Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – Ajo, Arizona

We are back in the good old USA, alive and well and recovering from sipping a few too many margaritas and eating a few too many burritos and tamales in Puerto Peñasco. Crossing back into the states was a non-event, except for an approximately 30-minute wait at the border.  Imagine a line of motorhomes as far as the eye can see waiting to cross!

The officers didn’t board Betsy, but they did ask if we had meat with us.  We answered truthfully that we had some frozen chicken and several pounds of seafood, and they seemed OK with that.  A quick check of our passports and we were on our way.

The RV takeover of the border town begins!

Just five miles north of the border we pulled into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where we dry camped overnight.  We verified that our residential refrigerator could survive 14 hours on batteries, since we we weren’t allowed to run our generator for that length of time.  It was a good test, because we plan to do more dry camping this year.

We stopped here to explore the only small area in the Sonoran Desert in the U.S. where Organ Pipe cactus grows naturally.  We had seen them in abundance along the highway in Sonoyta, Mexico, but we wanted to take a closer look.

Organ Pipe Cactus national Monument

Of the two scenic drives in the monument, we took the Ajo Mountain Scenic Drive as soon as we got settled in.  The dusty and sometimes rough dirt road (better for jeeps, but our poor CRV managed to survive) winds up and down along the foothills of the Ajo Range.

We’ve been enjoying the beautiful desert landscape since November, but this drive was different and special as we viewed stands of Organ Pipe cactus that reside only in this area.


Organ Pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) is so named because of its multi-limbed growth habit which resembles the pipes of grand organs found in churches.  It is a columnar type cactus that can grow as high as 23′ and the second-largest cactus, eclipsed only by the majestic Saguaro.

Jo Mountain Scenic Drive

It can live over 150 years, and won’t produce its first flower until near the age of 35.  Organ Pipe cactus blooms in May and June, opening its white, creamy flowers only at night.  The flowers will close up again by mid-morning, and very rarely remain open into the afternoon – which means I won’t see one anytime soon.

The 21-mile drive offered up magnificent desert scenery, comprised of extensive cactus plains separated by imposing volcanic mountains that were also covered with many and varied desert plants of the Sonoran Desert.

At stop #9 we took a closer look at an abnormal growth on an arm coming from the center of a cactus.  Known as a “cristate”, it’s an unusual trait that also forms rarely on Saguaro cacti.


Dusky-capped flycatcher
While trying to avoid treacherous potholes, my eagle eyed-driver managed to catch a glimpse of a Dusty-capped Flycatcher

We noted that another desert plant, the Ocotillos which appeared to be just large spiny sticks during the past few months, are now growing leaves and blooming:

Ocotillo leaves


Its  bright crimson clusters of tubular flowers are a favorite perching spot for some birds:

After a long day of driving from Mexico and then through the Ajo Scenic Mountain area, Steve was ready to kick back and resume reading his latest book as fresh shrimp from Puerto Peñasco cooked on the grill.  Not a bad way to end the day!

Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus NM

After running the generator the following morning to recharge our batteries, we moved Betsy down to the visitor center parking lot.  Checkout was 11:00am and we didn’t want to be rushed on our hike.  From there we followed the Palo Verde Trail, and combined with the Campground Perimeter Trail we clocked 3.6 miles to get our legs warmed up.

The trails here don’t have any elevation gains to speak of, but it was nice walking across the desert on a cool morning before continuing our trek north.

Organ Pipe Cactus

Then I spotted a hidden crestate in the middle of a large Organ Pipe:

Crested Organ Pipe Cactus
Pam, I know you are smiling!

After the hike I was drawn to a garden near the visitor center, where a Costa’s Hummingbird was darting in and out of Chuparosas blooms:

Costas hummingbird

I patiently watched and waited until the light came at just the right angle to reflect off his purple head, while he perched on a branch:

Costas hummingbird
Ain’t he a cutie!

We had been desert rats for almost four months, and our overnight stay at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument capped our meanderings in the Sonoran Desert.  It may be a long time before we see the diverse flora and fauna of this area again, and we will definitely miss it!

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Till we meet again, Sonoran Desert!




  1. How nice that you got to spend a little time in Organ Pipe NM. One doesn’t need long to get the full flavor of the park. Glad you found a few crested Organ Pipe. They are so cute and yes I was smiling as I saw you photos:) Great job getting that beautiful purple hummer!!

  2. Beautiful pictures, once again, MonaLiza. The close up of the hummingbird is perfect! Your first shot of the crest on an organ pipe cactus looks like someone was trying to learn to braid hair! I’m sorry you won’t be back in the Sonoran desert anytime soon, where to next?

  3. A delightful post. The photos of the cacti are just stunning. Thank you for sharing. Continued happy trails for you.

  4. We love that area. There is so much beauty. You captured it! The Hummingbird photos are amazing.

  5. Such a great post! Two birds I’ve never seen before. Your patience sure paid off in that stunning purple. Crested Oregon Pipe – I had no idea those even existed. Love your exit picture. Absolutely perfect!!

  6. The crested organ pipe are amazing and the Costa’s Hummingbird is quite a beauty, but my favorite is the Dusty-capped Flycatcher. The desert gets more and more color with each passing week.

  7. Nothing like testing your boondocking capabilities with a view. With all the recent crested cacti photos that have been floating about, I’m going to have to join the hunt for them when we eventually get to the Sonoran someday. I bet that fresh shrimp from Mexico tasted mighty good.

  8. We loved Organ Pipe NM! The campground is so pretty and peaceful, and the trails are wonderful. I’d love to see the cacti blooming, too, but I think it would be too hot to be there in May-June. Terrific photo of the Costa’s — waiting for the light to catch the iridescent purple makes all the difference.

  9. Glad you made it back into the US with no issues. Organ Pipe NM looks like it’ll be on our list of new places to check out.

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