Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument


In contrast to Joshua tree my arrival at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument campground was not so smooth . The day was pretty much like most of travel days: break camp (and I made my goal of 9:00 am); gas up; return any necessary messages or phone calls when in cell range; and stop and get ice and expensive lunch meat to feed Kili, the dog with no appetite. Then, on I traveled across the desert. I was moving from bear country into rattlesnake territory. It is about 55 years since I studied geography and I probably killed all the brain cells that stored that learning with all the college drinking and partying. I mention that because I wish I had more knowledge of the land, the geology and the vegetation zones and what I was observing as I travel eastward. Even with all my travels in the US, much has been on interstates and I never keenly observed on a micro scale the geology and vegetation along the way.  I always thought of desert as relatively flat and boring. But It was extremely fascinating as I drove on east to see the changes in the desert scape from the Mojave to the Sonoran The predominant color was in the tan-gold spectrum with the desert sands reminding me of spun taffy.  The mountains at a distance seemed void of vegetation, quite dark and empty, but closer up they were dotted with varying shades of grey vegetation. I avoid all highways on the way down to Organ Pipe and came through a variety of small decaying towns. What took me aback the most was upon traveling down 72 towards Gila bend,  just out of Vicksburg, I passed a couple of huge farms with cattle feed lots in this area where no amount of hay could possibly be grown to feed the cattle. There were huge walls of hay stacks on the farms as well as truckloads of hay on the road being brought in. There were what I call “cowports” with fans, akin to a carports for cows – huge long rows of covered feed stall. To see that whole operation in the middle of the desert when it was 97 degrees at the end of October, was upsetting for me. It seems inhumane. But I am not a cow and really have no idea how a cow experiences this. But I don’t like it! Much of the route also had open range and many signs warning about watching out for livestock. I was extremely saddened to see a dead cow by the roadside. I have seen deer, all sorts of smaller animals, alligators but never a dead cow. Along the same route there were aqueducts to bring the water down for irrigation the desert. I can’t imagine how much of a waste of water that is (even if food is being grown) because of the high evaporation rate in the hot arid region. As I got further and further south the temperature climbed to 99 degrees and the last 80 miles of the road to Organ Pipe was a straight shot. A new presence was two border control stops – mostly for the traffic heading north from down south Mexico way. The other difference was the often placed signs of warning about illegal immigrants and smugglers.

I decided however I did not need to be fearful – as most of those who know me and know historically the risks i have taken I began to notice more and more Saguaro cactus, at first, few and far between. The reminded me of sentries posted to guard the way. As I got closer the “head” count was higher but they all still seemed like lone sentinels standing there quite stalwart and some quite imposing with their multiple arms.



I arrived at the campground in good order at the Twin Peaks campground and proceed to find a campsite as this is a no reservation park. It is a quite large but ver nice campground with real plumbing and solar hot water showers.


All was on track until I made a turn into the lane for a campsite and cut the corner quite close, not seeing two tall curbs that just happened to inexplicably plant themselves in front of my wheel. Well my powerful Prius just jumped right up on them and hung herself there and could not plow right on over like perhaps a 4WD could. NOW WHAT? After conferring for quite a while with a camper nearby, I decided it best to call AAA and request service out here in the middle of the desert about 80 miles from someplace. I got it arranged much to my relief. In the meantime I set up camp – not on my chosen site, but on the one nearest the car. Shortly. the camp host, John, came by and spent a while surveying the predicament Pretty Priss Prius got into. He decided to call the park rangers. Of course by now it is pitch dark out. While waiting, along came Border Control. They patrol the area as the park is only 4 miles from the Mexico Border. They didn’t have any new ideas. But then my hero, the park ranger, guns and all showed up and he and John were able to remove the plastic molding which was what was the real cause of the hang up. Once removed they were able to jockey they car out from the curbs. So we pulled the car into the closet site and decided to wait till morning. By now it was an hour and a half since I called AAA so I called to cancel but within 5 minutes this huge tow truck is straining up the narrow camp roads. I had him, as best he could, check out the car to see if he could spot any other damage and it seems okay so I bade him farewell.


What is really mazing to me is that there is good cell phone reception here and this is extremely rare in any national park or monument .Then it occurred to me that they want people to be able to call if they encounter or spot any smugglers or illegal imigrants seeking entry. 

