Sonoran Desert National Monument–
This fairly new (Since Jan. 2000) National Monument is located just north of I 8 off route 85. There are 487,000 protected acres that are part of one of North Americas most biologically diverse deserts. It has three mountain ranges contained in the park in addition to multiple wilderness areas, archaeological and historic sites, including rock art sites, rock quarries used to make tools,etc., and remnants of several important historic trails. There are both hiking and equestrian trails to enjoy in a beautiful quite, peaceful remote environment. While we were preparing to go hiking we saw folks with their horses preparing to go on a ride on one of the trails.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument–
This National Monument is a UNESCO designated International Biosphere Reserve and as you learn about the park you quickly understand why it was selected. The Organ Pipe Cactus is pretty self explanatory and the name describes its appearance. It does not grow north of this park and it is interesting to see it growing among the many other types of cactus. One of the most common cactus is the Saguaro and we are told there is more Saguaro Cactus in Organ Pipe National Monument than are found in Saguaro National Park itself.
There are two campgrounds within the park. One is primitive for tent camping and requires a permit. The other campground is for tents and RVs. It is a no reservation, first come-first served campground with a few amenities. Each site has a cement pad, a picnic table and a barbecue grill. Senior discount with a Golden Age Pass/Senior Pass making the cost $6/night to camp for seniors.
There are numerous hiking trails in the park. There’s lots of opportunity for photography and due to little light pollution the night-skies are amazing. Also there are frequent ranger programs at the campground amphitheater and some ranger led walks. Biking is allowed on all the roads in the park during daylight hours.
There are two designated scenic drives in the park:
One is the Ajo Mountain Drive. It is a 21 mile loop on a mostly rough, gravel road usually passable by normal passenger car with the restriction of no vehicle on the road that is over 24 feet. The park offers a free Ranger-guided van tour of this drive and we registered for and took this tour. Our guide was a retired professor of geology and was very knowledgeable about the park. All of us on the tour agreed it was excellent and we learned a lot about the park. We were all quite glad we were in a park vehicle for this ride as the road was very rough.
The second designated scenic drive is the Puerto Blanco Drive. It is a five mile turn around, self drive that is said to give access to the Pinkley Peak Picnic Area and haa several stops along the way with great views and information on the ecology and culture. It, too, is a rough, gravel road with vehicle length restrictions.