Breakfast Club
An Affiliate of The Arizona Pilots Assn.

The Knife & Fork

Breakfast Club Visits Ajo Country Club

9 January 2010
by Warren McIlvoy

The 17th year of Breakfast Club fly-ins got off to a rousing start with a fly-in to the historic and tourist Mecca of the state, Ajo, Arizona. I believe that it was in the late 90's that we last visited this "idyllic" spot in the southern deserts of Arizona. At that time, I was flying out of Scottsdale and I chose to transition the Phoenix airspace and arrive in Ajo from the east and avoiding the restricted airspace that all but surrounds this small mining community. Now, flying out of Deer Valley Airport, I elected to run the gauntlet from Gila Bend to Ajo via state route 85.

On this day, the bombing and gunnery ranges on either side of the highway were active which required you to get clearance from Gila Bend Range Control and then fly down St Rte 85 at 500' agl. I contacted Range Control while I was still 12-miles to the north of E63 and they promptly gave me C-152 traffic at the junction of St Rte 85 & I-8. I was about 13-miles from that location and I seriously doubt that I could even spot a 747 at that distance. The Good Year blimp maybe, but not a 152. I initially had a little difficulty spotting Rte 85 from about an altitude of 2000' but I did notice a rather large white building just to the east of a south heading highway and Range Control confirmed would be the highway that I was looking for. They reminded me of the 500' agl altitude restriction and I promptly inquired as to the altitude of the highway. Range Control responded that it was "866' msl". I informed them I would remain at 1400' msl while over the highway. Range Control also requested that I report reaching "Black Gap" which was a prominent landmark that was really a gap between to mountain tops.

I reported "Black Gap" and Range Control instructed me to contact "Snake Eye" on another frequency. Snake Eye reiterated the 500' restriction over the highway and report reaching the "craters"; It almost seemed surreal. Here we were doing what was a "strafing run" down the highway and talking to Snake Eye and looking for the craters at the south end of the corridor. I believed that I would be looking for bomb craters on either side of the highway but in reality, this was an area of cone-like rock formations that straddled the highway. The terrain also begins to rise at this point so I initiated a slow climb to about 1700' and reported to Snake Eye that I was about 4.5-miles south of Ajo airport. Snake Eye approved a frequency change for CTAF at Ajo. Since we were the last to arrive, there was no other traffic in the pattern for runway 12.

The Ajo Airport was a relic of WWII and the ramp was quite large and with a large contingent of Breakfast Club aircraft, we hardly make a dent in the available acreage. Upon pushing my aircraft into the parking space, I noted an SUV (most likely from the Border Patrol) keeping an eye on the unusual activities for the somewhat remote location. The Ajo Country Club is just a short hike down the gravel road so we took a short cut through the desert scrub to the road that rims the Country Club golf course.

For he benefit of those who are not familiar with the "garden spot", let me insert some history garnered from Wikipedia.

Ajo (pronounced ah-ho) is the Spanish word for garlic. The Spanish may have named the place using the familiar word in place of the similar-sounding O'odham word for paint (o?oho). The Tohono O'odham people obtained red paint pigments from the area.

Native Americans, Spaniards and Americans have all extracted mineral wealth from Ajo's abundant ore deposits. In the early nineteenth century, there was a Spanish mine nicknamed "Old Bat Hole" that was abandoned due to Indian raids. The first Anglo to pass through the Ajo area, Tom Childs, Sr., found the deserted mine complete with a 60-foot (18 m) shaft, mesquite ladders, and rawhide buckets in 1847. He did not stay long at that time, because he was on his way to the silver mines near Magdalena de Kino, Sonora.

Three and a half decades later, Childs and his son returned with a friend and started developing the abandoned mine.

