We drove in for the day to Organ Pipe National Monument. This monument was created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. It preserves over 330,000 acres and it was named a International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 by the United Nations. It’s intact ecosystem has attracted scientists from around the world.
It has a dark side though, as signs warn you about illegal immigrants and the monthly finds of bodies that don’t make it across the dangerous terrain. In the 1990s the monument became a hotbed of illegal activity, with human and drug traffickers seeking routes to bring their contraband from Mexico to the US. In 2002 a park ranger, Kris Eggle, was shot and killed by drug smugglers. This caused most of the park to be closed down to visitors for awhile.
Now there is a very visible presence of Border Patrol, additional law enforcement and park rangers. There are vehicle stops that are well staffed with Border Patrol officers and dogs. It’s safer but you still should be aware of your surroundings.
There are two campgrounds within the monument, one by the visitors center, Twin Peaks can accommodate up to 40 feet in length. They don’t take reservations but you can call 520-387-6849 extension 7302, to confirm the availability of a campsite. All the restrooms have running water and flush toilets. Three restrooms have solar-heated showers. Potable water is available throughout the campground. A dump-and-fill station is provided for RVs. The cost is $16.00 per night. Holders of the Golden Age/Senior Pass and the Access pass receive a 50% discount on camping. Additionally, the park entrance fee is $12.00
The other campground, Alamo Canyon, is for tent camping only. It is $10 a day and limited to a 7 day stay. There are 4 sites at this location.
Exploring the area fully would take weeks, we chose to drive the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Drive. It is a dirt and gravel road with the occasional asphalt on some of the steeper, or wash areas of the road. You can drive the road yourself or take a van that the center offers January through March. It’s a 3 hour long ranger guided tour.
The drive is awe inspiring, vast expanses of desert and mountains. Organ pipe, Senita and Saguaro dot the landscape. I also noticed Cholla (teddy bear and chain fruit (jumping) varieties), Prickly Pear, Barrel cactus as well as Ocotillo. The usual suspects were there as well…Creosote, Brittle Bush, Palo Verde as well as Jojoba.
We didn’t see any wildlife, other than a few birds. Including one of my new favorites, a Phainopepla. These birds have a symbiotic relationship with the mistletoe in the spring. The birds eating the berries, spread the seeds of the mistletoe by either wiping a sticky seed from their beak on a branch that will become a new host. They also will pass the seeds through their system and those will may also be deposited on a new host branch.
I highly recommend a visit to this monument, however if you plan on doing any hiking I would leave my dogs back in my air conditioned RV if you are camped outside of the park. If you are just going to drive the loop and not get out much, they are fine to ride along with you though they are only allowed on two short trails and at a very small dog area at the visitor center. If you are camping at Organ Pipe, they only allow generators to run during certain hours, so plan accordingly for leaving your dogs at your campsite.