Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Back Into Uncharted Territory

We spend a relaxing and fun Sunday watching football with our friends. Cold and breezy outside, we enjoy a warm and lazy day - with lots of laughter!

Tessa's new favorite guy Donny
Monday is a work day for both of them, and we say our good-byes knowing we'll get together again this winter. After all, we didn't see Boothill Graveyard yet!

At 38 degrees we waste no time packing up and heading out at 8 AM. The anticipated construction traffic on I-10 holds us up less than 20 minutes so we manage to beat the storm to our site back at Justin's Diamond J east of Tucson. The skies are dark and dumping lots of rain to the north, but we get set up with the heaters on before the wind and rain arrive. Not much rain after all, but we stay in, take a nap, and get the laundry done. 

After sleeping in we set out on a new route for the first time since leaving Santa Clarita a couple weeks ago. Highway 86 is 110 miles of two-lanes through open desert, prairie, Ironwood, and the occasional Saquaro.

Wonderful to be back on "new" roads
The weather is perfect, there are less than a dozen other vehicles, and very quickly we pass through the widening of the road which is Why, Arizona. 

Through the little town of Ajo ten miles later, we find our RV Park - Ajo Heights. It is extremely well maintained - more so than the businesses we passed to get here. Our site backs to the desert and is very large. Our hosts, Bob and Carol, are friendly and make us feel welcome immediately.

For those who don't know where Ajo is......
Grocery shopping, a quick tour of town, and the first cooking I've done in over a week round out our Tuesday evening. 

We're in Ajo to visit the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It is an area neither of us have ever seen, we don't know what to expect.  

I'm hoping to find my first Crested Saquaro, and maybe the even more rare Crested Organ Pipe. It's 49 degrees when we leave Ajo after a very good breakfast at Marcela's Cafe. It is a 22 mile drive to the visitor center.

A few miles before the center I think I see a Crested Saquaro a short distance from the road! I'm so excited heading across the desert, I'm actually giggling - there might have been some "happy dance" steps thrown in there too :-)

Across a small wash and there it is!

Even more incredible in person!
On the way back to the Jeep, Bill made another unique discovery.

Keep looking up, even when you're down!
The VC is small with several interactive exhibits and good information on the ecology and culture of the area.

Simple, very nice center.
The story of the area told by the seasons.
The large campground is a couple miles up the hill. Large paved sites with fire pits and picnic tables, no hook ups. Dump station, drinking water spigots, at least two good size restroom/shower houses. Wonderful natural landscape and beautiful views make this a really great spot. Interior roads are a bit narrow, but many of the sites will accommodate 40' RVs.

The rest of the day we spend on the Ajo Mountain Road Loop. 21 miles of one-way dirt road, and we're back to more "wow's" at every turn! The variety of cactus is unique to the area.

 A trio of supportive Saquaros

Colorful Buckthorn

Cholla chains
Prickly Pear and Ocotillo
Saquaro and Organ Pipe share this park in abundance
The Ajo Mountains are splashed with multiple colors and textures - tufts and ridges stand out in sharp contrast to the bright blue sky.

We stop for lunch below the double arches. We've only seen one other vehicle at the very beginning of the drive, and one border patrol helicopter makes a few passes. Otherwise only bird calls break the complete silence here. Bill spots a bright red bird in a Palo Verde tree. Too quickly it flies away and I don't get his picture - he was SO red!

Sweet spot for lunch
The top arch looks fragile from here

Our lunch stop turns out to be the summit, and we descend to the valley on the return loop.

More hole than arch

Bill sees this giant sphinx on the side of a hill

It dawns on me as we look out across the valley to Mexico that just a few months ago we were looking out across the water at Canada. What a life this is!

Mexico in the distance
We love this park, and have fun with all the different shapes and sizes of Saquaros, many that are very "expressive" with their crazy arms in all directions. Like the rocks in the Alabama Hills, we "saw" so many things in these interesting cactus.

How to stand out in a crowd
No more cresteds after our first find so we'll see what we find tomorrow - we only have one more day this time. We have an appointment in Yuma on Friday morning for Plan D to get the steps repaired....the step ladder is holding up quite well.


  1. Organ Pipe is so beautiful. We haven't been in a couple years but a place like that is certainly worth visiting again and again. All these new trails are great adventures for you.

    1. New is definitely fun, but we look forward to coming again.

  2. The very red bird was probably a Vermillion Flycatcher male, the female is light brown with a peach belly...gorgeous little birds!

    We are probably heading to this place in late March, thanks for the preview!

    1. Thanks for the ID - he was so beautiful. Should be beautiful with everything in bloom while you're here. Several of the trails are permanently closed off the loop drive, but there were a couple still open, including the one to the arches which is short but steep.I would definitely stay at this park again.

  3. Small point, but Justin's Diamond J is actually West of Tucson. Clarification just in case anyone is looking for it on the East side of Tucson.

    Have fun out there.

    1. Weird but right! We drove east through Tucson to get to the park and I didn't realize we then backtracked so far west on Hwy 19 :-) Thanks for the correction!

  4. You're becoming quite the cactus expert and your photographs are really great. Love love that close of picture of the crested. Looks like a place we would love to stay and stay unless there are too many closed trails to make at least a week of it. How many days can you boondock with a residential fridge which I assume you have?

    1. Yes we do have the residential frig but we don't boondock yet - 'til we have solar. In WA we did dry camp at the county park for four days and did okay with the generator, but hate running it too often :-( Once we have solar we would love to stay at the Organ Pipe campground. Today we found several open trails not far from that campground so I think you could fill a week for sure. Cactus seem easier so far than trees :-))))

  5. We stayed at Organ Pipe NM last January for the first time and loved it! You'll enjoy staying in the campground when you return -- it's spacious and peaceful and the hiking trail from the campground is an easy and lovely walk through the cacti. We also really enjoyed that gorgeous scenic loop drive, and the hiking trails off of the loop. Your crested saguaro photo is wonderful!

    1. The ranger at the VC said it's the nicest campground he's worked in many years. We were blown away by the landscapes back in those mountains!

  6. The crested saguaro are rare finds unless your name is Pam...she finds them all! I have only seen an organ cacti once and that was at the Desert Museum in Tucson. They are quite showy! The saguaro remind me of cartoon characters I watched years (and years) ago...I expect them to start waving, dancing and moving around! So much beauty in the desert. And if you haven't seen a saguaro in bloom, it's a must see!


    1. I think she may have seen them all :-) As you're driving through so many of them on this loop, I swear you see them "acting out" from the corner of your eye!

  7. How exciting to be on new roads :-) I agree with the other comments: the close-up photo of the crested saguaro is a great one. Good luck with the steps. Yuma is full of RV repair shops and hopefully you find a solution.

    1. Thanks Renee, it was a beauty! And yes, we have steps again :-))

  8. Beautiful. Thanks for the write up. We are looking forward to visiting here in Feb. Love those cacti!

    1. Weather should be ideal. Be sure to pick up the "not so junior ranger" book first - then do the Ajo Mountain loop. There is a section that lists all the cristates (crested) saquaros on that route, and the organ pipe one too (we missed all of them because we didn't have the book).