In the year 1884, the camp at Ajo was practically abandoned. Not a soul was in camp when Tom Childs Sr., and his son arrived. With them was Washington Michael Jacobs of Tucson, Arizona...Childs and Jacobs located the mining claim which constituted most of the old Ajo group of mines. They made a permanent camp and worked the mines... - The Ancient Mines of Ajo by Dan Rose

High-grade native copper made Ajo the first copper mine in Arizona. Soon the Arizona Mining & Trading company, formed by Peter M. Brady, a friend of Childs, worked the rich surface ores, shipping loads around Cape Horn for smelting in Swansea, Wales, in the mid 1880s. The mine closed when a ship sank off the coast of Patagonia. Long supply lines and the lack of water discouraged large mining companies

With the advent of new recovery methods for low-grade ore, Ajo boomed. In 1911, Col. John Campbell Greenway, a Rough Rider and star Yale athlete, bought the New Cornelia mine from John Boddie. He became general manager of the Calumet and the Arizona mining company and expanded it on a grand scale. In 1921, Phelps Dodge, the nation's largest copper company, bought New Cornelia and the mine became the New Cornelia Branch of Phelps Dodge, managed by Michael Curley. For several decades more than 1,000 men worked for Phelps Dodge in the open pit mine. The mine closed in 1985, following a bitter strike and a depressed copper market. Ajo is now home to many retired people, to Border Patrol agents, and young families.

As we neared the Country Club, we noticed an opening in the wire fence that was framed in pipe with a sign hanging from the top indicating "entrance to country club". We passed several rows of small hangar-like sheds with numbers painted on them. I have no clue as to their purpose other than maybe they are storage for golf carts or the like. Upon entering the clubhouse, you immediately come through a dinning area and counter but we were promptly directed to a much larger dinning area off to the right. The room was pretty full as were most of the tables but we did find two empty chairs at a table. It took us 25-minutes to get out of DVT so we were the "tail-end turtles" for this event.

It did not take long to place our food orders and we were quickly swept into the conversations at our table. The most disappointing feature of this location was that it took almost an hour and a half to get our order. The food was good and the least expensive of any of our fly-in locations but we have now identified two locations that can not handle a large influx of starring aviators, Ajo and Kingman. These locations are best suited for a group of no more than ten people at a time. The one advantage is, I guess, that I had plenty of time to get some group photos since there was no one at the airport when we arrived. By the time that we got our food, most of the other folks had already left for the hike to the airport. We decided to move to a table that still have about 6-people left.

Two people in our group brought their golf clubs with them and chose to play a round of golf before returning to the valley. I have no clue as to the rates but the course is no slouch when it come to yardage at around 6400 yards.

By the time that we got back to the airport there were only about 6 planes left on the ramp. There is no taxiway at P01 so you must back-taxi to runway 12. There was no wind and using runway 12 would allow you to take-off and gain some altitude and some distance from the airport before changing frequency for Snake Eye. The return routine was the same for northbound as it was southbound, report leaving the "craters" and reaching "black gap". At "black gap" Range Control deleted the altitude restriction and a short time later, gave me clearance for direct navigation. I headed to my way-point at the north end of the White Tank Mountains and turned east towards Deer Valley. Luke Approach was now closed so I just listened in on the south runway at DVT. It was still a zoo and I was instructed to hold outside the Class D airspace. After one complete turn, tower requested that I contact the north tower for further clearance. OH NO, a crowed airport runway and having to run the gauntlet to cross the south runway to get to the hangar did not have much appeal. But to my surprise, I got quick clearance to cross the south runway and taxi to parking; I was almost in shock.

It was a beautiful day for flying and I had an opportunity to experience the St Rte 85 corridor with an active restricted area and a strafing run down the highway. It does not get much better than this.

The Ajo Bunch

What's Next?

Our February Breakfast Club event will see us traveling to Lake Havasu and the "new" Havasu Airport. The last time that we were here, we landed on the California side of the river and took the boat across the lake. We will be dining at a restaurant just up from the boat dock. In March we will be flying to an old favorite, Seligman, Arizona and West Side Lilo's Café. That is all for now but remember, fly safe.

To view photos of this event, click on Ajo Event.