Monday, 14 March 2016

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ

This is not a desert... this is a garden visiting Saudi Arabian Prince

We planned our route to Organ Pipe Cactus NM, taking a shortcut to Hwy 15, a direct route south. It went well, initially, north on I-10, the road west to was a good 2-lane highway. However, it wasn’t long before the road began to deteriorate, then became a dirt road 

Dirt road, supposedly to Highway 15
through the desert,

A ruin in the desert
which quickly deteriorated too. As we drove further, sure it linked to 15, because that is what the map said, the road ended. 

This is not the way to the highway....

There was a road at the “T”, but certainly, not the highway. So we turned around and went back to the main highway and up to I-8, through Gila Bend. So much for short-cuts and maps! The brittle bushes along the highways were starting to come out a beautiful yellow.

Beautiful brittle bushes beside the road

The highway went south through Gila Bend,

Gila Bend

and down Highway 85 through the Barry M Goldwater Air Force Range

The road through the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range
and interesting rocks, like the Badlands

on to Ajo

The pipeline conveyor and tailings from the old copper mine

past the tailings from the copper mine

and Why,

The gas station and general store in Why, Arizona

They have had artists paint their washroom walls...

and the end with the drinking fountains.

We parked on the other side of the lot

down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

The entrance to the Park
The park was as beautiful as we remembered. Our site was a long concrete, level pad with a concrete patio and cacti separating sites.

Our site

with our very own midden,

and resident pack rat, who visited one evening.

beginning of sunset from our site,

and a bit later through the chain-fruit cholla by the door

cacti separating sites...

It was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by lush Sonoran desert.

the campground
good roads, carefully tended sites

The first day was a “do nothing” day, resting because I woke up sneezing with my face hurting – sinus. John hiked the trail up to the Vistors’ Centre. 7 o’clock found us waiting in the group area for a ranger to lead us on a Full Moon hike

The rising moon the first night

Waiting for the hike to begin

up the Valley View mountain. The moon was beautiful, and the ranger and his assistant were excellent. Skies were clear and the constellations were easily seen, but the scorpions were not out. We were entertained with stories of the constellations and desert facts. Interesting facts: the Kangaroo rat doesn’t need water; the flowers on the Organ Pipe cacti provide nectar for the bat who helps by spreading the seeds as he flies south, and a honey trail for the hummingbirds migrating north, and each full moon has a different name in each month.

The next morning, we were up early and at the amphitheatre by 9 to listen to a presentation by Park Superintendent, Brent Ranger.

Superintendent Brent Ranger

There was a presentation each day in the Amphitheatre, 
sometimes morning, sometimes evening
He has been here 3 years, and is also a law-enforcement officer. He is passionate and enthusiastic about this job, with loads of ideas for improvements for the Park. He believes in giving a person a task and leaving it up to the employee how the task is accomplished. He has added programs and Ranger talks at the Visitor Centre, and twice a day a van takes you to a trailhead, so you can hike back to the campground.

We again drove the Ajo Mountain Drive through beautiful wilderness of the Sonoran Desert.

A map of the whole Park

Ajo Mountain Drive

The beginning of the loop

Ajo Mountain
We stopped a couple of times to take pictures down the valley,

View down the valley

down the valley into the wash

toward the Ajo Mountain Range
and walk up to Arch Canyon,

The road to Arch Canyon

The two arches

Arch Canon Trail

but only as far as the slip rock.

The trail to the Arches

part went through a wash...

the sliprock, where we stopped to the right...
The canyon to the left of where we were standing

It was beautiful, in a wilderness, with no one else around.

Ocotillos were just beginning to bloom

the ocotillo bloom

Organ Pipe cacti

The road to Estes Canyon

We stopped at Estes Canyon, but decided not to walk the trail. Again we found the huge Organ Pipe cactus with the crest.

The largest organ pipe

The crest in the middle of the organ pipe

It is beautiful...

Teddy Bear Pass, on the last part of the loop

Since I was still not feeling up to par the next day, we decided to drive the Puerto Blanco Loop. We had driven part of this road last year, but not the high-clearance section. This year, we drove the whole loop. We started with a quick lunch at Pinkley Mountain.

Volcanoes Mount Pinkley

We drove through the gate onto the one-way section of the loop.

note the brown sign...

through the gate onto the one-way section...

The views are breathtaking and we stopped to take pictures

John wanted a picture to send back to Peel...
of the mountains

The beautiful garden...

down the Valley of the Ajo
and a sensor at a wash.

A motion sensor/camera at a wash
As we looked toward the mountains, we saw movement; however, there were no trails on that side of the road. John got the binoculars and I zoomed the camera in to see 4 smugglers headed north.

Look carefully at the bottom right ...

We later found we could have reported them at this emergency tower

We walked the trail to the Dripping Springs.

Dripping Springs Trail

Cacti grow right out of the rocks

a boulder on the trail

It is amazing to walk along a narrow trail between mountains in a valley through wilderness with no other people or cars around. Looking for a good spot to take a picture, I got jumped by a chain-fruit cholla. Luckily John had his comb and quickly removed the jumpers. It is interesting here how late the saguaros get their arms, if they ever do. In this part of the desert, saguaros get arms at about 90 years. [In the Phoenix area, they begin to grow at about 75 years.] In this part of the desert, many saguaro do not grow arms at all because of the lack of appropriate soil conditions. 

looking back across the Valley of the Ajo, 
many saguaro do not have arms 

Yet some have multiple arms

On the third side of the road, through the La Abra Plain,

The Cipriano Hills edge La Abra Plain
we stopped to look at an old mine

Golden Bell Mine shaft

Golden Bell mine site

and a well.

