Take a look at this weird thing, which was located near the Visitor Center at Organ Pipe. I asked a Ranger what it was, and she remarked that she’d never even seen it. Looks like some kind of seismic measuring device? Can anyone shed some light on this?
It feels great to be rolling along in the Fireball again, although we are already (after only a week) missing the creature comforts of a real shower, big bed, and room to stretch. Not to mention several choices of radio stations. Anyway….
After a one-night shakedown in Tucson to make sure water, electrical and other systemsare all working, we headed to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) for two nights of total solitude.There were probably other campers hidden around the area, but we sure didn’t see any. Total darkness at night, and absolute silence, other than the gangs of coyotes which roam the area. It’s spectacular camping, as long as you can put up with having no water, no electricity, and burying your own poop in the desert. We’re good with that.The huge network of gravel roads and two-track made it a certainty that we would haul out our bikes for a ride. With a rudimentary map, we set off in a northerly direction, having remembered that we rode south the last time we were here. The roads here are a mixture of big gravel, small crushed gravel, hard-packed sandy-rocky surface, and pure sand. What a workout! We hit about 15 miles of two-track, then rode pavement back to camp. That probably was worse! Endless rollers on tired legs – we were knackered by the time we finally rolled back into camp. This is an absolutely spectacular spot to camp for those who like this kind of thing. I hope that we will always want to return.
One of the most beautiful campgrounds we have discovered is Organ Pipe National Monument, Twin Peaks Campground. Tucked near the Border in SW Arizona, this Park is a true gem. Not only do they have full Ranger talks five nights a week, they also have brief “Patio Talks” three times a day, where Rangers hold brief chats on animals, minerals, weather, and desert vegatation. Free shuttles are available to various hiking points. There’s an amazing staff participation. Hope this is a model for other Park Service areas.
We spent our first full day there on bikes – riding the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop – a twisted maze of gravel washboardy road, with steep uphills and their corresponding downhills – the downhill washboard sections were the WORST – my arms, shoulders, and butt are still vibrating! I ran into a bit of a bother at Teddy Bear Pass, a section of the Scenic Drive which is flooded with Teddy Bear Cholla cactus. Beautiful to see, but treacherous. Of course, I needed one more photo. Before I knew what had happened, I had a cactus stuck to my bike shoe. I tried to stomp it off with my other foot, which also got stuck. Like a dope, I tried to pick them off with my fingers, sticking a few spikes deep into my thumb! Yikes! John, at this point, was far down the road. I pulled as many of the spikes out of my shoe as possible, but here’s the result I had to ride with for the rest of the way home. (I’ve had better rides.)This is what a Teddy Bear looks like – beware. They are NOT your cuddly friends.Another day at Organ Pipe was spent on a long hike through the only small area in the US to have the Senita Cactus as a local resident. Frankly, it’s very hard to tell the difference between the Senita and the Organ Pipe. But, in either case, they tower over the landscape with their elegance. Organ Pipes can have up to 100 arms. Several in the campground are enormous. What I find curious is the woody structure which is only visible when the cactus is dying or dead. To look at it otherwise, you’d think that it had just fleshy appendages, not any real structure. The same applies to the elegant saguaro.Saguaro skeletons are sometimes available for purchase for landscape decorations. But, each much be tagged and certified by the DNR. You certainly don’t want to be caught with a unregistered saguaro – alive or dead. Penalties are very steep. Along the trail, we passed this gigantic specimen. It must be one of the largest in diameter we have seen.Some cholla varieties also have interesting skeletons.On our hike, we stopped for lunch at an abandoned mine. It’s always interesting to contemplate life as it must have been in these tough times.Desert beauty is everywhere here. Although I don’t think I would want to live in Arizona year-round, it sure is a gorgeous place for visit when the skies and blue and the temperature is moderate. There is a lot to enjoy here.
At night, it’s pitch black, and there is absolutely no sound, except for our own quiet movements. During the daytime hours, there’s an occasional Park Service vehicle that putts past, or the shuffling sounds of footsteps on the gravely roadbed, as other campers wander past. Other than that? Magnificent silence. The Twin Peaks Campground at Organ Pipe National Monument inspires grandiose thoughts (of which this blog is a notable exception). We’re in the No Generator section, and there’s not another camper within shouting distance. Oh yeah, we are loving this spot!
