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Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness

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A lone clump of green cactus surrounded by scraggly brush, leading up the slope behind, to high sandstone arches and jumbled ridges.
Library image #1174: Organ Pipe National Monument

Introduction

The United States Congress designated the Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness (map) in 1978 and it now has a total of 312,600 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Arizona and is managed by the National Park Service. The Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness is bordered by the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness to the west.

Description

Located at the heart of the vast and lush Sonoran Desert, 329,199-acre Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument hugs the Mexican border and celebrates a desert full of life: 550 species of vascular plants, 53 species of mammals, 43 species of reptiles, and more than 278 species of birds. The monument conserves 90% of the organ pipe cactus' range in the US. The organ pipe is a large multispined cactus rare in the United States. In May, June, and July, the organ pipe blooms at night, its lavender-white flowers opening after the sun goes down, when the desert awakens to elf owls, kangaroo rats, javelinas, coyotes, jackrabbits, and many snakes. Bighorn sheep and lizards roam during the day.

From Mount Ajo at 4,024 feet, atop the Ajo Range on the eastern border, the land falls away to broad alluvial desert plains studded with cacti and creosote bushes, isolated canyons, dry arroyos, and stark desert mountains. Summer temperatures have been known to reach an unbelievably scorching 120 degrees Fahrenheit, but winter brings daytime temperatures in the 60s and chilly nights. About 95 per-cent of the monument has been designated Wilderness, making this Arizona's third largest Wilderness.

No reliable water sources exist in Organ Pipe Cactus except at the 208-site campground near the visitors center. The camp is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis for a fee. The National Park Service maintains few trails. Due to border issues being experienced in the park, cross-country hiking is only allowed in select areas of the monument. Despite this limitation the park still offers some of the best desert hiking in America. Check in with the park's rangers to inquire about the current areas that are open.

Planning to Visit the Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.



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