Great Western Loop – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

 The monument's namesake ... the organ pipe cactus in bloom.

The monument's namesake ... the organ pipe cactus in bloom.

Day 8 … 928 miles

We slept well last night despite the heat. Our little USB-powered fans provided comfort from the heat for awhile, but the desert cools quickly and by midnight it was comfortable without the fans. We actually needed a sheet for cover by morning. Our in-van thermometer recorded the daily temperature range between 116F and 63F. Yikes! We read somewhere that the desert floor here can reach temperatures of 175F in mid-summer with air temps to 120F. We won’t plan any July/August visits.

 Close-up organ pipe cactus bloom

Close-up organ pipe cactus bloom

We were up before 0600 to take advantage of the cool of the day for a walk on the Desert Trail once again. Organ pipe cactus are night bloomers and this morning both the saguaro and the organ pipe were in bloom … glorious!

 Saguaro in bloom ... wow!

Saguaro in bloom ... wow!

Returning to Blue, we sat in the shade of his west side for morning coffee and breakfast. Border Patrol made its morning rounds of the campgrounds, but were unobtrusive. Bees hummed loudly, taking advantage, like us, of the cool and the morning bloomers. The temperature rose quickly. The metal door of the ladies’ room was so hot, it burned my hands trying to open it.

 The trail affords great vistas … we can see Mexico from here … only 7 miles away and even the border fences are visible.

The trail affords great vistas … we can see Mexico from here … only 7 miles away and even the border fences are visible.

By 0930, it was too hot to sit and sip coffee and we headed out on the 21 mile self-guided Ajo Mountain Drive. The graded dirt road was bumpy, but significantly less jarring than the Saguaro Park drive we’d endured a few days earlier. The Visitor’s Center had given us an 18-page pamphlet which provided excellent information about the flora, fauna, terrain and geology of the area. We learned a lot … like ocotillo lose all their leaves to conserve water during the dry times and palo verde lose their leaves, too, but their green trunks allow them to continue to photosynthesize. Despite the smoother ride, Blue was Brown by the end of the drive.

 Organ pipe cactus along the park's Ajo Mountain Drive

Organ pipe cactus along the park's Ajo Mountain Drive

In the afternoon, we drove to Lukeville, AZ … only 7 miles away at the Mexican border. Originally we had planned to visit Nogales after leaving Tucson, but decided it was just too hot. Our feelings hadn’t changed when we got out of the car in Lukeville. We gave Sonoyta, Mexico the thumbs down ... still too hot. Actually, the folks at Organ Pipe NM work in cooperation with the Mexican El Pinacate Reserve on the other side of the border … the desert knows no political boundaries. We took a few pictures in Lukeville, bought a cold drink, mailed a card at the Gringo Pass, AZ post office (zip code 85341) and headed back up the highway.

 Border control in Lukeville, AZ and Sonoyta, Sonora, Mexico.

Border control in Lukeville, AZ and Sonoyta, Sonora, Mexico.

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 Black-chinned hummingbird? We weren't quite sure.

Black-chinned hummingbird? We weren't quite sure.

We returned to the Visitor’s Center, watched the park video in A/C’d comfort, then wandered out the back door onto a short paved trail, past a small pond full of quitobaquito pupfish. Aha! You've never heard of quitobaquito pupfish either! Well, it seems this area is the only place in the world where this pupfish species is found. Truthfully, the fact that they’re found only here is amazing, but all we saw was lots of little fish flitting about in an algae-covered mini-pond and we couldn’t have identified them from minnows or koi. On the other hand, the hummingbirds were pretty spectacular.

 Arch Rock along the Alamo Canyon Drive

Arch Rock along the Alamo Canyon Drive

It was still too hot to return to the campsite so, on the advice of a ranger, we headed to the Alamo Canyon campsite ... another graded dirt road. It’s a basic campsite with good hiking possibilities for a future trip. The landscape was, however, pretty outstanding. 

 We stopped en route and lunched under a traditional ocotillo ramada which provided some respite from the brutal sun.

We stopped en route and lunched under a traditional ocotillo ramada which provided some respite from the brutal sun.

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By 4pm we thought it was cool enough to head back to our campsite. Solar showers seemed like a good idea until we read the warning sign. ‘Scalding’ was not an appealing concept. We managed showers, but we stayed clear of the main water stream … HOT, HOT, HOT .. and it never did cool down.

Showered and relaxed, we had a light dinner, star-gazed a bit and hit the sack. We’ll be on the move tomorrow. We learned that a new reservation system will be taking effect from January 1 thru March 31, 2019, when the campground is the most crowded. If we return, it’ll probably be next April … we really enjoyed having the park to ourselves.

Tomorrow ... we head out of the park to Ajo, Arizona and then on the 3:10 to Yuma. Join us!

While you're waiting ... take a look at more pix of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument ... it's a pretty impressive place. Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.