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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

A Scenic National Park Teeming With Cactus In South Central Arizona

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument - Our Visit

January 14, 2007 - On Sunday morning, my buddy Joel and I drove to Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, located approximately 120 miles west of Tucson in south central Arizona. Compared to other national parks and monuments, it is considered quite remote and an undervisited park, but the desert scenery is beautiful, as you'll see. ;)

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Kris Eggle

Old Sonoyta Highway

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Map

First, a few basics about the park. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is in one of the hottest regions of Arizona. (On our day to visit, while much of the Mountain West was suffering in below zero and single digit temperatures, it was a sunny 54 degrees.) It is situated north of the U.S./Mexico border with the towns of Ajo, AZ and Why, AZ as the closest Americans towns.

Because the park is so close to the border, illegal immigration and its related activies affect the park in adverse ways. The top two photos are signs at the visitor center which explain some of the challenges park rangers face, including the tragic death of Kris Eggle. Do take a moment and read that sign!

Some trails and roads are either closed or it is generally discouraged for you to enjoy because of criminal activity. The Old Sonoyta Highway is a good example of this. Also, note on the map (bottom right) that the Camino de Dos Republicas and much of Puerto Blanco Drive (besides the two miles nearest the visitor center) are closed. We were also discouraged by park rangers from exploring Arch Canyon and the Bull Pasture Loop Trail (both situated on the Ajo Mountain Loop Drive) due to increasing illegal activity.

Now having said all that, Joel and I had an amazing time and really enjoyed much of the desert scenery. This is Arizona at its best! We drove around the Ajo Mountain Loop and here are some of my best photos. :)


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus Organ Pipe Cactus
The Organ Pipe Cactus

So the organ pipe cactus is the main catch of this national park. Interestingly, the cities of Tucson and Phoenix are not suitable for organ pipes cacti to grow naturally, but here in far south central Arizona, these desert plants flourish!

You can view a large photo gallery of this cactus here: Organ Pipe Cactus Gallery.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

Organ Pipe Cactus
Organ Pipe Cactus

A few more photos of the organ pipe cactus.

Remember, you can click any image to view it at a larger size. A new window will probably open, depending on your browser.

Dead Organ Pipe Cactus Thankfully, I was with Joel Smith of Tucson, an avid desert environmentalist who helped explain some interesting facts about this plant from examining this dead and decaying organ pipe. I couldn't possibly restate the points he made! :p)


Ajo Mountain Loop
The Scenic Ajo Mountain Loop

The Ajo Mountain Loop is probably the best place to experience this park. The organ pipe cacti grow like crazy the further east you go! You'll enjoy great views of mountains and saguaros too.

Arizona Like I said, this is Arizona at its best! :)
Arizona Desert Desert cacti.
Arizona I really need to give thanks to Joel Smith. He's been such a good friend during my visit to Tucson! Joel graciously drove his vehicle all the way to the park; he is a tried and true Arizona "desert rat." Joel loves it when it's 106 degrees outside in the summer! In the summer, he frequently rolls down the top on his convertible and enjoys the Arizona sun and heat without complaining.

His motto: Life doesn't start until it's 105 degrees!

Saguaro Saguaro Saguaro

Saguaro Arizona Saguaro Saguaro

Look at these big ol' saguaros!
Here are five different Arizona saguaros. (The two bottom left photos are the same saguaro with about twelve arms.)

My other national park pages:
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)
  • Saguaro National Park East (Arizona)
  • Arches National Park (Utah)

  • Arch Canyon in Arizona Here's the view of Arch Canyon.
    Arizona Overlook

    Arizona Overlook

    At a beautiful overlook about halfway into the Ajo Mountain Loop.
    Arizona Desertscape Wowwee! I love this photo.
    Cholla A cholla.
    Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

    Joel Smith

    Two more photos of organ pipe cacti.
    Steve in Arizona Hedgehog Cactus There I am petting a "hedgehog cactus" which really scratched up my hand. It is a very spiny cactus with yellow thorns.
    Arizona

    Arizona

    Two more views of the Arizona desert.

    Here are my Arizona pages:
  • Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
  • Saguaro National Park East
  • Photos In & Around Tucson
  • Town of Tombstone, AZ
  • Mid-Life Crisis at Arizona Trucks Stops
  • Sunset at Gates Pass
  • B&B Cactus Farm in Tucson
  • Phoenix, AZ (February 2008)
  • Picacho Peak
  • Golden Barrel Cactus A golden barrel cactus.
    Saguaro's Root Check out the root system of these large saguaros. Goodness! They look pretty much like trees! :p)
    Arizona Rest Area A shot of Joel snacking at a rest area. During the entire 20-mile loop drive in which we spent at least three hours out there, I think we saw six to eight other visitors.
    Desert While walking in the desert, Joel noticed this area of three "baby cacti" - hedgehog cacti (in two clusters), organ pipe (small and green) and a saguaro (spiny and gray).



    U.S. Border Patrol

    U.S./Mexico Border

    Border Patrol And My Experience In Lukeville, Arizona

    As we were leaving the Ajo Mountain Loop, I snapped the above photo of one of many border patrol trucks we saw. Oh but the fun was just beginning!

    Joel and I drove five miles to the border town of Lukeville, Arizona. There is merely a RV park, gas station and general store in Lukeville, besides the large border patrol headquarters. We parked and walked 500 yards to the border to check things out when we witnessed seven or eight patrol officers arrest two teenagers who apparently illegally entered from Mexico. With their hands up behind their head, I pulled out my camera to snap a photo, but was shouted down by the officers. I immediately put the camera down and continued to walk to the general store feeling like the stupid tourist that I was. Ahhhhhh ... then just moments later, while in front of the general store (where I snapped the adjacent photo of the Mexican gate), a young Mexican boy (age 9?) called me a gringo as he walked toward the gate.

    I was happy to have a lively border experience! I witnessed two illegals getting arrested by intense border patrolmen and was the recipient of racism by a young Mexican.

    U.S. Border Patrol As we were headed out of the monument (northbound towards Why, Arizona), we reached this checkpoint and border patrol searched the trunk of Joel's Ford Mustang before we could proceed.

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