Long-Fingered Cacti & Bumpy Rides -> Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ
The thing about hanging in the lushest desert on earth is that you can never rely on the weather. Days will start out clear, then suddenly cloud up or cloud up and then suddenly clear. Humidity here hovers around 40-50% which is simply insane for a desert. In fact, the entire weather system here makes no desert sense at all. It’s the very reason everything is so darn green, but it also means you gotta grab the good moments when you get ’em.
Yesterday afternoon was one of those moments. After an entire day of utterly dreary grey clouds, at around 4PM the skies suddenly parted and sun revealed long rays of golden color. Ahhhh, sweet light delight! We thew ourselves into the CRV and raced 20 miles down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We were gonna catch this baby at her best!
Now, Organ Pipe is a spot I’ve been waiting years to see. I’d heard about the place from other bloggers and was immediately fascinated by the massive finger-like cactus that bear its namesake. It’s the only place in the US where this weird plant grows wild and it’s a direct result of the intersection between the Lower Colorado Valley and the Arizona Upland…or in other words, crazy desert weather. This unique diversity has granted Organ Pipe the designation of an International Biosphere Reserve which only confirms that it’s a rather special place. The main attraction in the park is the bumpy 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive that takes you into the valley and around the mountain. Despite my weak stomach for such things I was determined that that was the route we were going to take.
Now if you’re coming here I would recommend stopping at the visitor center for a guidebook since, apparently, that’s the thing to do and will give you lots more information about the drive. We were impatient and by-passed this step to get right to the road while the light was right, and after paying the $8 fee we were on our way.
And it was b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l ! The road leads deep into the desert mountain starting rather sparse, but getting more and more lush as you drive in. Saguaros in every direction, ocotillos, cholla, cresote bushes, mesquite, palo verde….you name it, it’s there. And then of the course the Organ Pipe Cactus, the whole reason we made the drive. These long-limbed cacti rise like prickly flowers from the desert floor and grow up to 16 feet in height. From afar they look like pretty green buds and close-up you can’t help thinking they might swallow you. As we drove on and the light shifted I kept seeing new ways to photograph them…frontlit, backlit, silhouette…how can you not admire their zany form?
And then we got to go one step further. What’s better than a simple Organ Pipe Cactus? Why a crested Organ Pipe Cactus!! Scientifically speaking cristation is an “abnormal development of an apical meristem characterized by indeterminate proliferative growth”. Got that?? Or, to put it another way it’s a MUTANT cactus……coooooooooool! I knew from other bloggers there was one of these very rare babies somewhere on the 21-mile drive, but having not bothered to pick-up the guide-book before we started I had absolutely no clue where it was. By pure luck my mutant-seeking eyes locked on something about 20 feet off the road and one quick scream later Paul had stopped the car. Freak cactus found, goal achieved!
At this point, the rest of the drive was pure gluttony. We finished the drive just a half hour before sunset leaving behind golden colors and last impressions of deep red on the mountains. My stomach barely made the bumpy road (the last 7 miles were tough), but my camera & soul were both mighty glad we did it. Totally worth the trip & a definite “must see” for anyone who comes to this crazy desert.
P.S. Organ Pipe National Monument offers several hikes, but only two (near the visitor center & campground) are dog-friendly. The hikes around Ajo Mountain don’t allow dogs, but you can bring doggie in the car for the ride. Polly doesn’t do well on bumpy roads so we left her at home.
P.P.S. Coming up next -> we reveal our summer plans including TWO brand-new (and rather unusual) volunteer positions that we’ve snagged. All I can say at this point is that we’re going somewhere foul, and somewhere high…oh, and “the beast” will be going sailing. Yes, I’m such a tease 🙂SPONSORED LINK: SPONSORED LINK:
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