Organ Pipe National Park

Organ Pipe National Park

About Me

I purchased "Sadie''s House On Wheels "in late 2007 and loved traveling in a motor home so much that I went on the road full time in late 2008. I started writing this blog to help me remember all the wonder places I have been and it allows me to share those places with my family and friends. Summer of 2013 I decided to hang up the keys for a while and moved back into my stick house. After nearly two years, I am on the road again.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

More on Quartzsite, January 21

What a great week I had in Quartzsite visiting WIN friends out on Plomosa Road.  I was able to participate in some of the WIN functions, help out in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument booth, and peruse the Big Tent ( while contributing to the micro economy).

Every morning a beautiful sunrise greeted me:

You see almost everything at the RV show.  I wonder how this guy drives down the road with the VW bus on top of the old school bus.

The WINs always have at least one activity, usually more, planned for the day.  I participated in Desert Golf, steak dinner and dancing  at Somewhere In Bouse (yes, that's the name of the bar); was one of the official scoopers at the ice cream social,;hiked the desert; enjoyed campfires; and took lots of pictures of sunrises and sunsets; and I did help out some at the ORPI booth, but Joel did most of the booth manning because I was having too much fun seeing old friends.

Good friends enjoying some lounge chairs,
 which is a comfortable way to to listen to a summary of the  many events of the day.
Campfires every evening.
 A few of us went on the annual hike ...seems we do this hike every year..too bad the sky was so blah..
 We head up towards the saddle.  Our goal is to reach the top and head down the other side
 But look closely at the top:
 What a treat to see them

 My little canon  G9 doesn't have a very long zoom but I was able to catch this guy land after jumping
 Just to prove we made it to the top

 And the vistas were definitely worth the effort
Everyday the sunsets were glorious!

The RV/Big Tent show ended on Sunday, so Joel and I headed back to ORPI via Costco, Winco, and the Apple Store....I think we are set on supplies for the next two months, at least I hope so judging by the amount of of stuff that we purchased.  Thank goodness we have part of a freezer in the community house designated for our use! So now, it is back to the business of buffelgrassing..stay tuned.

PS: be sure to contact me if you want more information on the WINs a fun loving group of solo travelers.   We have a new owner and the rules have changed!!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Quartzsite!!! January 18

The stars and planets all must have been aligned perfectly.  Kate ( our boss) had a large volunteer group coming in and was going to run short of GPSs and other essential gear and I think was scrambeling to find something for us to do  Sue, who is in charge of maning a booth in the Big Tent  at the RV show was short of volunteers. Hmm. I wanted to go to Quartzsite to see my WIN friends, but thought I would only get to go for a long weekend...but we were cut loose for the week and will get to spend a whole week at Quartzsite!!!  Friday pulled up the jacks and hitched up the car and made the  journey to Quartzsite  and parked out on Plamosa road, put up the solar panels and prepared for a week of desert lounging, at the WIN gathering. (If you are new to my blog and want some information on the WINs email me or leave a comment and I'll email you back with some facts...)

Well, it was like "coming home" to be with the WINs again.  There are some folks I haven's seen for two or three years.  That is way, way to long, so there were lots of hugs.

Joel and I reported to Sue on Saturday morning and helped out in the Organ Pipe booth in the big tent most of the day.  I think Sue was a little shocked at the amount of friends who were passing by and stopped to say hello us.   

So, my time will be divided between helping out in the OP booth and having fun with old friends.  Desert Golf anyone?  Stay tuned for more.

Good friends Bob and Donna, taking desert lounging to the fullest.  

 Solar panels are up.  No hook ups needed here!  Plenty of sun.
 One of many of the unobstructed views from our windows.

Victoria Mines Hike, Organ Pipe, January 13

I've not done much hiking in Organ Pipe NM proper and was anxious to head out.  My first choice was  to hike up to Bull Pasture off the Ajo Mountain Drive, but the temperatures were really cool and it didn't start to warm up until about 11:00.  I decided to head over to the Victoria Mines.  It is  an easy 2.1 mile from the family campground but I elected to go to the Visitor Center first and hike to the mines from there adding some more easy mileage.

The trail to the mines is very easy rolling through some small washes with some miner short hills to walk up. There isn't much shade, which was probably a good thing, but I wouldn't want to be walking the trail in warmer weather, because it would probably be too hot.  

