Welcome to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
It’s the dog days of late summer – not normally a season your road trip visions focus on the Arizona desert. But I hope you’ll humor me and read on. Here’s why: This week’s post will take you to the handsomest patch of desert you’ll ever see. In addition to forests of stately saguaros, you’ll see chollas, ocotillos and palo verdes in abundance framed by rugged mountains. Add to that the rare organ pipe cactus, which you’ll have to come here to see.
Only place to see organ pipe cacti
While the organ pipe cactus can’t compare with the magnificent saguaros, its scarcity makes it special. The monument is just about the only place in the United States where you can see it. You can recognize its many vertical arms radiating upward 20 to 30 feet. Organ pipes live up to 150 years but don’t produce their first flowers until near age 35. The fruit of the organ pipe ripens just before the summer rains and splits open to reveal bright red seed pulp.
Here’s a short YouTube video that will give you a nice preview from a park ranger. www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ongHlV6Wn4.
The enticements are plentiful, but a trip here takes some planning. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument’s web site is www.nps.gov/orpi. I’ve provided links throughout the post to help you find stuff. If any of the links don’t work, go to the landing page, and surf or search from there.
A long way from anywhere
One reason a visit here takes planning is the fact the monument is so isolated. It’s alongside the Mexican border west of Tucson and southwest of Phoenix – and over 100 miles from either. Here are directions: www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/directions
Second, accommodations and other visitor services are very limited.
The nearest motels are in Ajo, 32 miles from the visitor center. Gila Bend on I-8 is another 54 miles. Gas stations and convenience stores are at Lukeville (on the border) and Why.
$25 entry fee!
Given the monument’s geography and remoteness, this is an ideal park for camping However, camping is very popular, and reservations are required. Here are details: www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/camping
You should begin your visit at the visitor center, where you’ll find exhibits, displays, helpful rangers and information on ranger-led activities
Interacting with the desert
Now, let’s interact with the gem of the Sonoran Desert. For most visitors, that means driving or bicycling on one of the monument’s scenic drives. Here’s a link: www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/driving-and-biking
I’ve taken all these drives, and I highly recommend the Ajo Mountain Drive as being the most interesting, most scenic and most fun. It’s also great for photography. Most of the scenic photos on this page were taken there. Much of the road is unpaved, but it’s fine in Old Betsy if driven carefully..
What about hiking? For a list of trails, go here: www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/hiking
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a very special place It’s always made me want to stop, using all my senses, and literally imprint a memory that can draw me back any time, and make it literally unforgettable.