Hiking in a flower garden

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, March 11, 2012

   Last year we considered going to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument but did not get favorable reports about the safety there. It is in Arizona right on the Mexican border. This year we talked to a couple people that had actually been there and asked around in a few places and the outlook seemed more positive. We had a few days before needing to be in Tucson for the camper rally so we took a slight detour and drove down there.
   Usually when we have made plans to go to a specific park or area I've done some research about places to stay and read some reviews before we make a decision. I hadn't taken the time to do that so we opted to stay in the Park knowing that we could use Wayne's Senior Pass and it would be cheap. We've had a wide variety of campgrounds on federal lands ranging from individual sites with some amenities to being in a big parking lot with not so much as a picnic table. Little did we know what a treat it was going to be!
   The campground was just over a mile from the visitor center and highway so very quiet and peaceful. There were more than 100 individual sites, most of them pull through with concrete pads and a picnic table. The rate with the pass was $6 a night....can't beat a deal like that!
   We went to the campfire program (the campfire was just a picture of one on the video screen) which was about mining in the area. It was given by one of the park volunteers and very informative. The following day we hiked over to the visitor center and looked at the displays and watched the movie to learn more about the Park. We also signed up for a 3 hour guided van tour in the afternoon which took the 21-mile scenic loop in the Park. We knew we could learn much from the guide and wouldn't have to drive the gravel road ourselves to see this part of the Park.
   Roarke & Nancy were our guides and did a great job. They are volunteers that were at the north rim of the Grand Canyon over the summer months and here at Organ Pipe for the winter months. He used to be a UPS man before retiring....very friendly like most of them are. We stopped at six different locations along the drive to get out and explore and learn more about the plants, animals and landscape. There were 9 people on the tour plus the two volunteers - a fun afternoon for sure!
   The following day we did a morning hike to an old mine that was to the south of the campground so very close to the border. We saw a couple of the hikes that were out along the scenic drive that we would have liked to do but didn't feel like driving over 20 miles of gravel to get out there and back so opted for a couple in the immediate area.
   The trail presented us with several views of colorful flowers in full bloom. It's too early for most of the cacti to bloom although we did see a few of those. The trail was fairly easy but went up and down through several washes so made for a good hike. The old mine site had the remains of one of the old buildings and we found a rock to enjoy a snack before heading back. We could see the Mexican town of Sonoyta from there which was just across the border a couple miles.
   On the way back we heard an engine so stopped along the trail near a wash and waited as it got closer to us. Sure enough it was a Border Patrol checking the washes for any signs of illegal activity. He stopped to chat, a nice young man originally from Washington state that had been working here for 4 years. We talked about the love-hate relationship I assumed there must be between the Border Patrol and the National Park Service. I shared that I'm guessing the National Park Service realizes they need to have them on site to ensure safety for their visitors but that their idea of how that should be accomplished is very different than the Border Patrol. He agreed and said thankfully that was for the higher-ups to work out and he was just doing his job. We thanked him for his service and went on our way. He was looking at something so didn't take off right away...gave me time to snap a picture while Wayne decided to stop to get a sticker out of his sock.
   We did another short hike that afternoon, took another scenic drive ourselves and attended the campfire program again which was about the ranching in the area. It's mind-boggling that they consider this ranching country and fit for cattle to live when they have none of the green pastures that we do back in ND.
   At some point that afternoon I was looking for the camper rally schedule and figuring out if we could get to Tucson in time to go to church Sunday morning before going to the rally. In the process I looked closer at the rally schedule and realized it didn't start until Monday. Glory hallelujah, we just got another day in this beautiful place! I'm sure glad we realized it and didn't go to Tucson a day early.
   The extra day gave us the opportunity to go back out and do the trails along the scenic drive. With a day of rest in between we didn't mind doing the long drive on gravel roads. We packed a lunch knowing we would be out most of the day. I felt a bit lazy that morning this being the third day of hiking in a row but knew I would muster up the energy when we got going.
   We had an unexpected experience about halfway up to the first trail. There was someone walking along the road toward us and as we got up near him he signaled that he needed a phone. We stopped and rolled the window down and realized he was a young Mexican man I'm guessing between 25-30 years old. He spoke Spanish to us that we could not understand. After me telling him "paquito espanol" which I think means little Spanish we both realized we didn't understand much of what we were trying to tell each other. We didn't acknowledge that we had a cell phone since I realized we wouldn't be able to figure out where he was calling with it and didn't want charges for an International call. We did offer him "agua" which is water and he drank 3 glasses of it. We had our packs filled but had brought an extra gallon with some plastic cups so shared that with him. He also pointed and asked which direction USA was vs. Mexico. He said the word Idaho at one point but couldn't understand the rest of the sentence so not sure if that was where he was headed. He thanked us for the water and we traveled on as did he. I thought of him often that day thinking that he wasn't very prepared if he didn't know the direction he needed to go and also realized he had a red sweatshirt or jacked on which certainly didn't blend in with the desert landscape. I was also surprised that he was out in daylight hours as I know most of them travel at night. Wayne and I wondered the next day how far he got when we saw how many Border Patrol agents there were along the roads and everywhere as we drove to Tucson. We could have called 911 but didn't - I thought I'd let God decide what was best for him and the USA.
   Hiking that day was challenging because it was steep and rocky and high up in some sections of both trails. Wayne hiked further up on the Arch Trail than I did. I sat on a rock where I could see part of the Arch thinking he'd be peeking through it when he got there but he went to the closest overlook which was not all the way to the Arch itself. The other trail was a loop with a spur off it that kept going up and up and up. We didn't go quite all the way to the end of the spur...it was starting to freak me out and it was in the hottest part of the day so I'd had enough.
   Along both trails we kept seeing more and more different kinds of wild flowers. They were absolutely gorgeous. I felt like we were hiking in a garden....every color imaginable! I think the most wild flowers we had previously seen in a National Park were at Glacier National Park in Montana but this far surpassed that. Who would have ever thought the desert in Arizona could produce such beauty? It's been my favorite place in the Southwest so far.....I'm so glad we made the trip.
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