With that negotiated I still had not had any dinner and camp was not fully set up. So I pushed on and finally settled into the tent. Well Kili was panting and prowling! It was windy and the tent kept flapping and he wanted to investigate the noise. It was so dry as well that I thought he might be thirsty so we got out of the tent for a drink and to survey the land. I puy the water into the tent but that was not were it belong so back out it went. This went on three times until I just decided to ignore him. Of course Simba joined in the scene as well.

We awoke to a beautiful clear cool morning and after coffee i decided to take a 3 mile walk on the Palo Verde Trail with he dogs on, believe -it-or-not, a dog friendly trail and it was a nice trail as well.

When we got back an hour later I discover food paper litter all over the campsite. The Ravens has gotten into the cooler and extricated and consumed the lunch meat, cheese, pea pods, apple, and got the package with my allergy medicines ripped open though the viles were intact. Since it was now getting warmer and there was no shade on this site at all I decided I would move my site (yes I am a glutton for punishment) across the way as there was a “ramada,” a shaded roof for the picnic table area. It was not actually too hard of a chore as we were just going across the way and one site up.

With the heat rising, I decide the day would best be spent taking a couple of the interpretive driving ours to better experience and see the desert up close (as if it was close enough the previous night the I ran into a Cholla and it deposit one of its thorns about a 1/2 inch deep into my leg. I soon learned that there are very few stands of organ pipe in the us. Ii loves the sun and southerly slopes and can’t tolerate the sub freezing temperatures of the desert north of Mexico. The highlight drive was the Ajo Mountain Drive and it was truly an amazing scenic drive, through the Diablo Mountains to the base of the Ajo Mountains with majestic specimens of Organ Pipe and Saguaro Cactus which reflect the magnificence of the Sonoran. It was a washboard gravel road (I had not abused Now Not-so-Pretty Priss Prius enough to date, so we jiggled and shook, wound and dipped our way through this 21 mile stretch which seemed fitting given the, harsh, primitive nature of the landscape with a huge population of surge, organ pipe cactus,  mesquite, palo verde, jojoba, and a couple of my favorites— the chain fruit cholla and the teddy bear cholla. The organ pipe cactus is human friendly and has an abnormal growth out of the center called a crest. It is quite intricate as you can see below.They are beautify shimmering in the sunlight but filled with tiny hooked barbs. They are intriguing but dangerous as they quit adroitly hook into you clothing or shoe. it is often called jumping cholla and I can attest to how readily it attacks by the number of times it settled in me and on the dogs. . I need to carry tweezers because I have carelessly gotten to close to these little hitchhikers.


I found that so fascinating that I headed for a couple of other scenic drives. The next was the drive the both the North Puerto Blanco with views of the Ajo Valley and Pinkley Peak and South Puerto Blanco to Sento Basin. The southern part of this loop road was also a washboard and probably the most interesting thing on this route to me was views of the border fence, as the road parallels the US Mexico border for a few miles.The presence of border control vehicles was duly noticed. After about eight miles I opted to turn around since I would not be able to complete the loop. Pretty Priss Prius wasn’t up to it after her mishap the night before. She has finally come to he conclusion that she is not a 4WD vehicle and to complete it, one needs 4WD.

So we headed back up to do the North Puerto Blanco until Pretty Priss was prohibited from going on. But, first a stop in Lukeville, the US border town. I needed to get ice and hoped to get some lunch meat etc. to replace the foods the ravens looted that morning. I should have guessed but this was the only stop in town and there was no real food. I toyed with the idea then of taking a little side trip into Mexico but then thought better of it. I drove onto the northern section was much more scenic with views of the mountains, valleys and very dense fields of sugar and organ pipe.cactus.

After that I head to camp. I had hope it had cooled down a bit and the sun was low enough tolerate being outside. It was actually quite pleasant though still quite warm. The evening was uneventful and quiet. After a beautiful sunset, I enjoyed the stars twinkling peacefully in the dark clear clean dry night sky.

Simba wanted to get up for the sunrise so I crawled out of the tent, got my morning coffee going, and was able to download the newspaper (though I kind of regretted it as I have ignored the news for several days). But Simba cuddle on my lap and we welcomed the bright and beautiful sun as it peaked over the horizon. The color show before the rise was quite beautiful s well. Kili was fascinated by the Ravens waiting for an opportune moment and the Gambel’s quail flitting about in the under brush.Today was a moving on day so I dismantle our home and was ready to head out by nine. It was so sad though as I could tell Kili was not liking all of this routine of spending a couple nights and moving on. He went and laid down right in the middle of the empty tent pad and campsite. I had to coax him into the car.



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