Bonita Well

The road is dirt and in sections along here, we were driving along a wash!

Aquajita Wash is the road.
Near the end of the loop, we saw a sign for Quitobaquito.

Quintobaquinto and an obvious path to follow...
We followed the path winding along by the Mexican border to an oasis in the middle of the desert,

An oasis in the desert
surrounded by rushes and inhabited by coots.

Calm and serene, enjoyed by the coots
The bottom section of the drive, runs along the border, some sections with just a double fence,

Here, the objective is to keep vehicles out, not necessarily people
others with Normandy barriers,

These are put where the vehicles were blasting through
and of course the wall.

The wall runs for several miles on either side of the border crossing
As we were driving back, a bobcat ran across in front of the car. The signs had warned us there was  wildlife in the area – we were lucky, we saw 4 smugglers and a bobcat! 

The border crossing at the end of Highway 85

The next day we were booked on the van to the Senita Valley Trailhead, so we were up bright and early, to meet the van at 8:45.

Senita basin...

Our route- easy to the Victoria Mine...

Our van dropped us at the trailhead

This hike starts with a walk on a wide sandy path through the Senita Valley. We walked the first section with a couple from Orillia, formerly from TO.

an easy flat walk to start
It was a pleasant walk through the valley, but we didn’t see many senitas, and none near the path. These are like organ pipe cacti, but have only 6 ribs or pleats
Senita- this is at the Visitor Centre, as there wasn't one close to the trail!
rather than the multiple pleats seen on the Organ Pipe. This is the northernmost group of senitas, as they do not tolerate cold. They are generally found in Mexico.

Ocotillas leafing, but not flowering yet

organ pipe cacti, saguaros, bursage bushes, and 

vehicle lost parts,

and along narrower washes

First we took the fork towards the Victoria Mine,

The route was well marked.
an abandoned mine site. There are the ruins of the mine store

Mine store

I made it this far with ease...

and several mineshafts, covered over.

Most of them are blocked; however, one has been left open for the bats to use as day roosting, rearing their young during summer and hibernating during winter.

The mine property overlooked the Senita Basin

The last 2.5 miles back to our site was down to a wash 

not steep, but constant down and back up

and up the other side probably 8 to 10 times.

The last climb had stairs, so was considerably easier, but still UP.

None of them were really steep, but constant and in the heat of the day, with temperatures climbing up to high 80’s, I started to fade in the last mile, but I made it. I flaked out the rest of the day, but was rejuvenated enough for Happy Hour with the Ontario contingent at Jane and Henry’s RV.

We had seen the historic plaza in Ajo, and originally were going to stop on our way out. However, we decided to stay at Organ Pipe Cactus NM an extra day, and take a trip into Ajo. We walked to the Historic square

The top, by the road

and around the historic plaza.

The end of the Plaza- the Train Station, now the Visitors' Centre
to the left, including the Post Office, a restaurant ...

to the right - a library, art gallery, market.
Looking toward the highway, from the centre of the Park

The architecture is beautiful.

The arches by the train station

the side arches from the Post Office
We had lunch at the Oasis CafĂ© in the plaza. I had an excellent BLT and John had an interesting ‘beef’ sandwich called It’s not Philly. 

We found a pamphlet for a walking tour around Ajo, so decided that was a great way to see the town and learn about it. The tour begins around the corner from the Plaza at a small park with a wall called The Memory Project.

The explanation...
There are pictures, memories and a mosaic quilt

a mosaic quilt
showing the history of Mexican Town, Indian Village

The Ajo township

and other sections of Ajo Township as a ‘company town’, where everything revolved around the company from stores to hospitals to housing.

A Company town

The walk continues up a street with beautiful homes,

to the old Curley School, built in 1919.

This is a beautiful building which now houses thirty artists and their studios.

Walking up to the front door

Thr front door, with the wise old owl above

A beautiful building, especially the bell tower
The walk back down a street with historic homes

The median of the street had beautiful cacti

Older homes

from several periods of the town's history
to the two historic white churches on the main street, a Catholic church

Catholic Church
and a Federated Church.

The Federated Church

beautiful buildings

We then decided to drive up to the mine lookout. You can look right down in the open pit copper mine.

Open pit copper mine
On the way back to the park, I spotted the crested or cristated Saguaro. The growing tip occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.

Crested or Cristate Saguaro
Our last day, John hiked up the Red Tanks Tinaja Trail, and parts of the Baker Mine and Senita Basin Trails. I read and just hung out. At the Tinaja, a pool in the desert, there are swarms of Africanized Honey Bees, so he didn’t go to the bottom, but looked from afar!

The wash, and rock ledge where there is a small waterfall
into the Tinaja at the bottom- when there is water...

and deeper wash, where it flows on...
Our last night, another magnificent sunset...

Then we got ready to travel again!

The necessary 'dumping of tanks, after 8 days-
three of the Airstreams left at the same time.
We went out of the Campground,

out of the Park,

back passed the 'badlands',

and through the second Border Patrol checkpoint.
Back up on I-8, passed irrigated fields,

huge solar projects,

and into Dome Valley,

Climbing through the barren rocks,

to the fields just outside Yuma

and unique bridge,

passed the Casino and mission,

and many RV 'Resorts'.

We stopped at the Quechan Casino

for the night along with 50 plus other RV’s.

RV Park at the casino
It now costs $10 for 3 nights, [we had to pay it for just one night], but security is good and so generally was the food. Once you pick up your Players Card, a roast beef dinner cost $11.99 each- perfectly cooked too!
After breakfast in the casino the next day [don’t order the eggs benedict leathery English muffin and overcooked ham-], and coffee by the pool,

The beautiful pool at the casino
we headed “home“ to Santee Lakes.

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