A Visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ pipe cactus

With long spiny stems that look like columns rising from the base of the plant, the organ pipe cactus is impressive. I had been curious about visiting Organ Pipe National Monument for some years, but the opportunity had never presented itself. This park is in a remote section of Southern Arizona on the Mexican border. It is not near any town or city of size, so you have to go out of the way to visit. But I think this monument is more than worth going out of the way for. The location is very scenic and this is the only place you can see these cactus growing in large numbers in the U.S. While staying in Tucson we made the two hour plus trip to come here and I was very glad we did.

Stamp and sticker from our National Park book

During our RV travels, Mark and I have really enjoyed visiting sites administered by the National Park Service. We like seeing the visitor centers, getting recommendations for things to do and stamping our park book. When Mark wanted to get one of these books while visiting the Carver National Monument in Missouri in October 2018, I figured it wouldn’t get much use. I thought most National Parks and monuments were out west and we were going to be spending a lot of time in the Eastern part of the U.S. Little did I realize how many National Park sites we would be visiting, which were mostly historic sites that I just was not aware of. In the first 15 months we visited close to 50 of them and got plenty of stamps for our notebook.

The organ pipe cactus is common in Mexico but only grows in this section of the U.S. where there are no freezing temperatures. This cactus likes it warm! The park is an International Biosphere Reserve because it is such a great example of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. We decided to drive the favorite scenic loop road in the park, Ajo Mountain Drive so we could get some great views of the organ pipe and other cactus. As we began the drive and came upon this sign, there was no question we were close to the Mexican border!

Ajo Mountain Drive

The 21 mile drive on mostly dirt road heads into the foothills and along the way we saw plenty of organ pipe, saguaro and other desert plants such as cholla cactus and blooming hedgehog. The rugged hills were a great backdrop to the desert scenery.

Organ pipe cactus on the side of Ajo Mountain Drive

We stopped for a lunch break and I liked how the park service used ocotillo stems for a covering on the ramada at this picnic site. I have also seen ocotillo used for fences in other places we have visited in Arizona.

Some more photos from stops along our drive. I loved the rocky hillsides in the park.

After our drive we did a little hike from a primitive campground. Envying the campers, I wished we could have spent a day or two enjoying this gorgeous spot!

The trail went up into Alamo Canyon along side a green wash. It was a beautiful desert walk with the bluest sky. We came upon perhaps the largest organ pipe cactus we had seen that day. This cactus can live to be more than 150 years old.

A very large stand of organ pipe cactus

The remains of an old ranch house can also be found on the trail. Cattle were once kept in this canyon and the previous owners also had a mine claim in the area.

I would like to return to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument again some day. The memory of this special place will stay in my mind for some time. On the next trip I am hoping we can drive the other scenic road which is 35 miles long and more rugged. It would be great to see more of this stunning park!

One thought on “A Visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument”

  1. In a way this area reminds me a bit of Madagascar, the cactus are just other worldly, like many of the Boababs. What a beautiful area. Great photos! Love the picture of you next to the cactus to give more perspective as to how tall they are, so impressive. We have a lot of fun getting our book stamped too but we were a bit lazier about getting all the right stickers on, definitely another great way to keep track of and document everywhere you have been

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