This route combines three classic roads of the Sonoran desert in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Puerto Blanco Drive (North), Pozo Nuevo road, and Bates Well road.
Puerto Blanco Drive is undoubtedly one of the most scenic roads in Arizona, the 37 mile Puerto drive travels deep into the unspoiled backcountry of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, across cactus plains, and through mountain foothills.[The American Southwest]
Pozo Nuevo Road is a 14 mile road that connects Puerto Blanco Drive with Bates Well Road. It offers views of the Cipriano Hills, the Growler Valley, and the historic Pozo Nuevo well and numerous ranching line-camps from the early 1900’s.
Bates Well road is has undergone significant improvement since the construction of the “new” border wall from 2016 to 2020. However, the exact conditions of the road are unknown along with the texture and quality of the scenery.
At mile 49.5, the route splits from Bates Well road and follows a double track along the the eastern flank of the John the Baptist Mountains. At mile 57, the route connects with a proper gravel road which soon meets up with Scenic Drive. From here is is hard-packed fast gravel with great views of Ajo Peak and North Ajo Peak.
Again, this is a Development Route — a work in progress. We have ridden the first 22 miles, but nothing beyond that. Thus, if you give this route a go, we would sure appreciate a full trip report, use the Share Your Ride form.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Terrain & Technical Riding Difficulty[what this means]
Miles 0 to 22 are long the Puerto Blanco (North) Drive which as a rating of Moderate+. However, the rating of the miles beyond this are unknown.
When we like to ride this …
… fall through spring when the temperatures are more moderate.
The town of Ajo is a great place to basecamp for 3 to 5 days of riding in the southwest desert of Arizona. Arts, culture, and riding! What could be better? For more information on where to eat, where to stay, and what to do visit these sites: Ajo – Local First Foundation, Visit Arizona, and the Ajo Chamber of Commerce. Also, a great Instagram feed to follow is VisitAjo.
For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.
With more than 3,500 native plant species, the Sonoran Desert has the most plant life north of the tropics. Some of the common types of plants in the Sonoran Desert include saguaro, cholla, prickly pear cactus, ocotillo, mesquite, ironwood, and palo verde. In such desolate conditions, cacti fruits ensure the abundant wildlife a reliable food source. In contrast, mesquite and palo verde trees provide must-have shade for our feathered, furry, and scaly friends.[Gaia Provides]
The route starts by circling north and west of the Puerto Blanco mountains and then traverses east to west on the south side of the Cipriano Hills and Bates Mountains. At the intersection with Bates Well road, the route turns north, passing through Growler Pass and then juts west and follows the east side of the John the Baptist mountains the little Ajo mountains, near the town of Ajo.
Miles 0 to 5 / The Start / Mixed: Paved and Hard-pack gravel
From the visitor center, head northwest on Puerto Blanco Drive, which initially is a two-way road alternating between paved and gravel sections. Within a mile, you’ll get your first good look at organ pipe cactus, but here, they’re outnumbered by saguaros and ocotillos. To the northwest is Pinkley Peak. It will feel at times like it is far to the right. But, in fact, you will pass to the north of the peak. It is the highest point in the Puerto Blanco Mountains, named for Frank Pinkley, a National Park Service superintendent who was key to the monument’s formation.
Miles 5-22.5 / North Puerto Blanco Road / Primitive 4 wheel drive road, one-way
Next, the route becomes a one-way dirt road. It also turns much more rutted as it dips and winds through the desert landscape. But in between the rough sections are relatively smooth stretches that allow you to fully enjoy the scenery.
A small hill at mile 10 offers great views over the valley, the mountains and the road itself – a perfect wilderness scene. After here the track becomes a little more steep and uneven, bending sharply to the left then back right as it crosses the edge of the Puerto Blanco Mountains.
Around Mile 11 there are numerous organ pipe cactus, surrounded by an cathedral-like rock formations on the left. Organ pipe cactus are “relative newcomers to Arizona: They arrived just 3,500 years ago, as the planet thawed after the last ice age. To the northwest, the flat-topped Cipriano Hills form the backdrop for the cactuses’ silent symphony, which you can stop to enjoy at multiple picnic areas (including the now-shuttered Golden Bell Mine, at Mile 17).” [Arizona Highways]
Around mile 20, you come to Bonita Well. This spot houses an abandoned water tower (old school “windmill”) and a cattle corral. After this spot, the immediate scenery becomes less dense and more open, with larger rock formations now in the distance.
About a mile beyond Bonita Well, there is a fenced off area to your right with an antenna tower, some solar panels, and a large propane tank. The next 1/4 to 1/2 mile is the most difficult part of the ride (as of February 2021). The road turns to loose and deep pebble gravel. It doesn’t last long, but it was a workout on 42 mm tires. I walked a few of the worst sections for a total of no more than 2 minutes of walking. Prepare for a short hike-a-bike if needed—it won’t ruin your day.
Mile 22.5-36 / Pozo Nuevo Road / Gravel
At ~ mile 22.5, the Puerto Blanco Drive road ends at a T intersection. Go right on Pozo Nuevo road. In researching the route, we found little information about the road conditions. But we do know that it offers views of the Cipriano Hills, the Growler Valley, and the historic Pozo Nuevo well and line-camp.
Pozo Nuevo Well was the oldest hand-dug well in Organ Pipe, dating from 1910. It is located at one of the fifteen ranches and line camps of the Gray family cattle business which dominated the lands of Organ Pipe National Monument for nearly 60 years. The Grays, Robert Louis, Sr., and sons Robert, Jr., Henry, and Jack, began the trend of buying up water rights, ranches and line camps in 1919. They utilized the open range via a trigger gate to lure their cattle to water in their corrals at round-up time and made do with the materials they had at hand since supplies were hard to come by. [Desert Mountaineer]
Mile 36 – 49.5/ Bates Wells Road / Gravel
Bates Well road is has undergone significant improvement since the construction of the “new” border wall from 2016 to 2020. However, the exact conditions of the road are unknown along with the texture and quality of the scenery. This section of road has been reported to have sections of washboard.
Mile 49.5 – 57 / Double-track / Primitive Dirt Road
At mile 49.5, the route splits from Bates Well road and follows a double track along the the eastern flank of the John the Baptist Mountains. This section is the major unknown of the ride. There is very little “heat” on the Strava and other mapping resources but the road / double-track shows up on satellite imagery. (If it is a no go, double back to Bates Wells road and follow it north until it intersects Scenic Drive.)
Mile 57 – Finish / Scenic Drive / Hard-packed Gravel Road
At mile 57, the route connects with a proper gravel road which soon meets up with Scenic Drive. From here it is hard-packed fast gravel with great views of Ajo Peak and North Ajo Peak. Very near the finish, take the time to make a quick stop at the Ajo Historical Society museum and the New Cornelia mine lookout.
Food & Water
As an exploratory route, we recommend 50+ mm tires. Also, a personal locater beacon like a Garmin inReach or Spot device is highly recommended.
There are some sections with jumping cholla along the gravel roads, so … be careful! And carry a flattened metal fork … the best tool for removing one from your skin.
The following two reviews of Puerto Blanco Driver are worth a few minutes of your time.
The following two articles have interesting information on the early 1900’s ranching that took place:
- March 2021 / Original Post as a Development Route.