Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Overview
Unprepared humans simply cannot survive the heat and dryness of the refuge interior. The single road through the breadth of the refuge is nearly the same route that was used by settlers, missionaries, and prospectors on their way to southern California. The Devil's Highway, or El Camino del Diablo, was a shortcut but also deadly to some of those early travelers. Grave mounds can still be seen along what was then a foot trail.
Spanish for "dark head," Cabeza Prieta refers to a lava-topped, granite peak in a remote mountain range on the western side of the refuge.
For birders and others, travel to Papago Well and back is a comfortable 80-mile day trip with stops along the way. A permit and four-wheel-drive vehicle are required, but visitors need to know that the road is virtually unmaintained. The trip will leave one with lasting memories of the unmistakable beauty of the desert.
Another road takes visitors 17 miles across the desert to Charlie Bell Pass. High-clearance vehicles are required, but the refuge recommends four-wheel drive.
Others should consider stopping at the visitor center and short interpretive trail in Ajo. Entry permits are available at the visitor center.
Visitors should also inquire about guided tours to Childs Mountain. A watchable wildlife area is under development on the mountain, where outstanding views can be seen of the desert floor as well as the mountain range to the west. Sponsored by the Natural History Association of Cabeza Prieta, the tours are conducted primarily between December and April.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication