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Fondest memory: Some places you've really explored and others, you nearly wince when you say you have been there. Deep down you know you were so barely there it was just another check off the list. I was in Mexico twice in 1994 but very briefly on both occasions. The first was the archetypal jaunt over the border from San Diego to Tijuana, a trip that anyone will tell you is about as Mexico as Disney World though the tacos will give you the runs just like the real thing. My second traipse south of the border came a few months later when in Big Bend National Park in Texas. I was rowed across the Rio Grand in a tiny boat to a small little village. I imagine it was more authentic than Tijuana though the simple restaurants had satellite dishes.
My wife had never been to Mexico and on a six month trip around the US in 2008 you would think there would be time for such an excursion but I knew deep down that unless we properly took the time it would be a similar experience. She didn't seem hard pressed and we knew we had our hands full just trying to squeeze all the great sights of the western US in. Still, we found ourselves driving right that way through southern Arizona and the thought certainly crossed our minds. We were heading to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Mountains surrounded us and dry scrub brush lay on both sides of the road interspersed with ubiquitous cacti. It sure looked like one imagines Mexico to look like unless you are one of the Club Med set who would rather lie on the beach in Cancun. Of course, if that is Mexico I guess my rowboat experience counts too. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Updated May 28, 2009
Fondest memory: We were right back on that scenic drive first thing in the morning as the Bull's Pasture hike's start was just about halfway around. Doing the drive again was not a problem as it was beautiful in the early morning light as well but we made our way directly to the trail head, full knowing the hike would be more pleasurable the earlier we started. We soon found ourselves marching up the Estes Canyon, brushing up close but not too close to the Teddy Bear Cholla. It was a beautiful trail with a fair grade and we were happy to be out hiking again after taking it easy at Saguaro. The spur trail to the Bull's Pasture seemed to be where all the 800 feet of elevation were gained but the views were superlative of the surrounding valley and well worth the effort. We forgot all about the snipers and about being in the United States for that matter. We were in the mountains of the desert and borders seemed arbitrary.
After some food we bounded back down the trail and valley to our waiting car. We still had half the gravel road to traverse before getting back on the highway for four hours to return to Saguaro for the night. We might not have been to Mexico but it sure felt like it except not one bullet hole in the car to show for it.
Written May 28, 2009
Fondest memory: We arrived at the park in late afternoon but early enough to stop by the Visitor Center. The rangers were an odd bunch after a few days with their counterparts in great parks like White Sands, Chiricahua and even Saguaro just four hours northeast. They were friendly enough but it seemed they'd rather be stationed some place else in the National Park system. Remarks about gunfire and it being a wee bit close to the border were uttered under their breath. It certainly didn't sound like the safest place and the campground did little to make us feel at home. It was like a parking lot in the desert with little tree cover and it was obvious that it was not the main season as evidenced by the number of open spots. This was even more so a place to visit in the winter and with it nearly May, the heat was to be a big factor in our planned stay here.
After setting up camp, we went back to the Visitor Center to get out of the heat as much as anything and we kept busy with the displays on the desert. I read up on a few hikes until the sun started to go down and we headed out on the scenic Ajo Mountain Drive. This twenty-one mile gravel road brought us into the heart of park, the mountains, and for all we knew, Mexico. There was no on on the road and thoughts of snipers and abductions danced in our heads at each stop. Well, after the jittery rangers, it was hard to keep such images completely out. It was mostly in playful jest and the natural beauty of the setting bathed in warm amber hues soon made such intrusions fleeting. We saw the trail head for the Bull's Pasture and made a mental note for the next morning but with daylight quickly waning, gravel roads and no amenities in sight, we raced back to the campground for the night. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Written May 28, 2009
Favorite thing: For additional information on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument write: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Route 1, Box 100, Ajo, AZ 85321-9626. Call 520-387-6849. The visitor center is 17 miles south of the park entrance on scenic SR 85 and is open daily 8:00 – 5:00 except December 25th when it is closed. You will find exhibits to introduce you to the plant and animal life found within the monument along with a 15-minute slide show. A variety of helpful books and pamphlets are available for purchase at the visitor center. We purchased a small southwestern cookbook, field guidebooks to help us identify the different cacti and Arizona trees, a guide on hiking trails within the monument, a booklet on the Ajo Mountain Drive and another on the Puerto Blanco drive. You may also purchase postcards of Organ Pipe at the Visitor Center. A short-.1-mile paved nature trail, which is handicap accessible, is located at the center. Visit the following web site for additional information: www.nps.gov/orpi
Organ Pipe National Monument’s visitor was officially re-named The Kris Eggle Visitor Center by the US Congress on November 22, 2003, in memory of Eggle, who was shot and killed at the age of 28, while pursuing members of a drug cartel hit squad who fled into the United States after committing a string of murders in Mexico. The sculpture of the hat that you see in the photo is in memory of Kris. For more information on who Eggle was, visit www.nps.gov/orpi/historyculture/kris.htm
Fondest memory: Walking in the desert right after a rain. The green Palo Verde Tree was covered with tiny drops of water that caught the light like thousands of crystal jewels. The Ocotillos were sprouting green leaves, and some sported their plumes of red flowers, it was like magic.
Updated Mar 13, 2009
Favorite thing: I've visited when it was almost summer and then in the middle of winter. Guess which is better? Winters are beautiful here and for that reason, most people visit then. However, this isn't a lot of people ever, so don't try to plan your visit to avoid the crowds. There aren't any. Granted, late spring brings more blossoms and flowers from the cactus, but how will you enjoy that if you're having a heat stroke? There aren't too many programs offered at this time either. In the winter, you can hike without worrying about super dehydration, enjoy yourself more, camp (it does get chilly at night, though) and attend programs given by staff at the Park. Even though the days are shorter, you're able to enjoy more of the day as a whole whereas in the summer, you are limited to when you can hike (very early morning or late evening).
Fondest memory: Coming from an area that was having snow and an ice storm, getting to Organ Pipe was a wonderful getaway. It was miserable in the northeast US and cold where we were going (Alaska). At Organ Pipe, it was clear, sunny and comfortable. Absolutely beautiful in the winter:)
Written Oct 9, 2006
Favorite thing: This is it. Saguaro, cholla and organ pipe cactuses. Deep blue skies. Rugged mountains. This photo sums up the park pretty nicely.
Written Mar 29, 2003