Contrary to what many believe, deserts are not devoid of life, but offer some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. One such place is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (OPCNM), located in Ajo, Arizona, just north of the Mexico border. This park was established in 1937 and is named for the organ pipe cactus, a species quite rare in the United States. The 330,689-acre monument preserves an example of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem which includes volcanic mountains, rocky canyons and hundreds of species of flora and fauna. Although the park is open year-round, the best time to go is in the spring, when the wildflowers are in full bloom.
Things to Do:
Scenic Drives – There are two options for scenic drives within the park. Puerto Blanco Drive is 5 miles, 10 miles round trip. It provides pullouts with interpretive panels and takes about one hour to complete. There is a picnic area and pit toilet facilities at the turnaround. The Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile loop on a dirt road, and takes about 2-1/2 hours to complete. You can purchase an interpretive guide book to accompany the drive at the Kris Eggle Visitor’s Center.
Hiking – There are several hiking options from which to choose in the park, ranging from the easy and accessible 1/10 of a mile Visitor Center Nature Trail to the Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon hike, a moderate to strenuous 4.2 mile loop. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes with thick soles, as cactus spines are everywhere.
Camping – Tent and RV camping are allowed in the Twin Peaks Campground on a first-come, first-served basis for $12 per night. Group sites are available by reservation. Twin Peaks has a dump station with potable water, and the restrooms have flush toilets and showers. Individual campsites do not have electric, water, or sewage hook-ups. The Alamo Canyon Campground allows primitive camping, also on a first-come, first-served basis, for $8 per night. Registration must be made in person at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center on the first day of your stay.
Geocaching – This exciting treasure hunting sport can be enjoyed by the entire family. You’ll need a hand-held GPS and instructions for each cache.
Wildlife Viewing – OPCNM is home to 28 species of cacti, 550 species of vascular plants, 4 species of amphibians, 279 species of birds, 53 species of mammals and 43 species of reptiles. Some of the animals include mountain lions, desert bighorn sheep, Sonoran pronghorn, javelinas, roadrunners, desert tortoises, Gila monsters and rattlesnakes. Be sure to bring your binoculars and a lot of patience.
Although the monument is open 24/7, the Kris Eggle Visitor Center is only open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Entrance fees are $8 per car or motorcycle and $4 for walkers and bicyclists. The passes are good for seven days.
For questions or to make group camping reservations, call the Kris Eggle Visitor Center at (520) 387-6849 ext 7302.
The park is secluded and several miles from the nearest area of commerce. For this reason, you will need to plan a full day for your visit. You might also want to fill your gas tank before arriving, and bring plenty of food and drink, particularly water.
If planning your visit around the spring bloom, be sure to check with the visitor center in advance, as the bloom timing varies according to rainfall and other climate conditions.
The park is located in southern Arizona, south of Ajo, west of Tucson, and east of Yuma.
“Organ Pipe Cactus,” National Park Service
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