Saturday, January 12, 2013

From Organ Pipe to Tucson

We’re now at the Agave Gulch FamCamp at Tucson’s Davis Monthan Air Force Base, where we spent nearly three months last winter. We got here yesterday afternoon and it’s cold: 25 degrees last night and projected to go below freezing tonight.  Day time temps are in the forties.  Last night Jim disconnected our water before we we went to bed so the hose wouldn’t freeze.  We also left the cupboards below the bathroom and kitchen sink open so warmer air could reach the pipes.  No problems so far.  
We’d spent Monday through Friday morning at Organ Pipe National Monument north of tiny Lukeville, AZ and just five miles north of the Mexican border. It’s a stunningly beautiful place almost lush with palo verde and mesquite trees, saguaro cactus, all sorts of chollas cactus, bottle brush plants and of course, organ pipe cactus.  Every vista looked like it should be the cover of a national park brochure.  

We could get Verizon cell coverage at the park, but there was not enough oomph in our router to hook up to the internet (hence our conversation with the border guard in our last post).  So here is some info about our stay at the  lovely Organ Pipe Cactus National Park:

The campground has 200 well-maintained campsites, a great visitors’ center, and hiking and driving trails but only about 30 rigs were there.  The camping fee is only $12 a night, or just $6 a night with a senior pass if you are 62 or older (and I celebrated my 62nd birthday by buying one during our stay.)  A photo display at the visitor’s center said during the 20 years from 1970 through 1990 the campground was full with lines of campers waiting to get in.  A park volunteer told us that now, however, people have some concerns about the US-Mexican border and the most common question he’s asked by people calling for information is “Is the park safe?”  His answer is “yes” if you just use some common sense:  Lock your vehicle, be aware of surroundings, don’t hike alone, report anything suspicious.  Per the park brochure “Organ Pipe Cactus shares 33 miles of international border with Mexico, which presents challenges and concerns.  Your safety is your responsibility.”  

I felt pretty safe.  The Border Patrol seemed to be everywhere, including in  the campground.  Then, when we drove from Organ Pipe to Tucson, it seemed like every third vehicle was a Border Patrol car.  We went through two Border Patrol stops on the way to Tucson; one of the agents told us he was from Fairview, Utah; the other kiddingly asked if our dog was an American citizen.  Jim says he thinks they try to get you talking to get a feel for your actual citizenship and general demeanor.  

But back to Organ Pipe National Monument:  We did four hikes and took a car trip on the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive that winded and dipped through a primitive area of Cactus Pipe Cactus National Monument. The drive has 18 stops that correspond to numbers in a guidebook. If you didn’t know anything about the desert you could take this drive and come away with a basic knowledge of the Sonoran Desert. 

At one of the stops we met two women who told us they’d conducted research about crested cactus used to create a book available at the visitors center.  They were out checking the crested cactus -- also called cristates -- and told us about a couple of good ones. Near the end of the drive we also saw three Border Patrol cars pulled off to the side of the road and figured they’d gotten a tip about something or someone.  So we just kind of cruised by our last stop.  Nevertheless, the drive was supposed to take two hours; with all the stopping reading and picture taking we did, it took us about four hours.

At the campsite we met Jim and Heather of Golden, British Columbia, who invited us over for wine and beer.  Jim worked in accounting and forestry and Heather was a teacher; they also taught skiing and ran a white water rafting tour business.  They were very fun. Heather and I talked a bit about the border issues -- she said she saw someone walking through the campground in jeans and a gray hoodie with the hood pulled up around the face, and thought that someone actually could come into the campground and break into a motor home. Later she realized the gray-hoodie wearer was me.
Our campsite at Organ Cactus National Monument.
In 1937 Franklin Roosevelt set aside a representative sample of the Sonoran Desert and named it after a cactus found here:  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Stands of Organ Pipe Cactus can be seen going up this hill.

A view from the campground. 
Sunset our first night at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, as seen from our rig.
One hiking view...

Plus a cholla section that stuck to Bev's boot.  They are sometimes called "jumping cholla" because it does not take much contact to get them to stick.
View of the campground from a hike we took at sunset.
An organ pipe cactus with a crest, which is an anomaly that for some reason causes the cactus arm to spread out like a hand.

A close up of the crest.

Bev in front of another crested organ pipe cactus.  Organ pipe cactus can live as long as 150 years .  Average height at maturity is 15 feet.

This is the lush Alamo Canyon at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Jim taking photos at Alamo Canyon.


  1. Any day that ends with beer and wine is probably a pretty good day.

  2. So what is Cooper's nationality?