many travelers lost their lives here. Most of the graves line the last 30 miles of the trail to Yuma; by one count there are 65 graves near Tinajas Altas.
Use of the trail declined sharply after the railroad reached Yuma in 1870. While prospectors and transient visitors continued to frequent the area, El Camino Del Diablo failed to regain its status as a major migration route. Occasionally the route was used by cartographers and boundary survey parties, who documented numerous graves and domesticated animal skeletons.
In recognition of its historic significance, El Camino del Diablo was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It can still be transited by visitors to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1939 to protect desert wildlife. With the exception of a few Border Patrol stations, the section of original trail between Las Playas and Tinajas Altas remains virtually unchanged.
The historic campground at Tinajas Altas (Spanish, "High Tanks") features nine cup-like pools perched one above the other on a steep granite slope, that are replenished solely by rainwater. When full, these tinajas may hold 20,000 gallons, but due to the lack of rainfall and arid atmosphere, one or more are frequently empty. In the days before motor vehicle transport, some travelers perished after finding one or more pools dry. During the 1891-1896 U.S. Boundary Survey expedition, the surveying party related the story of three dead prospectors found just above the empty first tank. The men's fingers were worn raw from climbing the rock to the second tank, which held water, and it was apparent the men had died just yards from their salvation.
El Camino del Diablo today
Today, the Camino Del Diablo remains an unpaved trail, suitable for four-wheel-drive and high clearance vehicles carrying extra water and emergency equipment. No emergency or tow services are available, and visitors use the trail at their own risk. Once originating in Mexico, the route now connects to existing unpaved trails originating in Ajo, Arizona. Today, the Camino Del Diablo crosses the southern edges of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, and the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, terminating at Yuma, Arizona. The trail is never more than a few miles from the US-Mexico border. To transit the entire trail, a permit is required from the Cabeza Prieta NWR office in Ajo, Arizona.
South of the U.S.-Mexico border, the original Mexican sections of the Camino Del Diablo have largely disappeared. The Mexican government later constructed a paved highway, Mexican Federal Highway 2, which roughly parallels the border for 120 miles.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- Sykes, Godfrey, The Camino Del Diablo: With Notes On A Journey In 1925, The American Geographical Society (1927), p. 62
- Gaillard, D.D. (Capt.), U.S. Corps of Engineers, The Perils And Wonders Of A True Desert, Cosmopolitan Magazine, vol 21 (May–October 1896), p. 602
- El Camino Del Diablo at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
- Gaillard, p. 603
- William T. Hornaday, 1908, Campfires on Desert and Lava. Reprinted Tucson; University of Arizona Press, 1985.