ROAD in Sonoran Desert has hypnotic scenery and forbidding reputation.

While filling out a permit application to drive EI Camino del Diablo - a dirt road that cuts through  130 miles of saguaro studded desert between Yuma and Ajo, Ariz-

I marveled at the hazards it warned I might encounter along the way, including ''permanent, painful, disabling, and disfiguring injury or death due to high explosive detonations from falling objects such as aircraft, aerial targets, live ammunition, missiles, bombs and other similar dangerous situations.''

I might also stumble across warheads embedded in the ground, not to mention rattlesnakes.

Still, I knew from a previous trip that while the Camino del Diablo may feel like a death-defying excursion into forbidden territory, it's actually quite safe.

The road which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and passes through vast Sonoran expanses of the Barry M. Goldwater bombing range, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument - is surprisingly well maintained, and no special skills are need to navigate it.

The scenery is vast and mesmerizing. Ocotillos sprout from arid basins, their spiky tendrils and bright red blossoms swaying in the breeze like some kind of weird desert anemone.

There are sand dunes and lava flows and knife edged-mountains slicing skyward from the desert floor. Owls roost in saguaro cactuses, endangered antelopes browse sparse grasses, and bighorn sheep leap among rugged crags.

A Notorious Reputation : The original Camino was an important trail between Yuma and Sonoyta, Mexico, and for centuries has been notorious as a route along which people die.

Conquistadors, missionaries, prospectors, traders and others traversed it, beginning in 1540 , usually heading to and from California.

So many perished along the way, in this place that can feel as hot as hell, that it became known as the Devil's Highway. Historians believe there may have been more than 2,000 fatalities in the last half of the 19th century alone.

The mythos of death surrounding the route conveys the impression that it's a risky thing to attempt. Temperatures can surpass 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water is scarce and hidden in tinajas, [natural cisterns], tucked out of sight in rocky clefts; the evaporation rate is 40 times the average annual rainfall.

The graves of previous travelers, including those of entire families, can still be seen near the road. And then there's the tragic story of the so-called Yuma 14, documented in ''The Devil's Highway,'' by Luis Alberto Urrea, which recounts the doomed journey of 26 Mexicans lost in this desert in 2001, over half of whom died of dehydration and exposure.

The World Students Society thanks author and researcher Michael Benanav.


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