Ajo Mountain Foothills Picture of the Week

In my post a couple of weeks ago, I tossed out the fact that Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established in 1937—Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed it on April 13th, to be exact. In the subsequent weeks, we’ve explored the east side loop, which shows off the beautiful and rugged Sonoran Desert. So we accept that the monument is worth traveling a half-hour south of Ajo to visit—in fact, 22 million people did that last year—but in 1937, who knew?

If you look at a 1935 Arizona road map, you’ll notice that there isn’t anything south of Ajo except for the Papago Indian Reservation (They now call themselves Tohono O’odham, which means “Desert People” in their language—Papago is a derogatory derivative of a Spanish word for “Bean Eaters”). The only settlers in the Monument area were the Grays—a ranching family who bought up several local homesteads. So, how did word get back to the president about this unique area?

I came across one story that I liked, and I hope it’s true. In the Wikipedia listing for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I found a line that says, “Land for the Monument was donated by the Arizona state legislature to the federal government during Prohibition knowing that the north-south road would be improved and make contraband alcohol easier to import from Mexico.” Of course, the very next words are “Citation needed.” It sounds too good to be true, but it also sounds like something the Arizona Legislature would do. A fact that makes me skeptical is that Prohibition was repealed in 1933, four years before Roosevelt’s proclamation. If the story is true, the smuggler’s highway has become the main thorofare to the Arizona Riviera—Puerto Peñasco—or as we Zonies call it, Rocky Point.

Ajo Foothills - Organ Pipe and Saguaro grow on a hillside below rugged cliffs in the Ajo Mountain Range.
Ajo Foothills – Organ Pipe and Saguaro grow on a hillside below rugged cliffs in the Ajo Mountain Range.

This week’s featured image was taken on the Ajo Mountain Loop’s downside as the road descends into a valley among the foothills. The shadows were getting long when I took the shot, and you can see Organ Pipe and Saguaro growing on the hillside below the rugged cliffs of Rhyolite and Tuff. I call this image Ajo Foothills.

I really enjoyed my afternoon at the monument. I want to return and drive the western loop. I want to take the Ritz and spend a night under the stars. Maybe we can do that next year when we’re able to move about the country again freely. Besides, there are other beautiful places in Arizona that we can show you in the coming months.

You can see a larger version of Ajo Foothills on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week when we begin another adventure traveling Arizona’s back roads.

Until next time — jw

Organ Pipe Cactus Picture of the Week

There’s nothing rare or unusual about the organ pipe cactus. They’re a common sight in the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja. I’m sure that the local folks view them the way Zonies do the saguaro; they’re just another part of the local landscape. But, the saguaro’s smaller cousin only reaches into the United States in the national monument that’s a half-hour south of Ajo, and that’s what makes them special to us.

Like the saguaro, the organ pipe grows best on south-facing rocky slopes of the Sonoran Desert. So why don’t they grow further north? Well, that’s because they’re less tolerant of frost and won’t survive a hard freeze. The specimens that we have in our cactus garden have to wear styrofoam cup hats to get through even our mild winter nights.

Another difference between the columnar cacti is obvious by looking at them. The giant saguaro grows with a single trunk and sprouts arms after it reaches 50 years—like a tree. On the other hand, the organ pipe’s arms sprout from a stem close to the ground resembling a bush. Internally, their structures are similar to porous skeletons that allow the flesh to expand and store water.

While the saguaro and organ pipe’s flower looks the same, the latter’s are only open at night and are pollinated by bats. The saguaro keeps its flowers open in the day, which lets bees and doves help the pollination. Like the saguaro, the organ pipes produce fruit during the rainy season about a tennis ball’s size. The flesh is bright red and supposedly tastes better than watermelon. After eating the sticky fruit, birds disperse the seeds by defecating from the branches of palo verde trees.

Organ Pipe Cactus - This cactus specimen commonly grows in the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja, but only crosses the border within the boundaries the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Organ Pipe Cactus – This cactus specimen commonly grows in the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja, but only crosses the border within the boundaries of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

I drove a good distance on the Ajo Mountain Loop looking for a really nice organ pipe to photograph for this week’s featured image. The specimen in my image—called Organ Pipe Cactus—is a beaut, resembling an upside-down octopus on steroids. I’m a little upset that Ajo Mountain snuck in and photo-bombed my picture. At least you can see how far I traveled by how the mountain’s angel changed from last week’s photo. My references say that an organ pipe’s normal height is 10 to 16 feet, but this baby towered over my head and may have reached 20.

You can see a larger version of Organ Pipe Cactus on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week’s stop resulted in a surprise photo op. Be sure you come back and see what I found.

Until next time — jw

Ajo Mountain Picture of the Week

I turned my calendar over this week, and that means a couple of things to me; the best is that it’s the final quarter of 2020. In an average year, the hot weather finally breaks in a couple of weeks, because there’s an Arizona law that prohibits kids from Trick-or-Treating on a hot night. Of course, nothing about this year has been normal, so I’m not holding my breath. The Queen and I are looking forward to opening the house soon, and I’m anxious to take my drone out again and resume filming.

For October’s project, I drove south into the heart of the Sonoran Desert. As I said, we live along the northern edge of the saguaro country. We have a good population here in Congress and Wickenburg, but in other parts of the state, the giant cactus thrives. To show you, I traveled south of Ajo last week and drove the Ajo Mountain Drive loop in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The road is unpaved, but a sedan will make it as long as it’s not raining.

A couple of years ago, Anne and I visited the monument for the first time. I wanted to take this loop, but we didn’t bring an off-road truck. Plus, when she saw a sign warning of smugglers and illegal aliens, she said no. The park is 10 miles from the Mexican border, and 30 miles south of the old copper mining town of Ajo (evidently the Spanish found wild garlic growing in the area, so that’s how it got the name). The road passes through the middle of the Goldwater Bombing Range, so I’d recommend not stopping along the way to pick wildflowers.

The Monument is the only place where you can see large stands of Organ Pipe Cactus. They’re more common south of the border, but on this side—not so much. The two columnar cacti (saguaro and organ pipe) grow side-by-side throughout the park. With the dry summer that we’ve had this year, I was pleased to see that the specimens in the monument looked healthy and watered. The rain patterns in lower Pima County are different from home, and they had a better monsoon than we did. The cacti are packed in down there—if you could ever call a desert lush, Organ Pipe would be an example.

Ajo Mountain - The volcanic peak rises above its foothills in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Ajo Mountain – The volcanic peak rises above its foothills in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Ajo Mountain is the name of this week’s featured image, and in it, I was trying to show two things. They are the volcanic mountain—rising above its surrounding foothills—and how many saguaros are growing per square mile. These giants also seem significantly taller than our home-boys.

You can see a larger version of Ajo Mountain on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll stop further along the drive and show you the organ pipe cactus from which the monument gets its name.

Until next time — jw