Silent Otherworld

Senita cacti
It may look fuzzy, but this Cholla cactus is far from cuddly.

An excellent introductory hike to Pinacate can be found at the rim of El Elegante, a mile-wide maar crater. Maar craters are rare, and the perfection of their round craters are an amazing sight. Even more stunning is the view of all of Pinacate—a drastic, empty landscape.

El Elegante is located about 12 miles from the main entrance. The dirt roads leading to El Elegante are well marked. The deep pit holds a unique boiling-hot ecology of its own. According to NASA, these craters are so similar to the harsh conditions of the moon, they sent astronauts into the craters as training for Apollo moon voyages.

Although rangers have now forbidden entry into the craters, there are excellent trails around the rim of El Elegante. Cerro Colorado, a smaller crater northwest of El Elegante, is equally accessible. This crater is a must-see, for its intact round, red-cliff caldera. Roads to Cerro Colorado are well marked.

Two craters are equally impressive for their uniqueness and can be accessed by a narrow four wheel drive-only road off of Highway 2 near the northern perimeter of the reserve. Crater Molina is impressive for its three basins that form a cloverleaf. The Sykes Crater, which is smaller than El Elegante, boasts a basin equally deep.

Pinacate covers 1.5 million acres. Day hikes can be made almost anywhere on the public sections of the park: Follow a riparian wash or hike alongside the trail of a lava flow. As long as you obey the reserve rules and exercise common-sense desert hiking practices, blazing your own trail is possibly the most rewarding way to experience the nuances of life and geology in the Mexican Sonoran desert.

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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