Organ Pipe National Monument

We decided to stay at a full hookup campground while visiting Organ Pipe National Monument in southern Arizona, since the weather forecast was in the high 80s, and the trailer gets pretty hot at those temperatures without air conditioning. So we stayed at a campground in Ajo, AZ called Coyote Howls West.

Having full hookups meant it was back to a life of luxury! The first thing Brian did to celebrate was make a bunch of dirty dishes making steak tacos. We also spent a some time doing chores, and finally got drawer liners in the drawers and some cabinets. That’s something I wish we had done before we moved in.

Organ Pipe National Monument is named after the organ pipe cactus. They are only found in the Sonoran Desert, and mostly in Mexico, because they can’t survive freezing temperatures. Organ pipe cactuses have several stems and average about 15 feet tall (but can grow to 25 feet tall) and can live to be 150 years old. Usually the stems all point up, but sometimes they don’t! Sometimes they look like they are blown by the wind, or go in crazy directions.

The organ pipe cactuses are beautiful, and there are also plenty of Saguaro cactuses (though they didn’t look quite as happy here as they did near Tucson), and there are mountains in every direction.  It’s an international biosphere reserve because there are so many species found in the area.

The park offers a not-so-junior ranger program called Desert Ranger, so of course I wanted to do it! It involved completing a workbook that asked questions that could be answered by spending time in the visitor center/museum, and a crossword puzzle, and a few other things. The most fun activity was a scavenger hunt to find all the cristate cactuses around the Ajo Mountains loop drive. It took us to some really beautiful cactuses!

They also offer a hike-for-health program and we got pins for hiking over 5 miles in the park! I feel like they are pretty happy to have visitors, it wasn’t very busy. When we were hiking we only passed 2 people! I love earning badges, must be the former Girl Scout in me. I wish all the parks offered this type of thing for adults.

The first hike we did was the Estes Canyon – Bull Pasture Loop. It was about 3.6 miles and climbed 950 feet. We brought our new trekking poles, and I felt a bit geeky, but the only other two people we saw on the hike also had poles, so I felt better. The view from the top at Bull Pasture was beautiful!

On the way down we passed a dead Saguaro and Brian looked around at its base and found a Saguaro Boot. Birds peck holes in Saguaros to make nests, and the cactus lines the hole with scar tissue. When the cactus dies the scarred area remains, and looks like a boot.

We drove the longer Puerto Blanco loop drive, which passes Quitobaquito Spring and then follows the border with Mexico. Quitobaquito Spring is a desert oasis and is the only home of the Quitobaquito pupfish, which are tiny fish.

Then the drive took us to Senita Basin, where we did a flat three mile hike. We were looking for senita cactuses the entire time, because the hike description said you could see senita cactuses, which are only found in Mexico, and this one small spot in the US. We didn’t see any while we were hiking, though. As we drove back from the hike we finally saw some. They look like organ pipe cactuses, but the tops of the stems look hairy. They are kind of strange looking.

We saw a coyote and a Gambel’s quail and about a hundred lizards, including one hanging out on a cactus, not minding the spikes.

The real attraction are the cactuses though. It turns out we really like cactuses! We’ve learned a lot about desert plant recently. We just watched Planet Earth II, and during the desert episode, every time they showed a cactus, Brian could name it!

I think the organ pipe cactus may be my new favorite cactus, and I definitely have a new least favorite cactus! We saw that a few of the teddy bear cholla plants were flowering, so I went in close for a photo. After, I noticed a 3-4 inch portion of cactus stuck to my pants and shoe! It was stuck well, too, apparently the spikes are barbed. Not cool, cholla. We learned that it reproduces by shedding small portions, that attach to animals and people to move to new places, and it is also referred to as jumping cholla. This happened to me twice, even though I was watching where I was stepping. Never happened to Brian though!

Brian’s Cactus Corner:

Day 191| Mile 19,439

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