Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (again)


Click on any picture to see it full-size.

So yes, I loved this place so much that I had to come back. I had spent the night before in a motel in Ajo, so once I got up, had breakfast, packed up, got gas and Ice, it was about an hour's drive to the National Monument. I was in the Visitor's Center around 9:30 am getting a campsite and asking about trails. I remembered the ranger telling me about a loop trail when I was there the week before; I had a long talk with the ranger that was there today about the route...but not about the length...
Driving through the park. Last week we had taken the Ajo Mountain loop; this time I took the North Puerto Blanco drive to the Red Tanks Tinaja trail. Here is the map at the trailhead; I also had one that I carried. And I am pleased to see that there are trail markers, since the trail I'm taking (like the one two days before at Saguaro National Park East) is made up of sections of trail that meet and split up...I sure don't want to get lost! And here's what the start of the trail looked like.
Lots of cholla, organ pipe cactus and saguaro, and ocotillo. In the second picture you can see the hills I'm hiking toward; I hiked through and beyond them then made a big loop back, basically.
This is a cactus wren's nest. The woodpeckers make a hole and make it bigger, the cactus oozes out stuff that gets hard to seal its skin, and that makes a nest-shaped hole in it for the cactus wren. Pretty interesting! This is the trail I'm on, which is now twisting and winding through the hills and getting steeper.
Turkey vultures!
After I got to the top of the ridge, the trail was less like a road and more like a trail, wandering over the hills but mostly downhill.

When I had been in the visitor's center, there was a sign warning hikers to watch out for signs that there were illegals nearby...one of the things to look out for was a black water bottle. Guess what I found on this part of the trail? a one-gallon water bottle, painted black. I walked past it, didn't look around or take any pictures for ten minutes or so...but my foot nudged it in passing, and it was full...

So then the trail went across a long flat area with some washes across it. It was impossible to see where it was going; I knew I was in the right place because I had passed the two mines that were on the trail description, and the next thing I was looking for was a road. This is where I finally figured out that this was not a six-mile walk, but much, much longer...
Even on a long tiring hike, it was awfully pretty. This is just a rusted out piece of metal; I liked the pattern of the holes. This is the Milton mine, the second of the two mines I was looking for. Next is the Senita road...
So after the flat part with the washes, then I came to the road...and it was a mile and a half of SAND. Oh my god. I was tired, my beloved hiking boots were betraying me by giving me a HUGE blister on my heel (the boots were defective, REI replaced them two weeks later), and I was hiking way farther than I had planned. After the road, I followed another trail for a mile, then came to this sign...yes, I got to slog up another wash, with loose sand and gravel...this was a beautiful hike and I would do it again, but man it was hard. Especially the last couple of miles.
Then I came to this honey mesquite tree, and it was absolutely full of tarantula wasps! They had been flying by me for the last ten minutes or so, and this is where they were all going. I guess they had an important meeting or something... A very handsome fellow! And the last part of the trail! I got to the truck soon after this, and never did stuff from the ice chest taste better. Turns out I hiked about 10 1/2 miles instead of the six I had thought I was going to hike!
The beautiful sky on the way back to the Visitor's Center. The cactus was in one of their flower boxes in front; it's a fishhook cactus, and the whole thing is about two inches tall. It was gorgeous. And last week when we came through, it hadn't been blooming.
I went back to the campground for a bit, then thought I might try driving the South Puerto Blanco Road, which follows the Mexican border. Here are the signs at the start of it...and a really amusing cactus.
More beautiful cacti on the south road.
I went about six miles down the west side of the road, til it got too rough for my truck. Then I went another ten miles down the east side, but there wasn't much to see except the fence that marks the border. After a while I turned around and went back to the campground. The overcast skies didn't help, sunshine girl was not happy.
So I was tired and crabby and hungry. I went back to my campsite, chilled and made some dinner...but (even after hiking ten hard miles) I still wanted to do more. So I looked in the visitor's guide, and it listed a trail that starts from the group camping site and goes for about a mile and a half up a hill, supposedly a wonderful place to see the sunset.

So I thought I would try it, in my birkenstocks rather than my hiking boots, since the blister on my heel was bigger than a quarter after hiking ten miles in those shoes.

I went there. I looked for the trailhead. I looked ALL OVER the group camp site, which was really big, being meant for multiple groups. After half an hour (during which time the sun went behind the hill) I found it...it was marked with a sign that looked EXACTLY like the signs that mark the campsites.

Here is the Desert View trail sign, and the campsite signs. Pretty damn close, I think.

The third picture is one of the signs on the trail during the hike telling about the plants. This one made me laugh, it's a limber bush but you aren't supposed to bend it...!

But the Desert View trail was beautiful, and the sun was just setting when I came out on top of the hill.

And the view from the top was lovely. I went back to my campsite, had a good night's sleep, and turned for home the next morning.