Note: We got a knock on the door this afternoon by a ranger who informed us that we have less than 48 hours to leave the park campground before it is completely closed. They report that there are new CDC directives that call for the use of additional personal protective equipment for cleaning facilities which they do not have available and/or cannot acquire.
We had already discovered this afternoon that one large campground north of us is closed to new visitors. This is a common business change in response to Covid-19. We knew that it would be very warm here within a few weeks so we have scrambled and found a campground in cooler climes north of Phoenix, AZ where we can shelter in place.
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument technically is still open but with many changes. The Visitor Center has been closed, there are no ranger-led activities that would involve a group, and even the kiosks are closed. The campground remains open and has plenty of visitors, many of them have cut their Mexico trips short and crossed over the border back into the U.S.
The full-timing RV community is concerned because their RV is their home and many do not have a “sticks and bricks” house. There are over a million full-time folks who live in RVs so the large number of campground closings is a concern. Groups like the Escapees are lobbying governments to allow campgrounds to stay open because they consider places to live “essential services.” There is even an on-line petition by Truck Camper Magazine in this same vein. We have extended our stay in Organ Pipe to travel as little as possible during the Covid–19 crisis.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Hiking in the park has been a great way to “social distance.” We have been able to do some of the popular hikes and backcountry roads in the park. The Ajo Mountain Drive and Puerto Blanco Road here are two long dirt one-way loops in the park and we have been able to travel both of them.
The Ajo Mountain Drive, on the eastern edge of the Monument, has been our favorite and is beautiful this time of year. This area west of the Ajo Mountain range receives the most rain in the region and it is obvious because of the multitude of blooming wildflowers. It also has one of the best hikes, the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture loop. Because the trail is accessed from this 21 mile one-way dirt road, there is a significant time commitment as well.
The trail climbs gently until it starts to meet the Bull Pasture Trail. From this junction, you can see the green and brown colored canyon that you have traversed. The afternoon light made for some wonderful vistas.
One striking view is the entire mountainsides populated with Organ Pipe Cactus. As Celia mentioned in a previous post, in the US, this is the only place where this type of cactus grows wild. They are typically found in the Mexican-Sonora desert areas. This is one reason Organ Pipe Cactus NM has been designated as an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Another hike we took was to the Victoria Mine. The trail-head starts at the Twin Peaks campground. Near the mine pits are the stone remains of an old store. The pits are important habitats for migrating bats and have been cleverly protected to allow the bats access but not people.
The longest scenic drive by far is the Puerto Blanco Drive. This is another one-way rocky dirt road and it takes about four hours to make the loop. The rangers recommend not taking a low-clearance vehicle on the 41 mile trip.
We did take time to hike the short Dripping Springs Trail that takes you to a watering hole used years ago on the Ajo, Arizona-Sonoyta, Mexico road. The bees loved the opportunity to get a drink and there were thousands of them. With so many wildflowers blooming in the desert, you can hear the collective buzzing of the bees, like the distant hum of a manufacturing plant.
The last few miles of the Puerto Blanco Drive parallels the Mexican-American border. You can see parts of the border wall being built right beside the Mexican Highway #2.
Also along the border is the Quitobaquito pond which as ponds go is not very large but is a tremendous oasis here in the desert. This is a popular spot for birding and was one of the ranger-led trips that was canceled after we had signed up for it.
Almost the entire Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is wilderness area with very few buildings or other evidence of people who may have lived here. One surprising thing was to see a small blue flag waving in the distance among the cacti and creosote. I checked out one and saw that it was a water tank that is provided by the group, Humane Borders. A ranger told us there are a number of them in the Monument and they are refilled about every three weeks by volunteers. As you probably know, hundreds of migrants have died trying to cross this dangerous and desolate wilderness area. While the temperature is a nice 60-70 degrees in March, it can get very hot during the summer time.
As you can tell from our recent posts, this quickly became one of our favorite spots. You are surrounded by the green of the desert with plenty of Saguaro, red-tipped Ocotillo, yellow-flowering Creosote, Teddy Bear Cholla, Palo Verde, Mesquite, and many more blooming wildflowers such as Gold Poppies, Mojave Lupine, Fairy Duster, and Desert Marigold.
Because of our extended stay here, we have been able to relax and enjoy the beauty of this area. Celia has been able to do some painting outside and we have taken long walks most afternoons.
Please stay safe.