Truth is, we were hesitant because of numerous problems on the border related to drug and human smuggling. More than half of the park was closed in 2003, shortly after 28-year old park ranger Kris Eggle was killed while pursuing drug runners (the Visitor Center was named in his honor). That same year, Organ Pipe was designated as “the most dangerous National Park.” That effectively squelched our desire to visit the park.
Why We Decided To Visit
In September 2014, all of Organ Pipe was again opened to the public. Park officials maintain that increased border security and patrols have made the park safe for visitors. (It’s true that the Border Patrol is everywhere.) The visitor center, however, does warn that illegal border crossings and activities—including drug smuggling—occur daily. At the same time, they say it’s highly unlikely that visitors will encounter any illegal border activity.
The border issues are complicated, to say the least. Personally, we feel compassion for those trying to make a better life for themselves, and have no concerns with encountering people who are crossing the border—even if illegally—to find work. But we certainly have no desire to cross paths with drug runners.
After a bit of research, we felt confident that visiting the park was safe. Any remaining doubts we had were assuaged after spending time with fellow full-timers John and Pam, who had just come from Organ Pipe when we met up in Tucson.
We’re so glad we went. Organ Pipe is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been, and one of the most unique.
A Spectacular And Unique Desert Landscape
This surprisingly green expanse of the Sonoran desert is thick with saguaro and organ pipe cacti. This is the only place in the U.S. to see large stands of the namesake cacti, which thrive in the high temperatures of the Sonoran summers. The organ pipe cacti are awe-inspiringly beautiful, with dozens to hundreds of arms 10-20 feet tall reaching toward the sky. Like most cacti, they grow extraordinarily slowly—only about 2.5 inches per year.
Scenic Ajo Mountain Drive
If you go, don’t miss the beautiful Ajo Mountain Drive. The 21-mile loop winds along the foothills of the Ajo Mountains, through a picturesque desert landscape accented by hundreds of organ pipe cacti. The drive is mostly gravel, and RV’s over 24 feet are prohibited because of the twists and dips in the road. We were perfectly comfortable traveling the road in our truck.
An Easy Stroll: The Desert View Trail
The lovely Desert View Trail is within walking distance of the campground, and makes for a leisurely sunset walk of a couple of miles. The views are wonderful, and you can hear the cacti singing in the evening breeze along the trail.
A More Strenuous Hike: Bull Pasture-Estes Canyon Hike
If you’re up for a more strenuous hike, this is the one to do. At just over 4-miles round trip, the Bull Pasture-Estes Canyon trail ascends through beautiful desert terrain—red rocks and a variety of cacti—culminating on a high plateau with sweeping views of Mexico and Organ Pipe Monument. The trail is accessed from Ajo Mountain Drive.
Click on photos for a larger image
About The Campground
Twin Peaks campground, within the park, is gorgeous. With spacious sites, lovely natural desert landscaping, and concrete patios, it looks like a fancy RV resort. Well, except for the fact that it doesn’t have electric or water hookups. There are three solar showers within the campground—a great idea, but in reality uncomfortably chilly and with painfully powerful jets of water that can’t be adjusted. The campground is first-come, first-served and a bargain at $12.00 per night (half-price with the Senior Pass).
Despite the tragic problems associated with the border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a beautiful and peaceful place to visit. The sunsets are spectacular, the night skies dark, and the only sounds are the singing of the coyotes and the wind whispering through the spines of the cacti. Our sole regret is that we had only two nights to spend in the park. We’ll return, next time for at least a week.
After reading this post Laurel and seeing your lovely photos, I find myself wanting to go back to Organ Pipe. It has been many, many years since our last visit. Love that northern flicker that you captured on the cactus and of course, desert sunsets cannot be beat. :)
LuAnn, I’m so glad we finally visited Organ Pipe. We’re looking forward to returning, as well. Perhaps we can meet up there. :-)
Thanks for taking us back to this lovely place. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit. The Organ Pipes sure are beautiful. Of course, my favorite part is where the very cool Organ Pipe crested arms are found. Good to see you made it to the top of Bull Pasture:)
Pam, we appreciate the great tips you and John provided! We loved the Bull Pasture-Estes Canyon trail. Wish we had found the crested Organ Pipes — another reason to return. :-)
We never made it to Organ Pipe. Thanks for the tour. My favourite photo is of course the sunset.
Glad you enjoyed the tour, Carol. It’s a very special place — and as you well know, the Arizona sunsets are among the best!
That is a park we have yet to visit…I’d love to see those unique cacti in person. Looks like the weather was perfect during your stay, I bet it’s getting pretty darn warm now!
Lisa, the weather was perfect — we were there at the end of February. I think it would be nice well into April — and then the cacti would be starting to bloom. I’d like to see that!
You are just killing me with these beautiful descriptions and fantastic pictures from your travels. I would love to go to Oregon Pipe. You seem to have been everywhere this year at just the right time for lovely temperatures. Singing cactus and coyotes. Be still my heart! Can you feel the envy?
Sherry, I agree that we’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather in our travels. I’m very thankful! You will love Organ Pipe — you are a person who will definitely notice and appreciate the cacti singing in the breeze.
hey there – interesting to hear your concerns about “illegals” and drug runners. We like to use the term “undocumented” for folks crossing the border in search of safety or opportunity. I’m finding through my work with Migrant Education that we have over 200 new students in Jackson County, recent arrivals mostly from Morelia area where their families are fleeing drug cartel violence. The sadness is that they are not eligible for amnesty and will likely be deported. Complicated world we live in – I admire your embracing of beauty and appreciate your sharing.
Nancy, I appreciate so much your thoughtful comment. It’s heartbreaking to know that people who are simply wanting a better, safer life for themselves and their families can’t find amnesty in our country.
We are looking forward to seeing that lovely spot next year and your pics make it seem too far away! I love the organ pipe cacti and am amazed by the tall chollas. The pic of Eric and the cholla “tree” is wonderful.
Jodee, it’s a magically beautiful landscape. I really like the photo of Eric on the path next to the cholla tree, as well. :-)
Well, I think we may have the same reason why we did not go to Organ Pipe NP in 2012. Since we will be in AZ this winter, we might just go there. Your descriptions are compelling me to persuade Steve to go there:)
MonaLiza, after visiting Organ Pipe, we feel completely safe going there. I think you and Steve would really enjoy it — we wouldn’t hesitate to return.
Organ Pipe is one of our favorite national parks to date. We went a few years ago without knowing ahead of time about the incident that you mentioned. We boondocked in the area, and considering the crazy amount of border patrol we saw everywhere never felt unsafe in anyway. Next time I would love to stay at the campground in the park so we can do more exploring. It is definitely the most unique desert environment I have ever seen.
Amanda, like you, we felt completely safe — especially because we were staying in the campground and hiking on well-traveled, established trails. Organ Pipe is one of our favorites, as well.