Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

March 3, 2010 — Today was the kind of day we wished would never end….

After spending a couple of days in the Tuscon area visiting Saguaro NP, we headed a couple hours south and west to the Ajo [AH-hoe] Mountains on the U.S. border with Mexico. Here we found more strikingly beautifully Sonoran Desert landscape that is the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. As a place with crucial environmental importance, UNESCO named this area an international biosphere reserve in 1976 to ensure environmental, economic and social sustainability.

21 - Selfie
Posing by an old, majestic organ pipe cactus

As usual, we checked in at the Visitor Center, sadly named after and dedicated to the memory of Kris Eggle, an NPS Ranger who was slain in the line of duty while trying to protect our borders from drug smugglers from Mexico.  As expected, we saw several border patrol agents in white unmarked SUVs during our time here — twice with captured illegals sitting on the ground at the side of the road; once up close and personal as we were stopped inside the park for looking suspicious with a dirty car (“why were you off-road?”); and appropriately, in one of the only bar/restaurants in the town of Ajo – more to come on this place a bit later.

Our plan of attack for visiting Organ Pipe was to drive the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive, an unpaved but well-maintained loop around the edge of the Ajo Mountains.  Organ pipe, saguaro, and cholla cactuses were abundant along the drive because they grow well in lose soil and are protected here.

In the background of most of our views was a striking peak known today as Montezuma’s Head, but referred to by native American’s as Old Woman With A Basket. Like much of this mountain range, it is composed of lava rock cooling on the earth’s surface forming rhyolite.  The cliffs feature bands of dark rhyolite and lighter volcanic ash.

Click on photos to open gallery in Flickr –

01 - Organ Pipe Cactus NM

We enjoyed a leisurely 4-mile hike on the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture Trails, once again selecting a perfect panoramic spot to enjoy a picnic lunch of gorp, cheese & salami and water.

Laura sketched while Fred photographed, and we couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing way to spend a day. We saw just a few hikers on the trail, and once again, seemed to have the place to ourselves. It’s no wonder, really, for this place is an hour from nowhere!

Following our great day in Organ Pipe, we checked into our motel (one of just two in Ajo, I think), and for a bargain rate of just $59/night got ourselves a king size bed and some interesting decor. We dined at the local Roadhouse steakhouse, the spot our border patrol buddy recommended to us after he determined we were just hikers and not drug smugglers and that our car was dirty because we had to drive off-road to get to the trail head. Likely because we were famished, but I had perhaps the best sirloin steak I had ever eaten. I’m quite sure the perfect day also had something to do with the fineness of the boxed wine that accompanied my delectable steak.

Ahhh Ajo………