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ILNP Park Review
Our Visit I visited Organ Pipe Cactus NM, Arizona during October when I had an afternoon free during a trip to Tucson.
Our Weather Partly cloudy with a temperature in the mid 70s
Overall Impression Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a beautiful stretch of mountainous desert. It’s similar to Saguaro NP in many ways, but the mountains are more dramatic, the organ pipe cactus are more distinct and it’s location is far more remote. This place, the only home to the organ pipe cactus in the US, has a rugged and arid beauty that’s surprisingly colorful, and it’s far enough away from civilization that you can almost have the park to yourself. All this combines to make it a good stop for those looking to get away from it all for a while.
Visiting Plan on spending at least 3-4 hours in the park, though you could easily spend a full day exploring the canyons and trails. Of course, if you’re in Tucson or Phoenix, it will easily take you 2-3 hours just to get to the park. For a quick visit, stop by the visitors center to pay your entrance fee (easier than stuffing it into the boxes on the park roads) and get the latest on trail and road conditions. You’ll notice right away that even though the area is named “organ pipe cactus,” there are far more saguaro, cholla and ocatillo than organ pipe. If you pick just one area to visit, make it the Ajo Mountains. Take the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive east of the visitors center. This bumpy, windy, one-way dirt road will take you into the dramatic Ajo Mountains where you can experience the best scenery in the park and plenty of the park’s namesake cacti from your car. Be sure to stop at Arch Canyon to see the large rock arch in the ridge line. While you can view the arch from the parking lot, you can see more scenery and enjoy some solitude by hiking the 3/4 mile (one way) Arch Canyon Trail. The trail skirts the base of the ridge and winds up into a red rock canyon. Unless you have a lot of time and energy, turn around when you see the “CAUTION steep, rocky route ahead” sign. Budget 2.5-3 hours for the drive and short hike.
If you have more time, there’s a second hike along the Ajo Mountain Drive at Estes Canyon. The trail is a 4-mile loop, but you can still find some nice views with a quick out-and-back on one of the two trails. The Ranger recommended the Estes Canyon Trail, but with my limited time, I decided to take the Bull Pasture Trail for about 1 mile as it ascended to some nice views of the Ajo Mountains and the valley overlooking Mexico to the south. Only once you’ve seen all this on the Ajo Mountain Drive should you consider the North Puerto Blanco Drive on the west side of the visitors center. The scenery on the west side of the park is more open desert, and there aren’t as many organ pipe cactus. The only other advertised hike in the park (besides a few short jaunts near the campground) is the 4.5-mile round-trip from the campground (near the visitors center) to the ruins of the Victoria Mine, an historic silver mine. The park is much larger than the roads and trails reach, and while you can hike cross country, this is pretty inhospitable country, so check with a ranger first.
Suggestions Whatever you do, be careful on the roads. US 85, the main road through the park (ending at a border crossing) is fairly busy and has a 65 mph speed limit. Both Ajo Mountain Drive and North Puerto Blanco Drive have 15 mph speed limits for good reason. The roads are mostly dirt, curvy, bumpy and cross numerous dry ditches (at least until it rains). There were a couple of times when I nearly went off the road, usually after cresting a steep rise only to see the road curve unexpectedly just over the ridge. Also, don’t forget to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. This is, after all, a desert, and there aren’t too many visitors around to offer a helping hand if you get stuck or lost.
Nearby Towns Why, AZ; Ajo, AZ; Lukeville, AZ; Sonoyta, Mexico
Other Nearby Attractions There’s nothing nearby
Official NPS Website Organ Pipe Cactus NM
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