February 5, 2011

2/2/11 - Organ Pipe Cactus NM

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (another one I’d never heard of!) is in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, right down on the Mexican border.  George had talked to some people and they said it was safe to go there, so we moved house from Mesa (think Phoenix) down to Casa Grande, about 50 miles south.  To get there you go west on I-8 to Gila Bend, then south on UA 85 through the Barry Goldwater Air Force Bombing Range, which seems like a really good idea to me, considering how close to the Mexican border it is, to Why.  Why not?  (You know I couldn’t resist that!  Sorry.)
Why’s another old Arizona mining town, mostly dead and dying, with billboards and signs all over advertising insurance for driving into Mexico.  We didn't check, but I'll bet the price has gone up lately...
We stopped at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center for suggestions on where to go.  The ranger suggested we take the Ajo Mountain Drive loop first, and then suggested a couple of trails (which we never went on because it was really cold and very windy that day.)  Even on the drive, when we’d stop to look at something, we’d jump out of the truck, take a couple of pictures, then rush back to the truck.
The ranger had given us a guide for the 21-mile drive, and it’s supposed to take 2 hours—as usual it took us a lot longer!  The loop is a graded, one-way dirt road (which is partly paved???), which winds and dips up through the Diablo mountains to Arch Canyon, then back down into the desert.  The road is supposedly okay for passenger cars, but in some sections, we wished the truck had 4WD. 
There are 18 markers along the way.  George would stop at the numbered stake, I’d read the paragraph from the guide, sometimes we’d get out and take pictures. 
Organ Pipe cacti look like they should be related to Saguaro cacti because they’re both big tall columnar plants.  Saguaro are the archetypical desert cacti with a tall center column and “arms” that split off like branches.  Organ Pipes grow in a clump from the base like a candelabra.

The Ocotillo looks like it’s starting to bloom, with little red blossoms at the end of the seemingly dead branches. 
Besides the Teddy Bear and Pencil Cholla we’ve seen before, there was also Chainfruit Cholla.  Yes, I know, it doesn’t take a lot of Cholla-viewing to hit your limit.  
Marker 7 just above the Diablo Wash with a view across the border to the Mexican national park (let me check the guide book on this) Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar.  They call it “El Pinacate” for short.  It’s a sister park to Organ Pipe Cactus NM.  And that’s probably as close to Mexico as we’re going on this trip. 
After we’d finished the drive, we stopped back at the Visitor Center for a pit stop before we headed back north.  We saw more Border Patrol guys that day than we’ve seen before.  As usual, they just waved us through the checkpoint.  We definitely don’t fit the profile!  (Interested in my opinion about that whole issue?  Send me a separate e-mail.  J )

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