 There are remainstof an old building which I believe was thought to be a store.

All of the mine shafts have been closed off for safety reasons

as well as to protect the bat habitat.  Apparently the bats really like the old abandoned mines. The Victoria Mines date back as far as the 1880's and are thought to be the oldest example of silver mines in the Organ Pipe NM and some of the oldest in south west Arizona.

The views are spectacular from some of the mine tailings. 

The photo below pictures the different layers of cactus.  Cholla and Ocatillo in the foreground, then Saguaro, and the hill is covered with organ pipe.  

So, it was a pretty nice easy day of hiking.  The Monument is very quiet and I didn't see another soul on the trail.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ajo Town Square, January 12

Ajo is the nearest town to Organ Pipe NM. Founded in 1854, it was originally a mining town.  At one time there was a train from Lukeville to Gila Bend, but is now long gone.  Like many villages in Mexico, and even though Ajo is not in Mexico, there is a town plaza which is the gathering places for events.  The buildings in the Town Plaza are undergoing renovations...signs that the little town is coming back to life...probably due to the huge Boarder Patrol facility just south of town.  There are new art galleries showing off local talent; new eateries; the library and post office are still the main anchors.

Joel and I went into town for a supply run to discover that there was an event going on at the Plaza.

For eight years Tucson Samaritan  Deborah McCullough a mixed media artist has placed water, medical supplies, socks, and food along migrant trails for weary travelers in the desert. She has created a 900 square foot labyrinth inviting a meditative walk. The labyrinth was sponsored by the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church.  The foot ware were found along the migrant trails.  The water symbolizes the need for water in the desert.

 A cross in remembrance of one of the many that have perished in their journey.
 The footwear that have been left along the trail. Note the one in the foreground wrapped in carpet.

Placement of food, medical supplies, water, are considered humanitarian gestures are not against the law.

Organ Pipe, Bates Wells Road, January 16

For the past week the GPS was loaded with way points in Growler Valley off of Bates Wells Road about 9 miles south of Bates Wells so that is where we have been going to find buffelgrass.  The normal routine is to head out  a little after 8 A.M. to the resource building to pickup up our Garmin GPS and Trimble GPS loaded with way points, and then over towards the maintenance building  to pickup up radios.  The next stop is to the Visitor Center to sign out, but we have to plan or stop just right  because the Visitor Center  doesn't open until 8:30.  We then hit the road.  Growler Valley is only about 18 miles as the crow flies from the Visitor Center, but by car it is more than 50 miles. We have to drive all the way to Darby Wells Road a few miles south of Ajo,  and then take Bates Wells Road until we hit the northern boarder of Organ Pipe NM.

The Bates Wells is an old ranch located just inside the north boarder Organ Pipe NM boarder and is going under restoration.  We stopped and did a quick tour of the land. The park service is in the process restoring one of the buildings, but it will be a long time before it will be open to the public.   Bates Wells Ranch was a working cattle  ranch until the 1970s. The well provided enough water for the ranch and cattle.

The main ranch house is undergoing restoration.  Part of the foundation had rotted and some of the framing was in deteriorating condition. Once repairs are completed, then restoration of the inside will continue.

One of the out buildings at the Bates Ranch Site.
Supplies were scarce so cactus "bones" and scrounged wood from Palo Verde trees were used fence material.
View of the ranch and water tank

We spent several days at the same site in Growler Valley digging up buffelgrass. The site was about 10 miles south of Bates Wells the middle of the desert not too far off the Bates Wells Road.  I'm not sure when the site was last visited, but there were several "carcase piles" of buffelgrass.

The buffelgrass is surrounding the old pile of buffelgrass that was previously dug up.

This is a section that was cleared out.
Joel taking a picture of his hard work.  Note the huge, new pile of dead bufflegrass, and this was not all of it. 

I've had inquiries regarding our safety and rumors that the Monument is closed.  Well, I feel safer out in the Organ Pipe  desert than I do in the big city.  Even though we are in the back country we have constant radio contact...we are required to check in every hour and if we don't, our monitor checks on us.  There is a huge Border Patrol station just south of Ajo and there are over 500 boarder patrols assigned to the area. In fact, when we are out in the field I usually see at least one Border Patrol Vehicle per hour if not more.

