The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in southernmost Arizona along the border with Mexico, preserves the only setting in the USA where the organ pipe cactus grows in the wild. Named for its resemblance to organ pipes, the “Stenocereus thurberi” can grow to a height of more than twenty feet. Impressive in and of itself, it is also a stunning feature of the rugged desert landscape.
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument comprises 517 square miles of Sonoran Desert, and was opened in 1937. It is about a two hour drive from Phoenix, and about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Tucson. The jumping off town is Ajo, New Mexico. Where you can enjoy Road Runner Java for coffee, fritters and donuts if you are there when they are open (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings). For Ajo lodging, it’s the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center or the La Siesta. From Ajo, it takes about forty minutes to reach the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Begin Your Visit
Begin your visit to the national monument at the Kris Eggle Visitors Center, named after Ranger Kris Eggle who was murdered by a Mexican drug smuggler during a US Border Patrol operation. The visitor center includes an excellent interpretive film, and very friendly rangers, whom will give you great advice, a free guide and map for your drive on the Ajo Mountain Road.
The Ajo Mountain Road is a two to three hour scenic loop drive. This is the ideal way for you to see the National Monument and its stunning scenery. The fee is $12. The Ajo Mountain Road is a twenty-one mile drive with 18 vantage points; the brochure offers information about the scenes and well as the plant life and the ecosystem.
Visitors flock from around the world to experience this extraordinary landscape. The desert is dazzling with the mixture of cactus varieties. The adjacent mountains are awe-inspiring. From valley to mountain peaks, there is so much to admire. The Monument contains a pair of natural arches along this drive. The dramatic Ajo Double Window Arch, with one arch above another, is visible before reaching the Arch Canyon car park. You can also see the Ajo Frog Eye Arch, about 0.8 miles past the Arch Canyon car park. Just look to your right for the arch, and if you wish you could walk the easy tenth of a mile path up to it. It’s very likely you will see Elf Owls and many other bird and animal species as you explore the Monument.
There is a much more rugged drive called the Puerto Blanco drive, reaching from the visitor center to the Mexican border; do not consider it unless you are in a 4X4. If you want to get out of your car and explore the National Monument in more detail, you can follow the hiking trails. There are also ranger-led van tours, but you will want to reserve your spot early. While you are in the area, you may wish to visit the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Quitobaquito Spring.