February 2024
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Organ Pipe

Border Patrol helicopters flying close above, park rangers and signs warning not to go on certain roads or trails, border agents with migrants in custody — this might seem more like the setting for a James Bond movie than a hike. But a pond sacred to the Tohono O’odham with an endangered pupfish, an enticing spring, and indented caves make the trails of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument a fun experience.

If you love cactus, this is the place for you. The monument is home to 32 cactus species, the most compelling being the organ pipe cactus, which springs up like a church organ.

Organ Pipe National Monument is near Ajo, about two and a half hours south of Phoenix thanks to the John Wayne Highway, which cuts through the town of Maricopa 

Several of the film icon’s movies were shot near here.

The monument is also about ten miles from the Lukeville port of entry, which was closed during this Arizona Trailblazers campout hiking weekend. The area felt a little like a ghost town, as driving in meant going through the nearest town, Why.

The first challenge was driving stakes for the group camp into the parking lot’s hard ground. This winter campout would have been fine, with low temperatures of 42 the first night and 38 the second, but cold, hard winds made it feel ten degrees cooler. One camper’s tent blew down, and it was all I could do, with the help of others, to keep my own tent up.

As we set out to the trailhead the next morning, one sign told us about the surrounding rugged mountains and botanically diverse area and its 2,000 plant species, while another cautioned us against smugglers and migrants who might be passing through. We saw none during our stay, but rangers warned that during the hike we should lock up any valuables, including our sleeping bags. I admit I left a cooler with food out, and the thieves that nudged it open to get at my bread and peanut butter were a gang of ravens.

Dripping Springs Trail, not be confused with the one of the same name at the Grand Canyon, is a particularly fun trip. This 1.4-mile trail starts out flat, but soon we were climbing switchbacks in the curve of Puerto Blanco Mountain. As you start up there are some precious cave indentations offering good photo opportunities.

This 382-foot climb results in a gem: the dripping spring. You can walk up to the entry, but deep water greeted us, so we couldn’t get in without getting soaked. A sign at the trailhead warns hikers to wear sunscreen because there isn’t much shade on the trail. The sign also warns to be wary of flash flooding, so we were thankful there was no rain that day. The oasis formed around this rare perennial water source was enough to get everyone smiling.

Our next stop was at Quitobaquito Pond, where the rare Quitobaquito pupfish lives in waters sacred to the Tohono O’odham. The ranger station offers tours with educational sign stations and a small artificial pond for some pupfish. The pond itself is less than a quarter mile from the trailhead, with the border fence just a stone’s throw away.

The 4.5-mile Victoria Mine Trail can also be entertaining for hikers, and there are several others available to hike in the monument.

Our weekend campout and hike drew 24 Arizona Trailblazers to participate. Thanks goes to trail leader Lin Chao for coordinating this challenging, wonderful weekend.

This 330,000-acre monument was set aside in 1937 to preserve a pristine example of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves the northernmost natural habitat for organ pipe cactus, as well as many amazing examples of desert plants, animals, geology and human history. The solitude of the monument is also great for stargazing.

Arizona Highway 85 is the main entrance for the monument.

The park is serene and quiet, especially once out on the drives or trails. The hills surrounding the group sites are literally covered with organ pipe. A short, easy hike along the Desert View Nature Trail along these hills gives an up-close view and information on the plants.

For more information about Organ Pipe National Monument call 520-387-6849.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com