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  • Writer's pictureJ. F. Rowan

Organ Pipe National Monument

Ajo, Arizona

Organ Pipe National Monument--Organ Pipe Cactus (Right)

It’s not the most scenic drive we’ve ever experienced. And, for about the first forty or so miles, there were some real nail-biting, expletive producing moments when it came to driving on the interstate. But about 3 hours after we left our house-sit in Phoenix, we arrived safe and sound just seven miles short of Mexico in The Organ Pipe National Monument.

Campsite with "Twin Peaks" in the background.

Yvette had reserved a great spot for us at Organ Pipe for 7 days. The campground is located within the park itself and there are several miles of trails which are accessible from our campsite. The weather was great most of the time with daytime high temps around 70-80 and nighttime lows in the ’40s. We did have an unusual cold snap 2 days before we left with nighttime temps getting into the 20’s. Fear not! We kept cozy inside at night thanks to our magnificent furnace.

Organ Pipe National Monument
One of the many trails within the park. Yvette standing by a young Saguaro Cactus.

As you will see throughout some of these photos, we didn't always stick tot he trail. This is an example of us "bush-whacking." In the photo above, I'm looking at the skeletal remains of a Saguaro that has died and decomposed.

Formally home to a few gold mines and a cattle ranch, this national monument was first established in 1937 and covers more than 300,000 square miles of Sonoran desert. The star attraction here is the Organ Pipe Cactus.

Organ Pipe Cactus growing up through a Palo Verde Tree. The Palo Verde trees are known "nursery trees, giving shelter to several types of cactus in their early stages of growth. The trees usually die off when the cactus reach a certain maturity.

In the grand timeline of history, the cactus is relatively new here, moving north from its home in Mexico about 10,000 years ago. Though unique, we love all the cactus here. Cholla, Ocotillo or Saguaro, they are all amazing to see. We were awe struck whenever we explored them during our daily hikes.

More bush-whacking. The footing could very difficult at times. You really have to have shoes that support your ankles.

But you know who we are right? We’re rebels. Sometimes we don’t like to keep to the trails. Together (sometimes separately), we explored several of the arroyos (washes, dried up creek beds) within the park even though they were not a designated trail. We even picked up some garbage now and again left behind by migrants illegally making there way north from Mexico to their way to the town of Ajo or some other destination where they could be picked up.

Here we are hiking in a "arroyo" about 2 miles from camp. Evidence of migrant activity, a wool blanket on the ground,, and I am holding several "Black Jugs" that we've collected while in the wash. Black jugs are used to transport water by migrants illegally crossing the border. The choose black because they don't reflect the light, thus keeping their progress hidden.
My catch of the day. Black water jugs.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to mention that I will be writing a post on our experience visiting the wall and it's construction on the U.S./Mexico border. I’ve had the honor of speaking to several individuals regarding this ever controversial subject. It has truly been an eye-opening experience. One that is sometimes very different than the view we get from main stream media. But that’s a post for another time.


Photos below are from "Victoria Mine." A old gold mine long since closed.

Remnants of an old store that served the small mining community here.

Giant flywheel from one of the machines left behind.

View looking south to Mexico.

Wooden doorways seem fairly well preserved. Probably because of the very dry conditions here.


Having the ability to use solar is essential here as there are no power hook-ups. As long as we managed our power carefully, we had no problem re-charging back to 100% everyday.

While in this particular park, we attended several park natural history programs that were available every night. Everything from exploring the night sky, to learning the ins and outs of animal nocturnal life. The park has programs all day long as well including shuttle tours of the desert.

Our trip to the town of Ajo, Arizona
A sleepy little town, it's very quiet here.

We took one day while we were there, and traveled 38 miles to the north to the town of Ajo (pronounced “Ahh-Hoe”) to do some errands and to have a late lunch. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to live in this area when the temp is around 125 degrees in July. Yikes!

This will give you an idea of what the weather can be like here.

We also explored an area of the park called Quitobaquito Springs. An unusual spring area that includes a species of fish called Sonoyta Pupfish or Quitobaquito Pupfish. A species that are found only there.

Seeing this oasis in the middle of the desert was quite surreal

This small pool was filled with tiny pupfish.

A well used path along the stream that will eventually end up a pond in the background.

The pond which was fed by a very small spring helps migrant wildlife of all kinds.

When it was time to leave, we discussed the possibility of a return trip to Organ Pipe as we will have plenty of time to explore Arizona before moving on to the Grand Canyon sometime in April. And there was so much more to explore there! So, this may not be the last post that you’ll see about this wonderful place. In the meantime, on to Tucson!

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Feb 16, 2020

Loved seeing the pictures and reading your description of the terrain near the Mexican border, and of the organ pipe cacti!

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