Darkening Clouds over Organ Pipe Cactus - Border US / Mexico

Titans

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“You could drive down and see the border”…., she said. I instantly got a flashback of lots of border crossings in my life. Rarely associated with moments of fun. The days are long gone, where one Border Control agent jokes with the other and says “You can always put a pretty little heart in her passport”.

Many days of "come rain or shine" hiking in the desert caused us to make last minute changes during our Arizona road trip.
We drove straight to the border of US / Mexico, off our beaten path to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
It’s a 4 hour drive west of the Chiricahua National Monument or a 4 hour drive southwest of the The Double Black Hangover in Sedona.

We saw a stunning amount of US Border Patrol trucks. We passed and we were questioned at serious and elaborate US Border Patrol checkpoints on our way to, from and far inland from this park. On the Sunday afternoon between Tucson and driving westbound towards Ajo, AZ we saw Border Patrol trucks at every single intersection between the main road and intersecting paved roads, dirt roads, washes and trails. Every tenth car or less was a Border Patrol truck on the move. We saw Rescue Beacons ("panic poles") set up in the wilderness for illegal migrants.

We came to hike and see the Organ Pipe Cactus, here is a majestic old one with some cool shadows:

O1-Old Organ Pipe Cactus-P2196510.jpg



We also saw lots of classic southwestern scenes, here a younger Organ Pipe Cactus and some Saguaro :

O2- classic western- younger Organ Pipe cactus-P2196536.jpg


The hike of the day - On Bull Pasture trail looking back into Estes Canyon. Trailhead is on Ajo Mountain Drive:

O21-view back down into Estes Valley-P2196652.jpg



I started the trip report with a sentence from a conversation with a Ranger in the Kris Eggle Visitor Center one morning of February 2018.
The park was largely closed for more than a decade after a Ranger Kris Eggle, 28 years old and in line of duty, was shot and killed in 2002 by cartel members, who fled into the US. The park was fully reopened in September of 2014, but I just painted a picture showing, why this park and the whole border area felt so different to the both of us.

Here is the map of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:

Map Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument- IMG_9062.jpg


Back to the suggestion of seeing the border? Hm….., maybe. We discussed driving the 37 mile "Puerto Blanco Loop", starting as a one-way high clearance road through the mountains but ending up as a two-way road and paralleling what for a very long distance? The border between US / Mexico. That border has a unique Vehicle Barrier with Mexico and the road is heavily monitored in various ways by US Border Patrol. The vehicle barrier has stopped off-road vehicle traffic from Mexico and halted the previous destruction of the park, yet allowed water and animals like the protected Sonoran Pronghorn to cross.

After more back and forth she said : “ or….You could drive the very scenic 21 mile "Ajo Mountain Drive”, see lots of Organ Pipe cacti on the southern slopes and hike up to "Mt Ajo" Peak?” Somewhat steep and exposed, beautiful sweeping views. Yeah, lets hike and not just sit in the car all day…!

Entry to the "Ajo Mountain Drive" - Don't you get a feeling of "we need to check out those mountains ?" :

O3-beginning of Ajo drive-P2196459.jpg


iPhone shot close to the entry of the scenic Ajo Mountain Drive:

O4-sign w illegal activity possible-IMG_9077.jpg


Another iPhone shot- with beautiful puffy clouds. Nice day, for now....

O5-Iphone-classic westrn setting-IMG_9084.jpg


Later on we saw that majestic old Organ Pipe- here a shot with Rick, the photographer, so you get a sense of scale:

O5-Rick photographing the old Organ pipe cactus-IMG_9126.jpg


We really liked the shadows:

O6- black and white old organ pipe cactus-P2196488.jpg


Headed towards Mt Ajo, this is just past the Estes Canyon/ Bull Pasture TH:

O9-Aase headed for the Bull Pasture P2196549.jpg


It was getting really windy and I gave up on my hat ( that rarely happens ):

O10- little further on Bull Pastur trail-P2196568.jpg


Looking back over the valley, Ajo Mountain Drive is just visible above the cholla:

O11-cholla with view towards valley-P2196570.jpg


An Organ Pipe Cactus with a dead Saguaro and some somber looking clouds....:
O12-organ pipie cactus with dead saguaros-P2196582.jpg


Dead and alive Organ Pipe Cacti and our first view into the windswept valley towards ? (@Scott Chandler - is that Mexico in the distance ?)

