If you look at a map of Arizona, you’ll see that the western edge touches California, drops due north for a big chunk, then heads straight east. This southern edge is almost all desert. There’s a historic route that settlers and missionaries used to get through the otherwise impassable desert back in the 1800s, a road known as El Camino del Diablo (the Devil’s Highway).
It shaves off the western corner of Arizona before reaching the border and heading east into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It also (supposedly) has a couple few and far between water sources. Logistically, this is one of the only ways we can move through this terrain and be near the border so we’ll be traversing this path in our next section.
El Camino Del Diablo begins about 15 miles east of Yuma so we decide to hike to the start and get those miles out of the way. Walking through Yuma is pleasant, and we pass through its residential neighborhoods quickly. When the houses end, we opt to hike along the railroad rather than rejoin I-8 which has persistently and obnoxiously followed us for the majority of this trip.
Is it an active railway?
The railroads are very busy and a couple times the trains surprise us by coming out of nowhere. They are huge freight trains that take almost 5 minutes to go by, hauling goods to some far off area of the country. On the cars we get glimpses of different company names, UPS, UMAX, Expologistics, EMP, Hub Groups, etc. Once the sounds of the trains fade into the distance we can hear the hum of the processing plants that surround us. We watch one processing plant with outdoor machinery on display spit out loads of green mush. Earlier in the day we had passed a clover field and we can tell now that these plants process the clover and churn it out as animal feed. Next door is a fertilizer company called “Fertizona” with several eight foot tall round vats in front, full of chemicals ready to be used. As we pass, the wind picks up, sweeping through the area and taking bits of feed and fertilizer with it and mixing it with the dust. Between the fertilizer, the clover crop and the processing plant everything seems to function as a closed system. Next to all this production are rows of citrus trees exploding with ripe lemons. A few workers mingle around waiting to fill up the crates lying nearby. Not wanting to interrupt the work, we cross the elevated tracks and stay hidden on the other side.
After leaving the railroad and the farm activity we make it to a wide road that winds its way through yet another recently built set of office lots. The buildings are all huge and modern and have vague names like “Northwest Industries” and “Cobalt Enterprises” that provide no clues to their purpose. We pass by the BLM Yuma Field Office and are stunned by its sleek windowed exterior. This is not what we expected from a small-town government building. There’s so much development and construction in these border towns, and we are extremely curious as to where the money is coming from.
The last bit of the day brings us back into the Yuma sprawl, an endless mass of strip malls, name brand hotels and busy roads running along I-8. We put our heads down and power through, using the brims of our hats and our sunglasses to hide our faces from the curious stares of the cars moving past.
Are we a spectacle yet?
The strip mall feel transitions abruptly into a row of shabby houses literally built along dirt roads before equally abruptly transitioning back to gas stations and fast-food restaurants. It seems like the only places that don’t have money out here are the ones where people actually live.
When we reach the end of our day we make ourselves at home at a Burger King to take advantage of their WiFi. Tenny heads down the street to the Verizon store to beg for help with her new phone. It was specifically purchased for this project and has been an essential tool so far, but has slowly stopped charging...eeeeek, no good! She hoped to walk in, chuck her phone in the trash, and be kindly directed to a solution. Unfortunately, as it often plays out for backpackers, the Verizon employee immediately sized her up as a good-for-nothing bum. His two seconds of attention give him just enough time to tell her to call customer service and get them to fix the problem. There is no explanation as to why this can’t be done in the Verizon store she’s currently standing in.
Feeling humiliated, Tenny slinks out, tail between her legs. Are backpackers so grotesque?
We gratefully return to our hotel where we can hide amongst all the other travelers