This is an enormous Organ Pipe Cactus. (on site 22, if you care about such things)Here’s another one, out in the Sonoran Desert. We are in the northernmost range where Organ Pipes grow. There aren’t as many as we expect – there are lots more Saguaros here. Many of the Organ Pipes look like they don’t have many years left.Earlier this year, I posted several photos of crested Saguaro cacti, those which had a genetic twist, or defect that cause a wondrous crest to appear. That same trait appears in the Organ Pipe. We saw a spectacular example on our bike ride this afternoon.And yet another, in its final days upright.So, here we are, plopped out in the middle of the desert, just six miles north of the Border. There are very few other campers here. There are a few services – we have flush toilets nearby, and three solar showers (more about that later) in this 207 space campground. It’s immaculate. The Rangers and Volunteers couldn’t be any nicer, or more helpful. Many of the campers seems to be like us – on the small side – lots of Casitas, Aliners, one T@B, and a few popups. There are about five tents. It’s awesome.A hike seems to be in order for our first full day here. There are several trails, but some of them require driving to a trailhead. After a long day in the Firetruck the day before, it doesn’t take much discussion for us to decide to hike to the Victoria Mine, an abandoned silver mine. Beyond that lies the Lost Cabin Mine. Our round trip will be 7.8 miles, about right – a decent hike, but nothing that we will (probably) regret undertaking.
It’s an perfect day for a stroll. The desert stretches out ahead or us, and the Trail points us toward the hills where the mines were located. In the distance, the hills we see are located in Mexico. Both mines have a few deteriorating structures to examine, testament to the care with which they were constructed. There’s a huge wheel left behind at the Victoria Mine site.We have lunch in the one spot of shade we can find at the Victoria Mine. It’s difficult for me to imagine the isolation of these sites. They are remote now, but 150 years ago?Near the Lost Cabin Mine is a most curious rock. I want to haul it home!Eight miles turns out to be about our limit. We return to camp exhausted, and in a big hurry to ditch our boots. Sadly, Jezzy has been waiting for us to return, and needs a walk of her own (my turn). I logged nearly 11 miles on foot today!In our absence, the campground Ravens have decided that our site is the one to ravage. They’ve knocked the grease tray off our grill and pecked (licked?) it clean. Jezzy’s gnawing bone has also been worked over. These guys are bold! They could care less that we are standing nearby – our menacing postures don’t scare them.Day 2 means Bike Ride! The Ajo Mountain Drive is calling our name. It’s a 21 mile, rutted, scenic gravel road up and around Ajo Mountain. Turns out to be a fantastic, but leg-crushing, ride. We huffed and puffed our way through the first eight, generally uphill miles, then found a bit of relief – about the same time it started to rain in earnest. What a mixed bag that was! The aroma of creosote, from the thousands of nearby bushes, fills the air. The desert here, the greenest I’ve ever experienced, intensified into a lush, verdant hue. Seemed like it was instantaneous. I can’t believe this is the same brown Sonoran Desert we see around Tucson. I’m so sorry that my camera couldn’t adequately capture the spectacular color. We stopped numerous times just to marvel at the magnificent landscape.We were both happy to see the highway at the end of the Trail – it was a jarring ride, with lots of loose gravel and big stones to keep us on our toes. We’re not in great shape for this kind of riding (although I have logged an astonishing 55K steps in two days on my Vivofit. I figured out a way to get a bit of credit for cycling!)
This has been a fantastic camp. Lightly used, unspoiled, full of history and natural beauty. Our first night here, John spied the Lovejoy Comet – we had a HUGE dark sky full of stars. Amazing. The Ranger program on Day 2 related stories of the constellations – Greek, Roman, and Native American. Sadly, it was an overcast night, and we were forced to imagine the constellations, instead of viewing them from the impressive amphitheater at the campground. Kudos to the staff here – they work hard to promote Organ Pipe National Monument, which appears to have modest traffic.
Speaking of overcast…. a solar shower requires sunshine to heat the water. While we were happy to hike and bike in an overcast sky, it meant a cool shower on Day 2, and a really cold shower on Day 3! Combine Day 3’s water temperature with a amp towel that was left hanging outside in the rain while we were cycling…..no, wipe that image from your mind – bad, BAD visual! This would have been a good time to use the Fireball’s shower, for sure. If I had known how cold the water would actually be…..We only have towel each – it’s a SMALL camper! There are pluses and minuses.
On Friday, we will head to another brand new destination for us. We are in desperate need of ice (having no refrigeration), and a laundromat would not be an unwelcome sight. We know ice is in our path, but laundry facilities are probably not in sight for a few days. Be happy that you don’t have to camp next to us for the next few days! (We’re betting nobody else will be near us, either!)