Organ Pipe National Monument is at the very south edge of Arizona. It is home to and dedicated to the very rare Organ Pipe cactus which only grows naturally in this and a few other locations in Mexico. In southern Arizona, the larger of the two varieties of the cactus thrives in Organ Pipe National Monument. The Spanish name for the Organ Pipe cactus is translated as sweet cactus. English settlers described the cactus as similar to a pipe organ that had multiple tubes all growing from one base.
Originally published February 8, 2019
Our Route to Organ Pipe National Monument
We left San Diego later than scheduled due to a rainy spell. We left after sitting through two extra very rainy days. We didn’t think it prudent to leave and drive in the rain if we didn’t have to. Had we left a day earlier we could have crossed the San Diego mountains before the storm and sat out the rain in the desert. Overall given hindsight this might have been the best choice. After stopping in El Centro for the night we watched the Blue Angels practice the next morning. The weather changed from wet and dreary to brilliant blue. Our campsite in El Centro was at the Naval Air Facility El Centro.
Had we known the Blue Angeles would be practicing at El Centro, directly over our campsite we would have scheduled more than a one-night stay. At 8 am sharp we could hear the roar of the six planes accelerating for takeoff. Since it was early February they went directly into their air show routine. The fourth aircraft quickly slotted in its position to create the diamond formation and the fifth and sixth aircraft departed and then returned overhead as if to fill in after the diamond formation passes. After the morning show, we departed for a two-night stop further east in Gila Bend.
We spent last night in Gila Bend at the Air Force Auxiliary Field south of Gila Bend. Going to see Organ Pipe National Monument from Gila Bend was a day trip. It was a long day trip. We were close enough, but not close enough to make a fast visit. From our campsite, the northernmost edge of Organ Pipe National Monument was 55 miles.
We drove way too far, to go see Organ Pipe National Monument. Next time we will take the RV and spend a few days camping in the park. Organ Pipe National Monument is directly south of Gila Bend. The larger Organ Pipe cactus only grows at this location in the United States. Gila Bend is remote and quiet, from Organ Pipe you can see nowhere it is miles and miles beyond remote.
To get to Organ Pipe National Monument we followed Arizona State Route 85 south through the town of Ajo. Ajo was home to the New Cornelia open-pit copper mine that closed in 1985 during a low price in copper and has yet to reopen.
Ajo has a beautiful feel of well taken care of buildings and a friendly style. Still, you can feel that the major employer is gone. Now it seems that retirees have found it and it seems to be a little happier than it has been after the mine closure.
Further south we traveled through the town named Why. It is truly a tiny town and at the intersection of Arizona State Route 85 & 86. At the time, the intersection created a Y in the road and the town adopted the name Y as the name. Arizona Department of Transportation had a rule stating that town names needed at least three letters so they changed it to Why. We didn’t stop, why not, well our destination was Organ Pipe National Monument. That’s Y.
Organ Pipe National Monument
Further south we went to a customs and border checkpoint and then a few miles after that, we went to the visitors center at Organ Pipe National Monument. Really the monument is huge but we didn’t see much because most everything required lots of effort (on foot). South of the visitors center there is a huge campground. Overall there are 208 campsites some are available in a non-generator section. The RV sites allow tents and most sites have concrete pads for parking. Further south there is a tent-only section. It seems like reservations should be easy to obtain especially in the summer when they close most of the campground.
After we returned to Gila Bend we were treated to an evening space station flyover. Tomorrow we move again further east and south.
The 2023 update was limited to checking links and updating the style of the article. We have not yet returned to Organ Pipe National Monument. When we do, the RV will be with us and we will be staying and exploring the backcountry. Organ Pipe National Monument is pretty far from any city of size. There is a border crossing into Mexico south of the park and going to Mexico might be a good reason to put Organ Pipe on the route to a bigger destination. Puerto Penasco is on the Gulf of California just south of the border.
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