Silent Otherworld

Contacts & Practicalities
Hans Gauger
The author's brother, Hans Gauger, at the entrance to Gran Desierto de Altar.

Pinacate is three hours (175 miles) south from Phoenix. From downtown Phoenix, drive west on Interstate 10, and then south on state route 85, through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

It is essential to buy short-term Mexican auto insurance before you cross the border because of Mexican auto laws. The average cost for temporary insurance is usually $20 to $30 and is available from roadside vendors in the Arizona border towns of Ajo, Why, and Lukeville. Mexican auto permits are not required for travel to Pinacate or nearby Puerto Penasco.

In Mexico, drive Federal Route 8 for an hour. You will see signs for the park along the right-hand side of the highway. About ten miles before reaching the city of Puerto Peñasco, you will see a white ranger station. This is the main entrance to the park. You can also enter from two different locations to the north off of Federal Route 2.

To get to the dunes of Gran Desierto de Altar, drive south on Federal Route 8 from the main visitor entrance. A few miles south of the main visitor entrance is a small white and black notice board, and a dirt road leading west. This is the entrance to southern portion of the park and the only means of seeing the peach colored dunes of Gran Desierto. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended on this road.


Sierra Del Pinacate Visitor Center
Apartado Postal No. 125
Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico 83550
Phone: 011.62.159864
Fax: 011.62.146508

Puerto Peñasco Chamber of Commerce
53 Coahuila Ave.
Puerto Peñasco; Tel: 383-2848 Fax: 383-4468

The Pinacate management works closely with the park management of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in common goals of preservation. Excellent information on the Sonoran desert is available at Organ Pipe National Monument. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is an excellent resource for learning about the reserve's environment.

Danger, Danger

As in any desert, the most common danger is heat and sun. Always wear sunscreen, as well as a hat and/or sunglasses. The heat in Pinacate can become unbearable from May to September. Temperatures may rise to as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit, especially from the months of April through September. The surface temperature of the black dunes can rise to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. It is advised to always carry at least a gallon of water per person at all times, and to keep hydrated. Also keep plenty of water on hand for your car in case of overheating.

Pinacate is home to numerous rattlesnakes, spiders, scorpions, and Gila monsters. The best way to avoid these venomous biters is to be aware that they are out there, and to avoid poking around in areas you cannot see. Avoid turning over objects such as rocks, or climbing onto ledges you cannot see. This is often the favorite sunning spots for rattlesnakes. Some hikers prefer to carry venom extraction kits. Cutting bites with a knife or attempting to remove venom by mouth only works in the movies. Extraction kits can only remove a portion of the venom. Most important is to remove the victim from the danger of a second bite, calm the victim, and evacuate him/her as soon as possible. [More on snakebites.]

Keep clear of cacti. The long spines of the cholla variety are especially sharp. One species which is particularly common in Pinacate—the jumping cholla—detaches barrels of spines which often litter the dunes. Watch your step. Even leather boots are easily pierced by these spines.

All Original Material and Photography Copyright © by Erik Gauger.

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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