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Saguaro NP and Organ Pipe Cactus NM

I got back from my road trip a little while ago. It was great. Much colder than I expected, but Anita says it was also cold around here. I started in the Tucson area, visiting a friend and doing a little bit of climbing. I spent a couple of days hiking at the lower elevation parts of Saguaro, a couple more hiking at higher elevations in the Catalina Mountains east of Tucson, and one day hiking in the Santa Rita Mountains about an hour south. I also went to Kartchner Caverns and Colossal Cave State Park, and spent a day at the Sonora Desert Museum. The Desert Museum was great; I went to several botanical gardens on the trip, but I’ll put those photos in separate posts. These photos are all from Saguaro and Organ Pipe.

It was my first time in that part of Arizona. I found there was a lot of overlap with plants I knew from Baja or Southern California, but with subtle differences. I hadn’t seen saguaros before, just Cardons, the Baja equivalent. I like the saguaro skeletons almost as much as the living ones. I was surprised at how many of the plants I recognized when I went up to higher elevations, to the grass and oak woodlands. There was an Arizona version of sycamore, rhamnus, rhus, and madrone, and more species of scrubby oaks than I could keep track of.

The Ocotillos were my favorite plant there. I know them from when I went to school in San Diego and would hike in Anza Borrego State Park. I think they’re the first desert plant that I ever loved.

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After Saguaro and the other Tucson parks, I went to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the border with Mexico. It has a lot of the same species as Saguaro, but it’s also the one part of the US where Organ Pipe Cactus and Senita Cactus make it up across the border. It might sound strange to call the desert lush, but the area where I camped, Alamo Campground, was noticeably more lush than where I hiked in Saguaro, with more foliage on the plants and a lime-green cast to to the silver-leaved foliage. It was also the one place in Arizona where I saw leaves on some of the ocotillos. It could be because the soil was redder, with more iron in it, or maybe the area had received a little more rainfall. The weather had warmed up after the cold snap in Tucson, so it felt almost tropical.

I hadn’t thought too much about Organ Pipe being on the border, but in the past decade the park has had a lot of problems with drug traffickers. There doesn’t seem to be as much trouble now, but that’s because just about every third person or vehicle in the park is Border Patrol. There are a couple of checkpoints just outside the park and one guy came around to my campsite and spent some time questioning me about what I was doing in the area and what was in my truck and so forth. And while I was hiking I found a stash of about forty empty water bottles that were obviously used either by drug runners or undocumented immigrant groups, so there is obviously still activity. At first I was happy to be the only one at the little campground, but by the time I left I had much less confidence in my solitude. Rather different from my usual national park experience.

While the Border Patrol guy was filling out his report on me, I made a sketch of his truck.

It’s one of the prettiest little patches of desert I’ve ever visited, though, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again. The photo above is pretty representative. It’s best if you click to see it larger.

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3 Responses to “Saguaro NP and Organ Pipe Cactus NM”

  1. February 7th, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Gayle Madwin says:

    I’m not generally a fan of desert plants or desert landscapes (probably due to having had almost no exposure to them), but that final landscape photo is sublime.

  2. February 8th, 2013 at 9:25 am

    ryan says:

    Thanks, Gayle. I wasn’t so interested in desert plants at first either, but as I’ve gone to the desert more often I’ve developed more and more appreciation. This particular are was especially good though.

  3. February 16th, 2013 at 10:29 am

    James says:

    Lush, for sure! Even with the cold it was probably a great time to visit. And the Desert Museum is great whatever time of year. I’ve had Organ Pipe on my list for a couple decades but things higher on the list have always won out. It being on the border and out of the way is probably the reason I haven’t made it yet. I guess I’m not surprised at you getting questioned so thoroughly by the Border Patrol guy. Every time I hike near the border I feel the presence of all the border issues. The smaller the outing group, the longer the list of questions the border folks have for you.

    Thanks for the tour pics!