Ajo: An Arizona Downtown Decorated By Dreams

Ajo, Arizona is a little down in the middle of the Sonoran Desert known that used to be known more as a stopping point between Phoenix and the closest ocean in Mexico.

As dreamscape murals have gone up all over the downtown area, it’s become more than that.

Named after the town, Ajo Al’s is a restaurant in Sky Harbor, the Phoenix airport.

It’s now trendy, at least regionally.

Ajo’s murals

When presented with a blank wall, a muralist has almost a universe of options. He or she has the freedom to paint almost anything. The only restraint, perhaps, is applied by the property owner, local ordinance, the artist’s talent and his or her vision.

Sometimes the wall’s owner has an idea. Sometimes it’s a governmental body. The muralist is commissioned to bring the idea to life. There’s a give-and-take that goes on between the one doing the hiring and the one doing the painting.

Still, even with murals-for-hire, there’s still a lot of freedom.

More than other creative fields, the visual arts offer an opportunity for pure creativity.

What goes on the walls?

Anything, really.

Sometimes they’re a play on the lines and structure of the building.

Sometimes they’re an evocation of local history.

Sometimes they are geometric designs.

There is a myriad of possible topics. In the southwest United States, big cities like Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas have amazing murals. Smaller towns like Las Cruces, NM, Flagstaff, AZ, Barstow, CA, and Alpine, TX do too.

In Ajo, Arizona most often it’s a dreamscape landscape.

In and around Artists Alley

Ajo, Arizona, is a town of about 3,300 in far west Pima County in southern Arizona. A former copper-mining town, the mine shuttered in 1985. Today, it’s now home to retirees, Border Patrol agents, their families, and others who manage the vast tracts of the Sonoran Desert.

Murals cover the walls of the buildings in the historic downtown, especially in Artists Alley.

A few of them are historical, the kind of thing you see in other places, a celebration of the area’s past. In Ajo, area muralists executed them in shades of black and white for the look of an old-time photograph or sketch, but on the side of a building.

Father Eusebio Kino – Spanish missionary priest who opened a number of missions in the southwest United States.
Workers ready to head off to work in a mine or field.


Others are notably different, suggesting a completely different mindset from what you might see in other parts of the United States. It’s a perspective that’s both valuable and refreshing, whether you agree with the sentiment being expressed or not. The use of murals for self and community expression is helpful for would-be dream journalers who are making sense of their feelings and experiences. They suggest how they, too, can put their thoughts and feelings into images, designs, and slogans.

Some people will have more imagery than others in their dreams. Everybody will have some imagery. Recording dreams in a computer program or an app doesn’t work too well when it comes to this imagery. While some people draw better than others because of talent or training, a book-bound dream journal is best.

Tohono O’odham lands are divided by the U.S.-Mexico border. The muralist notes a similar situation existed in Germany before the fall of the Soviet Union.

Many of the muralists are members of the Tohono O’odham tribe, formerly known as Papago. Ajo is near Tohono O’odham lands.

Members of the tribe acutely feel the crisis on the border. Seeing relatives who live in Mexico is complicated these days when it comes to family get-togethers and staying in touch.

This mural incorporates I’itoi, the “man in the maze” onto a shield. I’itoi symbolizes our spiritual state. We enter the world as spirits, go through life as if we are in a maze unsure of what is what, where top is, where down is. We leave this world the way we entered: as spirits.


Another take on the “Man In the Maze” who seems to be going through the labyrinth in this image.


This image compares the ability to migrate between areas to the growth and lifecycle of a butterfly. Migrating allows for moving between areas of scarcity toward areas of plenty and is common in living creatures.



A dreamlike insight: find yourself by losing yourself.


Ancient imagery: other civilizations have come before us.


A giant hand draws the mural.


A scene on a green landscape flanked by other colorful designs.


In the Tohono O’odham language, himdag refers to a group of cultural values, some of which are respect for the Earth and each other. This mural refers to a way of living out himdag.


Breathe easy and be aware of the sacredness of life.


Her dress is of the moon and stars, yet she is of the animals of the Earth.


A colorful design pattern born of flowers.


Cactus, jugs of water, and patches of color advocate for hospitality toward strangers – a matter of life and death in a land of often deadly desert temperatures.


La Dia De Los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink and the activities they enjoyed.


A sacred mountain.
A man enriched by the products of the desert.

Ajo, Arizona is on the way between Phoenix, AZ and Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Son. Besides the murals, area attractions include Organ Pipe National Monument and the Desert Diamond Casino in Why, AZ.

During summer, Ajo has the same high summer temperatures as the rest of the Sonoran Desert. Accordingly, the best time to visit and take a walk to look at the murals are the winter, fall and spring months.

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