The typical dangers of the desert-heat, lack of water, depletion of bodily minerals, and intense sun, are augmented here by the proximity to the Mexican border. Illegal border crossings are common and in addition to park rangers, there are border patrol driving up and down the park's main road which doubles as the thoroughfare to Mexico. For this reason, even more precaution must be observed if leaving your car unattended. Locking it and keeping valuables from sight are common sense. Also, if you encounter anything or anyone that looks suspicious while hiking it's best to steer clear and tell a ranger on your return.
When hiking be careful not to brush up against the cactus. Most of these are very thorny, and the chain fruit chollas are often called “jumping cactus.” Not that they actually jump, but a light brush and one will break off and attach itself to your clothing or skin. Do not try to remove it with your fingers. Use two rocks, pliers, tweezers, or a comb to flip the joint away.
Beware of over exposure to the sun. Use sun block and be sure to have sun protection such as a wide brimmed hat. I would recommend that you do not even attempt to hike from May through September. Temperatures frequently reach over 105 degrees during this season and the sun beats down mercilessly, making hiking dangerous.
Take water when hiking, the park recommends one gallon per person per day.
Watch out for poisonous rattlesnakes, scorpions, spiders, and centipedes, as well as other dangerous wildlife.
For additional details about your safety visit:
This will be in three parts.
1) Be aware of your surroundings. This park is right on the border with Mexico and there is a lot of smuggling (both people and drugs) in the area. This is especially true of the South Puerto Blanco Road area. You also have to keep your eye open for rattlesnakes, scorpions, mountain lions, etc. Usually they will not bother you if you don't botherthem.
2) Be prepared for the conditions. Drink lots of water before, during and after your visit. Be aware of the weather forcast because flash floods occur here, especially during the monsoon season which is usually July through September.
3) Obey all warning signs. They are there for a reason.
Despite several remarks in the net and the presence of the Border Control you should not be too afraid going here. As long as you are here over the day (daylight) and you contact the Visitor Center for information where to go safely, it is no problem. Always use your common sense, which says e.g. that of course you should not pick up hitchhikers here.
Follow the link below to the parks safety instructions...
This may seem (by reading the title) that I'm writing 2 tips about the same thing, but they are not. This is what became of the incident on the first warning tip. (Or maybe because of September 11th, the new "tightening the border" thing or a combination of all 3) It used to be if you were going across border into Mexico, you had to deal with the border patrol. That makes sense...that's how it should be. But even before you get into the park, well north of the Mexico border, you have sit in a line to pass the makeshift inspection station. Sometimes going in, sometimes going out, sometimes both. Thankfully, this park isn't highly visited and not that many people (legally) use the border crossing at Lukeville, so it doesn't take too long. Just expect that even if you're not crossing into Mexico, you'll have to go through one of these mobile patrol stations.
Unfortunately, the Park has seen some violence directly related to the fact it's on the US and Mexico border. The first time we visited, we did see people standing at the fence, running through the desert and heard it's not uncommon to find bodies--not from gunfire but because it is so desolate, dry and often extremely hot.
But, in 2002, a Park Ranger did die here. He was going after a drug smuggler who shot him during a border patrol. This isn't the only incident that's happened in this park but it was one that tightened up security in and around the park. Be careful when hiking. We've never had a problem nor have we encountered anything suspicious or threatening on a trail...it's unfortunate but the Organ Pipe didn't grow here thinking about the US/Mexico border. It grows there because it's the best climate for it.
In Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument I saw more border patrols than park rangers. Along highway #85, the main road cutting through the park and into Mexico, there are more border traffic than park visitors. I remember reading in the newspaper a while back regarding rangers being killed by illegal border hoppers here (at that time I didn't know where Organ Pipe is). It's sad to see this beautiful desert turn dangerous for human reasons.
In the visitor center I had a conversation with a ranger. She remembered the ranger who was killed and said rangers are not law enforcement. I asked her how the park controls its border (more than 30 miles in the desert). She said most of the border is only fenced by chopped railroad tracks planted into the sand to prevent vehicles from crossing; animals and human can walk through these with no problem. Many of the border hoppers are dangerous drug runners or fugitives so it takes a lot of work to stop them.
In the desert I see these thorny balls everywhere. I'm not sure what type of cactus produces these balls but they are super dangerous. They come in the size of a golf ball, and are completely covered with thorns. These thorns are so sharp that they are almost sticky. I touched one very very lightly and had problems removing it from my finger. Finally got it off with 2 pieces of rocks and my finger was bleeding.
Out and about in the desert, you need to stay well hydrated and protected from the sun. Ther are no reliable water sources beyond the Visitor Center and the campground. Don't rely on the barrel cactus. Even if you get past the fishhook-like spines on the outside, inside you will not find water, only sap.
Highway 86 traverses the southern part of Arizona. From Tucson to the gate of Organ Pipe Cactus National Park is about 120 miles. Sadly much of the way is littered with mounds of broken beer bottles and every mile or so there is a little white cross signafying the loss of life in an auto accident. I would not drive this stretch at night.
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