There are areas of the park that are zoned "red zones" and not open to the public due to the Monuments proximately to the boarder, but, more than 50 percent of the park is open for use. Yes, undocumented aliens (UDA)are spotted, but usually they are in a stressed situation needing water or medical attention and not a threat, and they are picked up quickly. There are blue "amnesty" flags flying where stressed UDA can get water and request assistance.

So, if you are planning to head south towards Rocky Point, Mexico, make time to stop at Organ Pipe and visit.  The campground is never full, and the Monument is open.  I'm sure you will love Organ Pipe and will want to return.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Buffelgrassing at Organ Pipe, first week Jan 9

After leaving the beautiful coast of Pacific Grove, California I made the 780 plus  mile trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to catch up with Joel for our volunteer project working to eradicate the highly invasive species buffelgrass.

OPCNP was established in the 1930s and borders Mexico and is located about 35 miles from the nearest grocery store in Ajo, Arizona. (Yes 35 miles.You don't run to the store for a quart of milk here.) The organ pipe cactus is only found in this area.  The monument is over 500 square miles and about 95% of the park is considered wilderness.  Only 30 percent of the park is open to the public, mostly do to border issues and a lot of very poor roads.

Organ Pipe Cactus:

Organ pipe next to an old "nurse tree" which is dying off.

Joel's "big house" is located in the VIP (volunteers in parks) campground with full hookups.  The campground is located within the gated park compound where all of the resource buildings are located. We have a community building which houses free laundry facilities, extra freezers and refrigerators, and nice showers. Cell service is not the greatest in the compound but there is free wifi.  My little Born Free is in storage in the public campground for the time being.

The compound below:

Joel's RV is at the lower right.

So, a little about our project: Buffelgrass was brought over from Africa by the USDA to research as a possible drought tolerant grazing plant for cattle in the Tucson area. Buffelgrass is a huge, huge problem in central and southern Arizona as it can easily crowd out native plants.  Seeds eventually found their way to OP.  Buffelgrass also is prevalent to the south in Mexico so the buffelgrass seeds make their way to OP from the south.  Buffelgrass is highly flammable and if there is a fire it will regenerate itself, but the cacti and other desert plants won't.  About ten years ago the park service  developed a program to work to  aggressively eradicate the buffelgrass. The only way to get rid of it is to dig it up.  Apparently there are some herbicides that will work, but the park service has elected no to use it at this point.

Below is a sample of a mature buffelgrass.  We brought this sample back to the Visitor Center to show some of the volunteers who had never heard of buffelgrass nor had seen it.

 This was a mature plant growing along side of Highway 85, which we pulled.

Our job is to go out into the desert and look for buffelgrass and pull it up.  We are given way points and a GPS to guide us to previous sites and determine if any new buffelgrass has sprouted.  It's like geo caching, but for buffelgrass.  While we are walking to the specific way point we survey the area to determine if there are any new areas that have been effected. We are given two hand held GPS; one has the way points downloaded so we can find our site (it's only accurate to about 30 feet) and the other GPS is to enter data consisting of how many adult or seedling plants are pulled and the size of the area and apparently it records a more accurate area/coordinates. We are also given radios and have to call in  to a "monitor" with our location every hour for safety reasons.

We spent all last week working with volunteers Mary and Kenn Hoover to learn the ropes.  This is Mary and Kenn's third season and they  have decided they didn't not want to volunteer for a lengthy period of time.  Normally, the position is from November-March.  Kate, in the middle, is in charge of loading the way points into the garmin GPS and tracking all the data we gather as well as other duties.

This is one of the sites we hiked to...can't beat the scenery!
 Off of North Blanco Road. If you look closely, you can see a window or arch at the very top near the middle.

Joel attacking some buffelgrass.
 He is up there somewhere.  I stayed on lower ground with the radio for a while before climbing up to help.

We work four consecutive days a week and usually will have Friday-Sunday off so there will be plenty of time to explore. So far the days have been really easy and the longest distance to a site off the road has been a mile, but we are just getting started so some of the sites most likely will be farther.  We went out to the desert by ourselves on day, and didn't have any problems so the Hoovers will be leaving and we will be on our own next week.

A great view from our camp.

Stay tune for more.