Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona - Hiking

Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer, has a tendency to be windy, stormy, and wet in Utah.  This year was no exception.  Fortunately, Roger and I decided that we would spend the holiday weekend in Arizona where we would be practically guaranteed more summer-like weather.  The only threat to our plans was excessive heat, but an unusually cool weather pattern made for perfect camping and hiking conditions.  After a quick morning flight to Phoenix and a few supply stops, we were on our way to the border to explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Organ Pipe Cactus

The Organ Pipe Cactus, with its dislike cold temperatures, grows primarily in Mexico and a small portion of southern Arizona.  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument protects this region and contains enough diversity of plant and animal life to be declared an International Biosphere Reserve.  Illegal border activity adds a level of complexity to the human history of this region.  The rugged, barren mountains are scenic backdrop to the unexpectedly lush Sonoran Desert vegetation in the lowlands and washes.

Saguaro cactus blossoms

Ocotillo leafing out after recent rains

After a quick stop at the visitor center to pick up our camping permit for the "primitive" Alamo Canyon camping area, we made our way back to Alamo Canyon to set up camp and stroll up the canyon.  Later, we enjoyed the sunset as the pink and orange hues gave the landscape a softer feel.  With minimal light pollution, the stars and planets were brilliant that night.

Camping at Alamo Canyon

Alamo Canyon at sunset

Sunset from Alamo Canyon

Moon and Venus

It sounded like a tropical rainforest when I awoke on Friday morning.  There were so many different birds singing at the same time.  I walked over to an Organ Pipe Cactus that looked ready to bloom, and sure enough, a couple of blossoms had opened.  The blossoms open for one night and the flowers are pollinated by bats.

Organ Pipe Cactus blossom

Organ Pipe Cactus at sunrise

We spent the day on Friday driving the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Drive, starting at the visitor center, and looping through some spectacular scenery along the way.  We stopped at two trailheads and did a couple of easy to moderate hikes, one through Arch Canyon and another through Bull Pastures and Estes Canyon.  Both offered scenic views and passed by a variety of desert plants.

Illegal border activity is a constant challenge

Arch Canyon

View from the top of Arch Canyon

Bull Pasture Trail

Bull Pasture Trail

Flowering agave

View from Bull Pasture Trail

With a few more hour of daylight left, we decided to drive along the U.S-Mexico border to Quitobaquito Springs, a true desert oasis and home to the endangered Sonoyta pupfish.  It was an interesting experience to be so close to the border, an imaginary line that has resulted in so many human deaths.  Birds and other animals paid no attention to this line.

U.S. border fence

Quitobaquito Springs

Quitobaquito Springs

After another beautiful night camping at Almo Canyon, we made our way back to Phoenix for the rest of the holiday weekend.  It was interesting the see the long line of vehicles headed south through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, on their way to a weekend in Mexico, unaware of the beauty and solitude of the surrounding monument.  We spent some time in the town of Ajo, enjoyed a small but lively farmers market, and explored for a bit around the town's plaza.  Once a booming mining town, Ajo has a quiet Southwest charm to it.

Last night camping at Alamo Canyon

Sunset at Alamo Canyon

 Ajo, AZ

Ajo, AZ

No more trains to Ajo

On Sunday, we rented bikes and rode through South Mountain Park, enjoying the spectacular views and perfecting riding weather for most of the day.  Before heading back to Salt Lake on Monday, we spent the afternoon at the Desert Botanical Garden.  The trip was a perfect combination of relaxation and adventure, and a great way to welcome the summer!

Biking at South Mountain Park

Biking at South Mountain Park

Roger near the top of South Mountain

Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden