Charlie Bell Road
The most used entry into the NWR is via Charlie Bell Road
, starting in Ajo along AZ 85, but all prospective visitors must first stop at the refuge headquarters to acquire a free permit, be instructed about the multiple dangers ahead, and sign a disclaimer form ('Military Hold Harmless Agreement'), absolving the authorities of any responsibility in the event of accident.
Charlie Bell Road is generally suitable for 2WD vehicles for the first 16 miles or so, as far as the Growler Mountains
; beyond here it deteriorates, though this section is currently closed to the public. The office is open weekdays only, and is located on the west side of the highway, about one mile north of the town center. The route to the refuge starts one block north (Rasmussen Road
) - this soon becomes unpaved, crossing sandy scrubland towards a range of hills (Childs Mountain
), 3 miles distant. The track passes several small dry washes and a few junctions before arriving at the refuge entrance gate, marked with a variety of warning notices. Already the landscape is quite striking - ahead lies a great empty plain, without any visible roads or other structures, quite densely carpeted by saguaro and cholla cacti, stretching to the next range of hills (Growler Mountains), 8 miles west. The road continues alongside the edge of Childs Mountain a little way, veers south then back west, descending gradually through sandier terrain and across several larger dry washes, before climbing towards Charlie Bell Pass
in the middle of the mountains, from where a short trail lead to petroglyphs and an old well. This is a good destination for day trips; further west, the road becomes rougher as it drops down to the sandy expanse of Growler Valley
El Camino del Diablo
The main thoroughfare through the southern part of the wildlife refuge is a 120 mile dirt road between Ajo and Wellton (on I-8), most of which follows a famous cross-country route established by a Jesuit missionary (Padre Eusebio Kino) around 1700 and known for the last 200 years as El Camino del Diablo
, on account of the many people who died along the way. This can be picked up in the east via Bates Well Road
, starting out southwards from Ajo - the road crosses part of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, passes through the Agua Dulce Mountains then runs quite close to the international border for 40 miles before exiting the refuge and veering northwest across the Air Force Base towards I-8. The roughest sections are through the Cabeza Prieta Mountains
towards the east of the refuge, and across the nearby Pinacate Lava Flow, a 5 mile wide patch of bumpy black rocks.