Monthly Archives: April 2013

Jan. 15 – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Lets start this post with the Ace photo of the day. Here he is using one of the sofa cushions as a chin rest. ¬†He does love his chin rests ūüôā


The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is one of my favorite excursions of this caravan.  This park is dedicated to the Sonoran desert.


We drove down HWY 85 toward the Mexican border to the park , driving through some really spectacular desert country. OrganPipeSign

The entrance to the park.

Do you know the difference between a National Park and a National Monument?

A National Monument  is created by the President of the United States without the approval of Congress. National parks, on the other hand, are typically created by Congress. National monuments receive less funding and afford fewer protections to wildlife than national parks.

KrisEggleVisitorCenterWe started our visit at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center.

eggleKris Eggle was a National Park Ranger who was shot and killed in the line of duty at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, on August 9, 2002 while pursuing members of a drug cartel hit squad who fled into the United States after committing a string of murders in Mexico.

One of the¬†exhibits in the Visitor’s Center that interested me was of the nest of a desert pack rat.RatsNest

After touring the Visitor’s Center, Mark and I took a leisurely walk a 0.1 mile nature trail behind the Center. With my poor knee that was about as far as I could walk ūüė¶ ¬†As you can tell from the photo, it was cold, beautiful, but cold!DixieAtPark

ViewNext, we got back into the big black truck and did the AJo Mountain Drive. “It is a 21 mile, mostly gravel road usually passable by normal passenger car. RVs over 24 feet are prohibited, due to the twisting and dipping nature of the road.” ¬†I would not want to be in a passenger car let alone an RV doing this road, it’s really rough.

RoadThe Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and protects most of the national habitat  of the Organ Pipe Cactus within the United States. The Pipe Organ Cactus grows only in the Sonoran Desert. While commonly found in the southern sections of the Sonoran Desert, these cacti are rare north of the U.S.-Mexico border but have adapted to life in the Monument. The Monument only experiences a few frosty nights a year, allowing the cacti to stay warm and flourish like their Mexican kin.

TSaguaroshe Saguaro cactus is a desert icon.

It is the tallest and largest cactus in the United States. They can live to be 200 years old.  They flower for the first time around 65 years of age and produce their first arms around 90. Cacti living where water is more abundant grow faster. Cacti living in valley flats, where water is scarce, can live their whole lives and never have the resources to support arm growth.

A saguaro is entirely dependent on location and rainfall, as well as the ability of its shallow roots to suck up as much rain as possible to store in its spongy flesh.

Flowers appear in May and June when the desert it at its hottest and driest. The nectar is the only moisture in town, attracting pollinators like birds and bats.  The fruits ripen in July, in time for many animals to eat the delicious red fruits and transport thousands of seeds to new homes.  When the seeds are spread and the monsoon rains begin, the seeds with a lot of luck can then grow into new saguaro.

nurse plantBaby saguaros need protection from the sun and frost and from animal predators. Paloverde trees and mesquite trees often offer a young saguaro a safe place. ¬†These trees are called “nurse plants” because they protect the growing cactus.¬†Unfortunately for the nurse plant, when the cactus grows up it ofter kills its protector by taking most of the rain water with its shallow and complex root system.

Desert3¬†Ocotillo in dry times resemble long spiny sticks. ¬†Once the rain comes they grow dark green leaves in a spiral pattern around their branches. Brilliant orange-red flowers bloom at the ends of the stems and these flowers attract hummingbirds to pollinate the plant. The nectar found within each flower is crucial to the hummingbird’s¬†survival¬†during its long¬†migration. This mutually beneficial relationship is an example of adaptation to te desert¬†environment.

Cholla CactusThe Cholla cactus Рthe joints of the plant are biologically designed to detach as an animal is walking by within its spiny reach.  The spines are barbed and hook into the coat or flest of the passer-by and the cholla joint is transported to a new location.

teddybear_chollaTeddy Bear Cholla gets it name because they look fuzzy and cute, but look carefully and you’ll see millions of tiny hooked spines genetically designed to attach to anything that gets too close.

Packrats will take the cholla joints to make a very protective nest called a midden.RockThe drive took us close to a natural rock arch in the Arch Canyon.

The Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile, one-way loop. ¬†At the end we were back across from the visitor’s center and we began the drive back to Why. ¬†BorderCheckPoint

Along the way we passed through a Border Patrol Checkstop. On the way to the Monument, driving toward the border, we were waved thru. ¬† But, we were stopped on the way back to Why … just for a moment; they asked us where we where from and where we were going and let us through. ¬†Checking

There was a van infront of us and they spent more time looking it over.

Because we were near the Mexican border most of the way from Desert Hot Springs to Why we had seen many Border Agents. But, when we arrived in Arizona the number of agents and checkpoints increased dramatically.

We were soon back in Why and Ace was once more out in search of burro poop.