A century ago, fortune seekers flowed into Ajo to dig copper, then stayed and built a lovely company town. Though the mine has gone bust, Ajo still shines—with Spanish colonial architecture, easy access to nature, and a growing arts scene.
After you’ve driven hours across the empty desert, Ajo Plaza—a zocalo with red-tiled porticoes, whitewashed arcades, and an emerald lawn—feels like a mirage. Duck into Oasis Coffee, a hip café on the plaza, to grab a cold brew coffee or a tart, and get a closer look.
Named for the towering, multi-limbed plants that dot its rolling hills, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is recognized—along with the central Amazon and other fabled regions—as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Cruise 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive, and you’ll see why. Saguaro and organ-pipe cacti fill the valley below; in spring, wildflowers paint the dusty desert with golds and reds.