"Sonoran Desert Primer" Top 5 Page for this destination Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument by mtncorg

In southcentral Arizona, in the middle of nowhere, on a road to nowhere, this Park lies along the Mexican border encompassing a goodly section - at first glance - of some of the most desolate country around. Don't come in summer. There is a reason they called the earlier path through this country, 'El Camino del Diablo' - the Road of the Devil. This is low desert with air temperautres of 118F and ground temperatures a literal blast furnace at 175F during the summer. You are warned. But in October through April, a second glance will surprise you. There is a veritible profusion of greenery and flowers. It still looks like a desrt, but not a form you might be familiar with.

There are four types of warm weather deserts in the US: Great Basin, Mojave, Chihuahuan and Sonoran. Here is one of the best examples of protected Sonoran deserts in the US. The Park celebrates the organ pipe cactus, a tall cactus which sends many spiky columns vertically arranged from a common base - hence the name organ pipe. Besides the organ pipe, there is a whole panoply of cactuses and other desert flora unique to a Sonoran desert. In late winter you will be surprised at the extent of the greenery - this is not a Chiuahuan desert.

There are two scenic drives which both loop utilizing good graded dirt roads: the 53 mile half-day Puerto Blanco Drive encircling the Puerto Blanco mMtns over to the desert oasis of Quitobaquito Springs; and the 21 mile two hour Ajo Mtn Drive circling through the foothills of the Ajo Mtns which form the eastern border of the Park. There are several trails - short nature trails near the Park's sole campground - in turn next to the Visitor Center; two other longer trails include the Victoria Mine trail 4.5 miles and the Estes Canyon-Bull Pasture trail 4.1 miles which climbs off the Ajo Mtn Drive to the base of Mt Ajo - highly recommended.

NOTE: PUERTO BLANCO ROAD IS CLOSED UNTIL 1 JAN 2004

There are no services in the Park besdied the campground and the Visitor Center, both more or less in the center of the Park. You can find services in Why and Lukeville or better yet, in Ajo to the north or Sonoyta, in Mexico, to the south.

To get to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, you drive west of Phoenix on I 10 to Buckeye, where AZ 85 heads south - about 90 miles and many javelinas south of I 10.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:desert ecology and fullness within the empty
  • Cons:desert heat and nasty cactus spines
  • In a nutshell:Cactus Botany 101
  • Last visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Apr 1998
  • Intro Updated Nov 30, 2003
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Reviews (11)

Comments (6)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Dec 2, 2009 at 2:33 PM

    ON another trip to the SW, I would like to get down to this area. It looks pristine and color magnificence of the desert area. My trip to Az & Utah was great and hiked a lot. I think you may have interest in seeing some sites I visited.

  • iandsmith's Profile Photo
    Oct 20, 2006 at 12:29 AM

    Impressive (as always, but then we expect that!). My latest walk was at Wilsons Promontory. Cheers.

  • shrimp56's Profile Photo
    Nov 15, 2004 at 6:32 AM

    Another beautiful and informative page!! Thanks :)))

  • KimberlyAnn's Profile Photo
    Jun 25, 2004 at 9:05 AM

    I LOVE this little known gem of a desert. The first time I visited a SW desert a Cholla Jumped right on me! LOL --well it seemed like it did. Your view from Bull Pasture brought back some fond memories.

  • catalysta's Profile Photo
    Dec 18, 2003 at 4:21 PM

    Yeah, there's a reason they call them "Jumping Chollas", and they are no fun to pick off! They've got barbs like porcupine quills, only tiny. Excellent cactus primer, very informative and well-illustrated with your usual great pics - cat

  • mrclay2000's Profile Photo
    Nov 22, 2003 at 12:43 PM

    Dry and prickly. . .I prefer my hikes a little greener and a little more shaded.

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