O15-dead organ pipe cactus-P2196588.jpg


Here is a look back, with Rick and Ajo Mountain Drive further down:

O11-Rick w a view towards Ajo Mountain drive-IMG_E9147.jpg


O13-organ pipe cactus w view back towards valley-P2196604.jpg


Hm....Google Photos went way overboard with color corrections of my iPhone shot, but it did end up looking like a splitting Underwater image of many scuba diving pictures we have of reefs & coral:

O16-like scuba diving-IMG_E9159.jpg


Rick turned and looked at our destination:

O18-Rick looking at a sliver of blue sky-IMG_E9169.jpg


A little further on Bull Pasture trail looking down to Estes Canyon trail:

O19-view of Estes Valley-P2196637.jpg


Further up:

O21-view back down into Estes Valley-P2196652.jpg


Our destination somewhere up there...

O20-towards the peak-darkening clouds-P2196641.jpg



By now the wind associated with the cold front caused the visibility to decrease and sand/dust blew up over the plains. The clouds were getting darker and darker behind us towards Mt Ajo. This is the view into the plains, very windy. It's also a view down to the Ajo Mountain drive:

O22-Ajo drive below and dust kicking up P2196656.jpg


Some close up views :

O24-another close up-P2190641.jpg


An iPhone close up:

O25-iphone close up-IMG_E9194.jpg


O23-close up-P2190640.jpg


Rick checking out the close up shots (probably). Not a bad day for a hike- if you look towards where we came from:
O25-almost at Bull pasture-IMG_E9195.jpg


We then met a group of “peak baggers’, who had just been to the peak of Mt Ajo (but they also climbed a peak in Mexico some days earlier). It was cold, very windy and the visibility was poor on Mt Ajo, they said. It didn’t look good and it was sensible to change plans and stop the ascend. We really didn’t start early enough and due to the last minute change in plans, we didn't have enough time to research the hikes in the park and we used time to stop at the ranger station before hiking. We also spent a lot of time stopping and photographing Organ Pipes and other cool stuff along the way. But that was fine with us.

We continued a little, but turned shortly after at Bull Pasture. Here is an iPhone shot of Rick making a panorama (without his tripod) :

O26-Rick at Bull pasture-IMG_9197.jpg



We turned around and hiked back via Estes Canyon trail. This is a view much further down:

O29-almost down in Estes Valley-P2196680.jpg


We saw some nice Agave:

O28-pretty-agave-P2196676.jpg


Lots of Cholla, we nicknamed it Cholla Valley:

O30-cholla valley-nickname-P2196684.jpg



O31- dead cholla?-P2196695.jpg


O32-Rick and cholla valley- IMG_9201.jpg



The sun would come in and out and flash some light on Organ Pipe Cacti and right up behind us, it was getting very gloomy and the clouds were dark. Good day for photos, Rick said.... :cool:

O33-very dark clouds behind me-P2196727.jpg



O35-somber-P2196757.jpg



O37-dark clouds at Saguaros-P2196798.jpg


O38-organ pipe with sliver of sunshine-IMG_9222.jpg


Bright sky in front of us, headed back towards the car. Close to a wash we saw some flowers in front of an Organ Pipe Cactus:

O34-finding a sliver of sun and flowers-P2196737.jpg


O36-almost back to car-P2196769.jpg


But is was still dark behind us. Here an iPhone photo :

O39-iphone of dry flower stalk-IMG_E9215.jpg


We returned to the car and continued on Ajo Mountain drive. We made a few more stops, but the wind was howling, so we drove back to the town of Ajo.
On the way back we were questioned at a US Border Patrol checkpoint.

The next day we thought of returning to the park, but we were 400 miles from Las Vegas, where we had to fly out of. And there was a State Park in Nevada, which we wanted to check out, so again we changed plans and drove 400 miles northbound. This time "on course" @Rockskipper . But just north of the town of Ajo, AZ we were sidetracked by 2 fascinating fighter jets practicing, so we had a personal Airshow for half an hour - very cool to watch and hear the sound change from a distant rumble to a close crackling thunder right above us! Much further North we were surprised, when we encountered yet another US Border Patrol checkpoint! Seriously.... It was a cold morning, the agent wore dark sunglasses, but we ensured to remove ours and this time he just said, 'Have a nice day'. To the right was a car being searched. Remember, we never crossed the border of US / Mexico.

