On the road about 8 toward Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I’m psyched about this one. Every review I’ve read about this park has been awesome.
About 100 miles from the park I start seeing Saguaro Cactus occasionally along the highway.
As we go, they get more common. About 50 miles from the park I see the first Organ Pipe Cactus on a hill off to the right of the highway. I see a couple more as we approach the park, but the preponderance of Cactus are Saguaro. On the hills they are more numerous than the flat desert areas. Must be climatic, but I don’t know the details yet.
The Visitor’s Center is 15 miles into the park. The camping area is next door so I drive through there first. Horrible… There are around 200 sites. Maybe 40 non-electric sites. Of these 4 have roofs, covers over the picnic tables. Of course these are full. I ask the ranger at the camping entrance about covered sites. No, they are all full. Duh… 10% of the sites have shade. Do the people who plan these places not know that it’s the desert? That it’s freaking HOT in the sun? Oh, well. Not the place for us. We’ll find another spot.
I go in the Visitor’s Center to get a map and ask about hiking options. The Ranger suggests a 20 mile, graded, dirt road that goes up into the Aho Mountains where the cactus are thick. There are hikes off the road. He says it’s about a 2 hour drive. So, that would be about 10 mph. Off we go…
A small Organ Pipe cluster outside the visitor’s center.
Teddybear cholla in bloom.
Hanging fruit on a Chainfruit cholla. An edible staple of the natives.
The road is quite horrid for what I think of as a graded road. But, 10 mph is about right. For the first 30 minutes it’s mostly saguaro cactus. No Organ Pipes.
These Ocotillo are not a true cactus. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small (2–4 cm), ovate leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months. The bright crimson flowers appear especially after rainfall in spring, summer, and occasionally fall. They are frequently pollinated by hummingbirds.
Two stately specimens. In this area the Saguaro live up to 200 years. They begin to flower at about 40 years. And stretch out their first arm at about 90 years. We are such arrogant life forms…
Common groupings of Saguaro, Ocitillo, and Cholla
As we get higher into the hills toward the mountains the Organ Pipe Cactus begin to appear.
Smaller cacti are beginning to bloom.
These are awesome cactus when they are large colonies.
The Aho Mountains. Love the coloring in the rock layers.
We stop to hike into this canyon that leads toward the arch visible about a quarter of the way in from the left.
These Black-Eyed Susan type wildflowers — I think it’s called Brittlebush — were in bloom all over. In some places, like here, the hillside is covered.
A spectacular specimen of Chainfruit Cholla — tall, full, symmetrical.
Bonsai Poppies along the trail.
Happy 90th Birthday!!
Into the canyon.
As far as we’re going. The last 2 miles is on very steep loose rock. We’re not prepared for that terrain. So, we backtrack to the van.
On the road again after the canyon trek. I want to try to bring you into the experience of driving through this amazing landscape. So… I put the phone out the drivers window and record some video. Here are the three I like.
I’m thinking about driving up to the Aho Mountain camping spot in the park. There are a half-dozen primitive spots. But as we get to the end of the Aho Mountain Loop, Sherman and I are both SO TIRED of dirt roads, that I’m gonna find another spot.
One of my friends from City of Rocks told me that he spends the winters near Aho, AZ on BLM land. Looking to drive near there is what had me discover the Organ Pipe Cactus Park. So, we head toward Aho. It’s about 20 miles. As we get close I can see the copper pit mines in the distance. The BLM road exits the paved highway along the side of one of the mines. We pass the mine and start looking for the way the dispersed camping has been used in this area. There are a number of places where people have just pulled off the road. If people spend the whole winter in this area, there has to be better camping than this.
Looking at the map I see an arroyo off to the left with a BLM icon near it. I find the turn off and we head down hill a bit to an area where people have obviously spent lots of time. We’re the only one’s here. It’s not visible from the road. Quiet. Clean. OK. Home for the night.
Senita cactus in bloom
Teddybear cholla. Some people think this cactus has the ability to shoot or jump it’s sections onto passing animals or people. But, not so. Here you can see the fallen sections on the ground. The spines are extremely sharp and it feels like they have barbs on the points. You can touch one as lightly as you can, and it’ll stick to your finger. A couple years ago I walked by one of these in the CA desert, not knowing what it was and brushed against 3 sections with my sandaled foot. In the next moment I was hopping on the other foot, looking for a place to sit down to remove the sections from the side of my foot. The spines were not deep, but they were firmly attached.
Down near the arroyo were these two relics from…? the mine, I assume. It’s the only business in the area I can see.
We go for a walk further down the roads and across the arroyo. The one thing I do not like in these non-managed, dispersed camping areas is the amount of broken glass. It’s not everywhere. It’s in specific spots. I’m not sure what attracts that behavior to specific spots. For instance, where we are tonight, there are maybe 25 places to camp. 2-3 of them are full of broken bottle pieces. Most have been broken into small pieces. A quarter inch or less. I don’t grok it…