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Organ pipes and a mountain of garlic?

Deanna Keahey  ·  Oct 20, 2011  ·  No Comments

So there we were... on a mountain of garlic. At least that's what they named it. Really, I didn't see any garlic anywhere. Or any tomatoes, onions, or peppers either. No wonder the nearest town is named "Why".

We were in Organ Pipe National Monument, which is located in southwestern Arizona, right along the Mexico border. As the park website says, "This is where summer goes for the winter". Camping in the middle of winter is a pleasure here, and you're apt to find t-shirt weather in December and January. Camping in the summer? If you like hot weather! July averages 25 days over 100 degrees.

Desert hiking at Organ Pipe Natl Monument

Desert hiking at Organ Pipe Natl Monument

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Organ Pipe is part of the Sonoran Desert, set aside to allow the natural flora and fauna of this region to flourish, largely untouched and unspoiled. It's part of an International Biosphere Reserve established by the United Nations in 1976, that also encompasses part of Mexico.

Camped by an organ pipe cactus

Camped by an organ pipe cactus

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Like other parts of the Sonoran Desert around Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, you'll see plenty of the tall, stately saguaro cacti here, with their single trunk and branching arms. Unlike the rest of the Sonoran desert in the US, here you'll also find many Organ Pipe cacti - the eponymous species of the park. These are also large cacti, but with many arms branching up from a central base. (Hey, I couldn't help myself - how many chances do I get to use "eponymous"?) :-)
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Alamo Campground was was wonderful! It's a primitive campground, with no running water, and just 4 spacious tent sites, so we had the whole campground to ourselves. It was quiet, serene, and so beautiful.
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The one element that was both comforting and unsettling was the number of Border Patrol agents that came through the campground, but more about that later.

But what about the mountain of garlic?

Desert vista from Mt. Ajo trail

Desert vista from Mt. Ajo trail

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And about those border patrol guys? Of course, this international reserve is now divided by a fence. Judging from this picture of the border fence, it looks like even I could climb over it, but I have read that it has stopped considerable illegal vehicle traffic over the border, and through the wilderness areas of the reserve.

Well, there have been plenty of incidents along the border, including a few in the National Monument, but I really can't believe that it's now unsafe to visit our own National Parks. That would be too much like admitting defeat, turning part of our national parks system into a no-man's land. (Which would have some logic to it, if it was for the protection of the land and the wildlife, but not if it's just to chase drug runners and illegal immigrants!)

Relaxing on the trail up Mt. Ajo

Relaxing on the trail up Mt. Ajo

At the campsite, sunset with saguaro

At the campsite, sunset with saguaro

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It's a shame that the backcountry areas of Organ Pipe are closed indefinitely to overnight camping, due to an increase in illegal border activity. When our own National Parks system is off-limits to us, that seems too much like admitting defeat. Fortunately, I'm sure it's temporary, and I look forward to a day when we can explore and backpack in the more remote areas of the park.

And thanks to all of the people who are keeping it as safe as it is, and who will (I'm sure of it) win this battle at some point.

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Organ Pipe National Monument is one of the less visited gems of the US National Parks system. It's pretty out of the way from almost anywhere, but if you're looking for an inexpensive outdoor adventure that's warm in the winter, this is a great place to check out!
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Categories: Arizona · So there we were...
Posted from:   Tucson, AZ       Photo credit:  

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