If you are interested in seeing how the bordering sister park in Mexico looks like, then check out @Scott Chandler El Pinacate trip report from Mexico.
So.... @NorthwestWanderer - are you still getting a passport?

Has anyone else been to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument? What did you experience?
 

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scatman

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Nice report and an interesting area. What time of year was your trip?
 

Titans

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Thanks! It was winter.... February 19, 2018.

If you go @scatman .... then you must use your kilt, we expect a photo of you on Mt Ajo in a kilt ;)
 
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scatman

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Thanks! It was winter.... February 19, 2018.

If you go @scatman .... then you must use your kilt, we expect a photo of you on Mt Ajo in a kilt ;)


Let me understand what you are saying, Scatman + kilt + cacti. Sounds dangerous to me. I'll have to bring some tweezers or pliers for the spine removal. :)
 

Titans

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@Yvonne - you got it! Duct tape.... I didn't know about the comb, thanks.

In the foothills west of Denver we once saw a mountain biker crashing into lots of cacti, ouch..... We ran over and asked how we could help, he said, ah.... this sucks, but I will just apply some duct tape, when I get home. His legs and arms were covered in spines.
(@blueeyes this one is for you, be careful ;))
 

Titans

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Let me understand what you are saying, Scatman + kilt + cacti. Sounds dangerous to me. I'll have to bring some tweezers or pliers for the spine removal. :)


Oh, no....ouch...... I can picture it now, @scatman .

Kilt cacti hiking and cholla eating contests- I see common ground between you and Rick: "Duct tape spine removal procedures":

O-Rick chewing cholla-IMG_E9198.jpg
 

blueeyes

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@Yvonne - you got it! Duct tape.... I didn't know about the comb, thanks.

In the foothills west of Denver we once saw a mountain biker crashing into lots of cacti, ouch..... We ran over and asked how we could help, he said, ah.... this sucks, but I will just apply some duct tape, when I get home. His legs and arms were covered in spines.
(@blueeyes this one is for you, be careful ;))
So few years back when I lived in St. George, UT. I was riding with a Doctor friend. She went over the handle bars and right into a barrel cactus. She had cactus spines stuck all over in her chest. I removed several for her and they were a good 3/4 of an inch to an inch deep. A few could not be removed. She went to work the next day and had a colleague surgically remove them for her. Her nickname was women who hugs cactus.

I personally have narrowly missed sitting my ass in a cactus patch a few times.

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gnwatts

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Beautiful report. I have explored areas along the border in southern California, now I need to visit this area.
 

Titans

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So few years back when I lived in St. George, UT. I was riding with a Doctor friend. She went over the handle bars and right into a barrel cactus. She had cactus spines stuck all over in her chest. I removed several for her and they were a good 3/4 of an inch to an inch deep. A few could not be removed. She went to work the next day and had a colleague surgically remove them for her. Her nickname was women who hugs cactus.

I personally have narrowly missed sitting my ass in a cactus patch a few times.

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Uh.... that's a horrible experience, so sorry to hear that. Just the idea alone.... Hope she ("woman who hugs cactus") fully recovered after that.
Have fun biking and stay away from the spines.
 

blueeyes

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Uh.... that's a horrible experience, so sorry to hear that. Just the idea alone.... Hope she ("woman who hugs cactus") fully recovered after that.
Have fun biking and stay away from the spines.
She is one tough cookie!! We laughed about it a few times. When I say surgically removed her colleague did carefully cut them out but they were just under the skin so not serious surgery. We just couldn't get them out on the trail and she couldn't see them to do it herself when she got home. And I will try and stay out of trouble on the trail but I make no promises!

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blueeyes

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Finally had time this morning to read through your report. Gorgeous photos!! I need to make time someday to explore these organ pipe cactus.

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Scott Chandler

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Yes, exactly..... I agree @Scott Chandler

Some really disliked it, but I loved going to the border and talking about it with the public. There are so many interesting things about borders, and that is before we factor in the opinions.

I found it so weird that in the middle of a huge valley two countries met. It is literally a line in the sand (that now has fences, walls, etc.) Like who thought of this? Yes yes Gadsden Purchase, still. The same goes for the northern border sitting on a line of longitude. Dividing the world with lines. The more I think of it the more rabbit holey it becomes.

BTW, great captures in the pictures. A part of me will always miss the Sonoran. Such a beautiful environment.
 

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