Culture, featured, Travel
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Sonoran Desert Inn: The Only Non-Profit Inn in the USA

Neoclassical School Building in Arizona Desert
The Curley School in Ajo, Arizona

A way to rethink the way we travel is through sustainable tourism. Travel and hospitality can be a polluting, displacing industry and the concious traveler often wants to put their travel dollars towards righting this. Welcome to Sonoran Desert Inn, the only non-profit inn in the USA doing things a little bit differently.

courtyard of the Sonoran Desert Inn

Sonoran Desert Inn is the only non-profit inn in the country. 

Based in Ajo, Arizona, right on the border with Mexico in the Sonoran desert, this inn is housed in a converted school house of  those once robust, desert mining towns that dominate imagery of the west.

Do you like off-the-beaten-path travel visiting ghost towns, old mining towns or factory towns? Then this place is for you. And you’d be giving funds to marganilized communities.

As a not-for-profit organization, the inn functions to attract visitors to Ajo and the surrounding region. It helps to support Ajo’s economic development through direct employment and partnerships with local businesses, entrepreneurs, and artists. The inn partners with ISDA (International Sonoran Desert Alliance*) to tell Ajo’s rich history in early 20th century America. John Greenway was the manager of the New Cornelia Copper mine. With his wife Isabelle, in 1914, John was inspired America’s City Beautiful movement and sought to build an idyllic town that would keep mine workers and their families happy and productive. Think gargantuan buildings in Spanish colonial and neoclassical style rising out of the desert dust. A beautiful town plaza, a school, huge theatre.

Nneya in front of revival building and stairs Curley School

The school of the town, The Curley School Campus serving childing K-12 that closed in 1995. This is now the Sonoran Desert Inn!

​Now it wasn’t all “happy families.” There was Mexicotown, Anglotown, Indian village​ and still there is loose segregation today that the Sonoran Desert Inn and it’s partner ISDA is attempting to combat. Indigenous food cooking classes, food, art, and artist in residency program. It’s a perfect stop on a Southwest family road trip. While I was there, I met several guests from the East coast who found the space years ago and came back regularly. There were also German travelers!

It was really cool, very charming. I bought a beautiful Jasper necklace from the gift shop there with all of the proceeds going to the non-profit. We had a delicious Mexican food from Lucia’s Sonoran Kitchen. After dinner, we listened to Lorraine Eiler, ISDA board member recount her experiences growing up in Ajo and seeing it’s transformation into an artsy mining community.

fireside chat with Lorraine

Stays at the Sonoran Desert Inn start at $125 / night. The property is 15 minutes away from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Happy Indigenous People’s Day!

Here is some of the street art in Artist’s Alley in Ajo.

**ISDA is an alliance of peoples from three Nations: the Tohono O’odham Nation, Mexico and the United States. We are committed to fostering communication, understanding and cooperation among the richly diverse cultures in our region. Our intention is to preserve and enrich heritage in a way that transcends borders and boundaries with thoughtful and non-extractive economic development initiatives.


  1. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a 30 minute drive, but to see cacti would be all around the area. It’s a beautiful place to visit in all seasons!

    • 'N A Perfect World... says

      Thanks! Strange I just typed it into GPS again from Sonoran Desert in and it says 16 minutes, but then there’s a grey bit that GPS makes it looks like you can’t drive… although we did and it did indeed take longer! Thanks for clarifying!

  2. Laurie Castillo says

    Your article is inaccurate. I’m not sure from whom you received this misinformation, but corrections are necessary. I was born and raised in Ajo as were my parents and their parents and was surprised to hear of a Black town and that it’s only 15 minutes to Organ Pipe. Laughable! Did you even drive there to confirm that? 30+ miles in 15 min is impossible by car. I’m completely embarrassed for you and your lack of research and info verification. It’s like you spoke to one person in Ajo who is not from Ajo. Get it right or pick a different profession.

    • 'N A Perfect World... says

      I’m completely embarrassed and sad for you that you think it’s appropriate to rage at someone like this. My research is also from a seemingly revered Ajo local and GPS. I respect you as a local but your lack of ability to express your thoughts and opinions appropriately has me concerned for you. Best of luck and thank you for your visit.

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