More untouched and lush (for a desert that is) than more easily accessed American southwest desert parks, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was created to protect its namesake, the organ pipe cactus, the monument being the largest concentration of the plant in the United States. It is in the extreme southern portion of Arizona and borders along Sonora, Mexico. The visitor's center is less than 10 miles (16 km) from the Mexican border. The nearest large population centers are Tucson and Yuma, both over 150 miles (240 km) from the monument, though several small towns with gas stations, hotels, and groceries are near the NORTHERN borders of the park, and other towns near the southern edge, if you want to drive across the Mexican border (the single US highway into the park continues directly into Mexico).
The monument is a through-route between Arizona and Puerto Peñasco (also known as Rocky Point) in Sonora, Mexico. Just 5 miles (8 km) south of the visitor center is the US Port of Entry in the town of Lukeville and the Mexican Border Customs in Sonoyta (Aduana Fronteriza de Sonoyta).
Flora and fauna
Though named for the Organ Pipe Cactus - the park has far more saguaro cactus than those of the organ pipe variety - in far higher concentrations than say - Saguaro Cactus National Park, also of Arizona. In essence, the park is a relatively lush and untouched American southwest desert environment, with a far higher concentration of cacti and other desert plants than perhaps anywhere else in the American southwest - with a decent and best in US, but not exactly overwhelming (this is the northern end of its range), number of organ pipe cacti interspersed.
|Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Summer months are hot, with temperatures exceeding 100F. Winter months are milder, with temperatures in the 70s, with overnight lows in the 40s.
The only viable method to reach the park is via car. Arizona Highway 85 (AZ 85) leads from south into the monument from Interestate 8. There is no public transit into the monument.
There us a US Port of Entry at Lukeville, along AZ 85 at the US-Mexico border.
Fees and permits
Entrance fees to the monument can be paid at the visitor center or at one of the self-registration stations on the scenic drives. Fees are valid for seven days, and as of 2022 were:
- Vehicles: $25 (this fee includes all occupants of a vehicle).
- Motorcycle: $20.
- Individuals: $15 (this fee applies to bicycles and walk-ins).
There are several passes for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot/bike that provide free entry to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and all national parks, as well as some national monuments, national wildlife refuges, and national forests:
- The $80 Annual Pass (valid for twelve months from date of issue) can be purchased by anyone. Military personnel can obtain a free pass by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID.
- The $80 Senior Pass (valid for the life of the holder) is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. Applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and age. This pass also provides a 50% discount on some park amenities. Seniors can also obtain a $20 annual pass.
- The free Access Pass (valid for the life of the holder) is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and permanent disability. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
- The free Volunteer Pass is available to individuals who have volunteered 250 or more hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program.
- The free Annual 4th Grade Pass (valid for September-August of the 4th grade school year) allows entry to the bearer and any accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle. Registration at the Every Kid Outdoors website is required.
The National Park Service offers free admission to all national parks on five days every year:
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January); next observance is January 16, 2023
- The first day of National Park Week (third Saturday in April); next observance is April 15, 2023
- The National Park Service Birthday (August 25)
- National Public Lands Day (fourth Saturday in September); next observance is September 24, 2022
- Veterans Day (November 11)
There is no public transit in the monument. Private vehicles or hiking are the only options for getting around.
- 1 Kris Eggle Visitor Center, 10 Organ Pipe Drive. Daily 8:30AM-4:30PM. Kris Eggle Visitor Center includes an information desk, nature trail, exhibit hall, 15 minute film, and a bookstore.
- Evening programs, Twin Peaks Campground (amphitheater). Several evenings a week, talks are given at the campground on a wide variety ot topics. Check with the Kris Eggle Visitor Center or the Twin Peaks Campground for dates and topics. Free.
- Patio talks, Kriss Eggle Visitor Center (on the back patio). Daily: 11AM, 1PM, and 3PM. 20-30 minute talks on a variety of topics related to the history, geology, plants, and animals of the monument. Check with the Visitor Center for topics. Free.
