We love to explore the beauty and wonder of America’s national parks. In this episode, we’re taking you to the Sonoran Desert, where we’ve spent most of our winter. Recently, we visited Saguaro National Park and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. These two parks are home to some of the world’s most iconic cacti and diverse desert landscapes. Join us as we share our experiences and adventures exploring these unique parks.
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Saguaro National Park is in Tucson, Arizona
Saguaro National Park is located in Tucson, Arizona, and is home to some of the most iconic cacti in the world—the Saguaro cacti.
Saguaro cacti are the iconic symbols of the American Southwest and are particularly abundant in Saguaro National Park. These towering cacti can grow up to 40 feet tall and live for over 200 years. Saguaro cacti are slow-growing and typically only develop their first arm when they are 50 to 75.
The cacti provide essential habitat for various animals, including woodpeckers, bats, and owls, and are also a cultural symbol for indigenous people in the region. The saguaro cactus is protected by state law in Arizona, and it is illegal to harm, cut, or transplant these iconic plants.
The park covers over 91,000 acres and is divided into two districts: the Tucson Mountain District (West) and the Rincon Mountain District (East). Visitors to the park can enjoy various activities, including hiking, camping, wildlife watching, and scenic drives. Saguaro National Park is home to different desert animals, such as coyotes, javelinas, and desert tortoises.
We camped on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land on Pipeline Rd.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a stunning desert landscape in southern Arizona, near the Mexican border. The park is named for the unique organ pipe cactus, which is native to the area and can grow up to 25 feet tall.
The Organ Pipe Cactus is a unique species found only in the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It gets its name from the tubular, organ-pipe-like shape of its multiple stems, which can grow up to 25 feet tall and up to 4 feet in diameter. The cactus typically has many branches and arms, with each stem covered in numerous spines, and it can live for up to 150 years.
The Organ Pipe Cactus is also an important food and habitat source for various animals, including desert tortoises, javelinas, and birds such as Gila woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers.
The monument is also home to various other cacti and desert plants and wildlife, including coyotes, javelinas, and desert bighorn sheep. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, scenic drives, and ranger-led programs.
The monument is also a designated International Biosphere Reserve, recognized by UNESCO for its exceptional biological diversity and scientific importance.
The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is located in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and serves as the main entrance to the park. The visitor center offers a variety of exhibits and educational displays that showcase the natural and cultural history of the park.
The visitor center honors Kris Eggle, a park ranger tragically killed in the line of duty in 2002. According to the NPS site Kris “was shot and killed in the line of duty at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, on August 9, 2002 while pursuing members of a drug cartel who fled into the United States after committing a string of murders in Mexico.”
The Ajo Mountain Drive is a scenic loop road that loops around Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The 21-mile drive offers stunning views of the park’s rugged mountains, unique desert plants, and diverse wildlife.
Along the way, visitors can stop at several pullouts and trailheads to explore the area’s natural wonders, including the striking red rock formations of the Victoria Mine and the towering saguaro cacti of Arch Canyon. There is an audio tour available in the NPS mobile app. The drive also offers access to several hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to more challenging climbs.
We stayed on BLM land called Gunsight Wash.
Cities Nearby Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Why, Arizona, is a small city located north of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The community is at the junction of State Route 85 and Route 86, 30 miles north of the Mexican border and 10 miles south of Ajo.
Ajo, Arizona, is surrounded by rugged mountains and vast expanses of open desert. The town was founded in the early 1900s as a copper mining community, and many of the original buildings from that era still stand today.
Lukeville, Arizona, is located right on the border and is a port into Mexico.
Despite its small size and remote location, Lukeville is a hub of activity for those traveling between the two countries.
Phoenix is 120 miles, and Tucson is 141 miles away.