February 19-22, 2017
After boondocking for almost a week along Darby Well Road I returned to the park on Sunday to go hiking in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on Monday with Ranger Cynthia. Woke up to a gorgeous morning and a predicted perfect 70° for hiking.
Met Cynthia at the visitor center at 9:30 and we took off on the Ajo Mountain Drive for the trail head. But there was call for several stops along the way because there’s just so much to see and explore.
With two days of rain things were starting to bloom. Tiny plants sprouting, Mexican poppies popping, vetch, a whole lot of plants I don’t know, and bees out pollinating. Plus a wide variety of rocks to ohh and ahh over like quartz, agate, jasper, rhyolite, obsidian and more. A botanists and geologists dream.
Finally by almost 1pm we began hiking the 3.2 mile Estes Canyon loop trail. So much to see in this lush Sonoran Desert we were constantly distracted. A 5 foot barrel cactus covered in fruit appears to balance on a small pedestal, it’s swirling pattern invited me to balance on toes and carefully reach the camera over the top.
I especially like hiking with a Park Ranger as I learn so much about this unfamiliar landscape. There’s new growth nestled among the taller columnar arms of the organ pipe cactus. The pinched in areas which appear extra loaded with spines are caused by frost stress.
The rainbow sparkling dew catches our attention to a wolf spider hanging out its tunnel burrow waiting for some unsuspecting insect prey to come by. Guess we didn’t look like food or a disturbance so no motion or aggression.
Cynthia recognizes several bird songs as they mostly hide in shadow or flit by too fast for a photo. But the curve-billed thrasher poses on plumped up saguaros standing just a little taller after the thirst quenching rain.
Birds make nesting holes through the saguaro’s skin and skeleton. In response, the saguaro secretes a resinous sap that over time hardens into a bark-like shell preventing the loss of fluid while also protecting the nest hole by making it waterproof. Yet it’s not ready for use as a nest until a year after its creation. After the cactus dies and rots apart these shells are revealed called saguaro boots. Native Americans used the boots to store or carry water and this one definitely had a pot-like shape.
Deeper into the canyon I could hear flowing water and see the evidence of wet rock where water had at least cascaded down the cliff faces a few days before, after the recent rains. yet it would have been an off-trail scramble to find the elusive flows into these magical micro-environments.
The trail was easy to follow winding up and down across several washes. Figured we’d hiked about two miles and just shy of the junction with the Bull Pasture trail where we would have completed the loop but even with binoculars we couldn’t see where the trail went and because it was getting late in the afternoon we turned around. Ya’ know, that’s OK because I always see different things and views on the way back.
Was a little faster walk back and when we returned to the parking saw the map and figured we were not more than 1/4 mile from the junction when we turned around. Next time, start on Bull Pasture and do the loop counterclockwise.
Tuesday was my last full day in the monument, unless I returned for a third time. I was actually awake to see the soft colors of first light and a sliver of moon. Also woke up with sore calf muscles from the water-bar steps from the previous day.
Felt like a couch potato so stayed in most of the day working on blog posts. Yet I was determined to see sunset from the Desert View trail. Didn’t make that whole 1.2 mile loop because I waited too late. Then had difficulty finding the end of the loop trail to the shortest view. So I settled with watching the sun sink behind the nearest peak then head back to camp when a man asked me if I knew where the trail head was. Glad I’m not the only idiot. We wandered back to the parking lot and found a map kiosk near the bathrooms in the group camp area. Finally found the correct trail which went past a group of campers.
The colors spread and changed in 360° even showing up above the campground in the Sonoyta Valley below. What a marvelous send off to a place I already need to return to because there’s way more hiking in Organ Pipe Cactus.
I said a sad goodbye to Cynthia and her park Wednesday morning after receiving my Healthy Hiker pin to add to the growing collection. And where do you suppose I went, back to Darby Well Road to investigate yet another crested organ pipe cactus before beginning my journey home.