Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Adventure

Sonoran Desert of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

From the Davis Mountains State Park in Texas, we drove two full days to arrive for a brief stopover at the Escapees Saguaro Co-op Campground in Benson, AZ. Our one-night stopover at the Las Cruces Overlook Rest Area was restful and surprisingly quiet! We met a family of five who were pulled in next to us for the night. They were enjoying their first month of full-timing RV-ing and heading east towards the Gulf Coast beaches. The rest area is known for the giant roadrunner sculpture that stands overlooking the city below. It is also monitored 24/7 by a security company so we felt perfectly safe here for the night!

The Saguaro SKP Co-op is a member-only long-term RV park and since it does not take reservations for those hoping to garner a spot while passing through the area, we had to take our chances on getting a site. We always have the option of boondocking but were hoping for some hook-ups. It’s one of a favorite Escapees parks and a great place to chill for a few days and get caught up on laundry, shopping and just plain rest and relaxation. On this trip, we secured a spot with full hook-ups which added to our experience! It was a member-owned lot that was available for nightly rental while the owners were away. The space was also at the end of a street which added to experience!

Camping spot at Saguaro SKP park

From Benson, it is a short hop down to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and we arrived early in the day to set up camp. The Twin Peaks Campground is located deep into the monument and I was able to reserve a spot for 7 days. Organ Pipe has been on my bucket list for many years and I was so excited to finally be here! We found the campground to be one of the nicest national parks campgrounds we’ve ever seen with beautiful, paved, pull-through sites and plenty of vegetation between sites to allow for maximum privacy. There are no hook-ups here but it’s easy to rely mostly on our solar panels when in the desert! To give you an idea of the thick vegetation in the campground, the photograph below was taken from our campsite! Our first night in the park we experienced the first of many brilliant sunsets!

On our first full day in the park, we biked the 2 miles from the campground to the visitor center so we could get some maps of the park – as well as securing my passport stamp and national park patch!! There is a short nature trail adjacent to the visitor center and I managed to capture this little fellow in one of the cactus plants:

Cactus Wren in Chainlink Cholla

Unfortunately, the interpretive display in the visitor center was closed due to Covid so we did not get to see it but the rangers who were set up at an outside table were extremely helpful in answering any questions we had about the park. To avoid any truck travel on our first day, we decided to hike the Victoria Mine Trail which has its starting point right at the campground. It’s a 5-mile out and back hike that winds through the “green desert” and passes by the site of the old Victoria Mine.

The park was established in 1937 as a national monument but prior to this area getting the protective status of a national monument, there were an abundance of ranches and mining operations in the area. The Victoria Mine is one of the oldest silver mines in SW Arizona. It operated sporadically until 1976 when the designation of the national monument to wilderness status ceased all special use permits for mining.

Heading onto the trail
Ravens always fascinate us!
Victoria Mine Trail winding through the desert

The Sonoran Desert is rich with a diversity of vegetation – from Saguaro cactus and Organ Pipe Cactus to Palo Verde trees and Creosote Bush to several species of Cholla. This area is known as the “green desert” and I can certainly see why! I learned there are two distinct Sonoran desert communities within the national monument – the Lower Colorado Valley and the Arizona Upland communities – each with their own unique characteristics.

The multi-stemmed trunks of an Organ Pipe Cactus in the foreground
Saguaro skeleton!

The site of the Victoria Mine has several distinguishing features – including stone ruins, abandoned mine shafts and artifacts strewn across the landscape.

Ruins of an old store at the property
View through the ruins

There are numerous mine shafts in the area that have been barricaded off to prevent accidents and also to protect a bat population!

Mine Shaft barricade

I was surprised to learn that bats use the mine shafts as outlined on this informational sign at the site. Although I do believe that maybe the sign could use some updating! It was one of several signs and the only one that was legible.

Jim trying to see how deep the shaft is!

There was an informative sign that explained some of the geology behind the exposure of veins of gold and silver in the area. Fascinating!

In addition to the stone ruins and mine shafts, there were lots of artifacts littering the ground – from piles of old tin cans to pieces of left-over equipment.

Walking along the trail, we found lots of green rock and wondered what it was – some sort of volcanic rock?

Green rock?? Anyone know what it is?

And of course I never tire of finding cool cacti to photograph!! Some sort of barrel cactus, type of hedgehog cactus and chain link cholla below.

Watch out for those spines!!

A fun day on the Victoria Mine Trail. Along the way, we saw cactus wrens, Gambel’s quail, Gila woodpeckers and a whole bunch of lizards!

Stay tuned for more Organ Pipe Cactus NM adventures!! Next up will be our 21-mile drive on the Ajo Mountain Drive with a couple of cool hikes along the way!

4 Comments on “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Adventure

  1. Regarding the green rock which sent me searching, I offer the following (I’m definitely not a geology expert): There were copper mines in Ajo so copper oxide on the surface of rocks is a possibility. There have also been volcanos in SW AZ so Greenstone a metamorphic rock is a possibility, although it is described as rare and no solid Google hits on that one. Olivine is an igneous rock of non gemstone quality (Peridot being the gemstone) which exists in AZ. My throws into your desert ballfield could be strikes, balls or possibly a base hit. Ajo must have a local rock hound who can answer your question. Stewart

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