Saturday, January 02, 2010

Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

We all have our stories to tell about how we spent our new year's weekend. For me, being all alone in southern Arizona, months ahead of my family, I elected to spend it hiking in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park.

Cacti have been an area that has interested me since my late teens and my first years in college. I love cactus -- their uniquenesses and varieties. Organ Pipe Cactus NP offers a particular vision into Sonoran biology.

I drove to OPCNP early Friday morning, 1 Jan 2010. I hiked around the Ajo Canyon Arch and hike up into the Bull Pasture, just below Mount Ajo, and back down through the Estes Canyon. After a cool night under the stars and near full moon -- a day after a December blue moon (it was like sleeping with the ceiling light on all night.) On Saturday, I hiked around the mines in the Sonoyta Mountains -- Victoria Mine, Lost Cabin Mine and Martinez Mine -- and into the Senita Basin.

The organ pipe cactus (Cereus thurberi - pictured) and similar senita cactus (Cereus schottii) are interesting. They thrive in the southern exposed, rocky bajada slopes. You have to appreciate plants that large that like it that hot, day after day. I also enjoyed seeing some of the less-common Echinocereus, Mammillaria and Opuntia genus.

Interesting, due to border issues, three-quarters of the Park are closed to visitors. You can only drive about five miles up the Puerto Blanco Road from the Visitor's Center before you run into a barrier. In the southern end of the park, just north of Lukeville, the roads that take you along the border are closed. You can't really access the Bates Mountains, Puerto Blanco Mountains, Cipriano Hills, or the Quitobaquito Hills and Spring.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Park is a great place for cactus lovers. But it is a little discouraging that so much of the park is off limits to American citizens -- only Border Patrol and drug smugglers (they tell us).

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