- Ajo Mountain Drive. A 21-mile drive through one of the most scenic areas of the park, into the hills and back down again. The road is mostly gravel or dirt, but is passable and often frequented by passenger cars. RVs 24 ft or longer are not recommended. Download the informative audio tour before you start.
- Ajo Mountain Van Tour (meet at the Twin Peaks Campground information kiosk). Dec-Apr daily at 1PM. Rangers provide a guided tour on the Ajo Mountain Drive, stopping at several areas along the way to get out and explore. The tour is limited to 10 people per day, so sign up in advance with rangers at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center or Twin Peaks Campground. 3-3.5 hours Free (reservations required).
- Biking. Bikes are allowed on all roads open to vehicular traffic but are not allowed on hiking trails or in the backcountry.
- Geocaching. Geocaching is a sort of scavenger hunt using a GPS receiver to locate the hidden item. Organ Pipe is one of the few units in the National Park system to allow this hobby. Two geocaches are listed as being in the monument.
- Guided Hikes. Ranger led walks around the monument. Check the Kris Eggle Visitor Center or the Twin Peaks Campground for dates and times. Free.
- Hiking. Trails range from short, handicapped accessible trails to long, wild trails into the hinterlands of the park. Remember that portions of the park are restricted so be sure to check with the Visitor Center for trail closures and before starting an off-trail hike. Below are a few of the trails available:
- Alamo Canyon Trail
- Arch Canyon Trail (Ajo Mountain area)
- Bull Pasture Trail (Ajo Mountain area)
- Campground perimeter trail (pet friendly)
- Desert View Trail
- Estes Canyon Trail (Ajo Mountain area)
- Palo Verde Trail (pet friendly)
- Victoria Mine Trail, please stay on the trail
- Visitor Center Nature Trail
- Puerto Blanco Drive. Another car tour featuring roadside displays on the ecology of the Sonoran Desert.
- Visitor Center Nature Walk. A short walk with explanatory signs, and some notable (for size mostly) cacti, accessed from doors leading from the Visitor's Center. For basic photos ops, it probably beats most of the more rugged corners of the park.
There is no lodging in the monument. Ajo and other smaller towns are within 30 minutes of the park.
- 1 Alamo Canyon Primitive Campground (Campground is located at the end of the Alamo Canyon Road. Road junction with Highway 85 is located halfway between milepost 65 and 66 on the eastern side of the highway. Road is suitable for all cars). 4 sites. All sites are first-come, first-serve. Primitive campground at the mouth of Alamo Canyon. Facilities include charcoal grills, tables, pit toilets, and trash cans; there is no water. Wood fires and ground fires are not allowed. No RVs, trailers or generators. $12 per night.
- 2 Twin Peaks campground (1.5 miles / 2.4 km from Kris Eggle Vistor Center and Highway 85). Check-in: Reservations required. 208 sites. Tents and RVs up to 40 ft, no hookups. Running water from standpipes and in restrooms. $20 per night.
Due to border security concerns, the backcountry is closed indefinitely.
The monument is a remote, desert wilderness. Be sure to carry plenty of water both in your car and while hiking and drink regularly, even if not thirsty. If your car breaks down, stay with your car rather than attempting to find help on foot. It is much easier to find a vehicle in the desert than a person.
For more information, see: Arizona : Stay Safe > Deserts
Arizona / Mexico border
As mentioned above, the monument is on the U.S.-Mexico border. Due to the remoteness of the monument, it is used for illegal border crossings. Most of the persons illegally crossing present no threat to park visitors. However, there are some who use the monument for smuggling who are armed and dangerous. In 2002, a park ranger was shot and killed by a drug smuggler. The Kris Eggle Visitor Center has been named in his honor.
Visitors should be aware of their surroundings and report suspicious activities to park rangers or border patrol officers.
For more information, see: Arizona: Stay Safe > Arizona / Mexico border
- Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge – bordering on the north and west, provides a habitat for the Sonoran Desert wildlife.
- El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar – sister park to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
|Routes through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument|
|Buckeye ← Jct W E Gila Bend ←||N S||→ Lukeville Sonoyta → becomes → Jct W S → Puerto Peñasco|