Ajo: An Arizona Downtown Decorated By Dreams

Open pit mine - Ajo, Arizona

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.

Ajo Al's Restaurant at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona.
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 Kino mural in Ajo, Arizona.
Father Eusebio Kino – Spanish missionary priest who opened a number of missions in the southwest United States.
Bracero mural in Ajo, Arizona.
Bracero 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.

Mural comparing the state of the Tohono O'odham nation to Germany before 1990 in Ajo, Arizona.
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.

I'itoi mural in Ajo, Arizona
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.


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


Migration mural in Ajo, Arizona.
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.



Mural in Ajo, Arizona.
A dreamlike insight: find yourself by losing yourself.


Ancient civilizations mural in Ajo, Arizona.
Ancient imagery: other civilizations have come before us.


Giant hand mural in Ajo, Arizona.
A giant hand draws the mural.


Mural in Ajo, Arizona.
A scene on a green landscape flanked by other colorful designs.


Mural illustrating the concept of himdag in Ajo, Arizona.
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.


Mural in Ajo, Arizona.
Breathe easy and be aware of the sacredness of life.


Mural illustrating the connection between the moon, stars, and Earth in Ajo, AZ
Her dress is of the moon and stars, yet she is of the animals of the Earth.


Flower mural in Ajo, AZ.
A colorful design pattern born of flowers.


Hospitality mural in Ajo, AZ.
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.


Dia de Los Muertos mural Ajo, AZ.
Dia De Los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink and the activities they enjoyed.


An Ajo, AZ mural featuring Baboquivari Peak
A mural in Ajo, AZ featuring Baboquivari Peak, a sacred mountain to the Tohono O’odham.
mural of a man enriched by the products of the desert - Ajo, AZ.
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.


Some other articles from the DRS:

What’s the spiritual meaning of dreams?

What do spiders in dreams mean?

Can Islamic dream interpretation principles help you understand your dreams?

Anatomy of the mind: the brain and the mind aren’t the same thing


James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life. 


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