Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Outdoor Activities
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Several trails offer close looks at the beauty of the desert. The best hiking months are October through April. Your pets, if leashed, may be taken on some trails (check at the visitor center). Otherwise, pets are not allowed on trails or in the backcountry. When hiking, take 1 gallon of water per person per day. Avoid overexertion and overexposure to the sun. Watch out for the many desert plants with spines and thorns. At night carry a flashlight and watch for rattlesnakes. Remember, snakes are protected here. Do not harm them.

Cross-country hiking in the open desert can be enjoyable, too, but first discuss your planned route with a park ranger.

Some suggested hiking trails include:

Visitor Center Nature Trail (0.1 mile round-trip) - An introduction to the desert and its plants. It can be negotiated by wheelchairs. A guide pamphlet is available at the trailhead.

Campground Perimeter Trail (1 mile round-trip) - An ideal leisurely walk at the start or end of your day. Pets are permitted.

Desert View Nature Trail (1.2 miles round-trip) - A circular route leading to vistas of Sonoyta Valley and the pink granite Cubabi Mountains in Mexico. Trailside signs describe features along the way.

Paloverde Trail (2.6 miles round-trip) - A connecting trail between the campground and the visitor center highlighted by views of the rugged Ajo Mountains. Pets are permitted.

Estes Canyon-Bull Pasture Trail (4.1 miles round-trip) - A strenuous climb to a high plateau where ranchers once wintered cattle. There are grand views of the surrounding terrain.

Victoria Mine Trail (4.5 miles round-trip) - A hike over rolling terrain to the monument's richest and oldest gold and silver mine.

Scenic Driving
Two scenic loop roads—the Ajo Mountain Drive and the Puerto Blanco Drive—penetrate desert country. Both are winding, up and down graded dirt roads. Passenger vehicles can travel them easily, but if you are driving a motorhome more than 25 feet long, you should not travel these unpaved roads. Even some small motorhomes have difficulty, so check with a ranger first. Trailers are not recommended on these roads. Guidebooks are available at the visitor center and at the start of both drives. When on the road: Carry emergency tools; take drinking water and extra water for your vehicle; stay away from flooded areas; and never drive off the road.

The Ajo Mountain Drive (21 miles) winds along the foothills of the Ajo Mountains, the highest range in the area. Outstanding desert landscapes and impressive stands of organ pipe cactus are among the highlights of this tour. The drive takes about two hours.

The Puerto Blanco Drive (53 miles) circles the colorful Puerto Blanco Mountains and passes through a startling variety of scenery. Around one corner you will find the desert oasis of Quitobaquito, while around another you'll find a true Sonoran Desert environment, with saguaros, organ pipe cacti, and elephant trees. This trip takes half a day.

Besides these two roads, there are a few unimproved dirt roads that go farther into the backcountry. Some lead to historic sites with windmills, ranch houses, abandoned gold and silver mines, and other remnants of the past. Sometimes these roads are passable only by 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Check on road conditions at the visitor center.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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