AZ – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture

It’s the second day driving the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive loop. The previous day I’d hiked Arch Canyon and since I’d gone much further than planned, this hike got delayed by a day. When I reached Bull Pasture once again I couldn’t stop.

Looking toward Mexico and down at Ajo Mountain Drive.

The Peak Finder App is so helpful. You can take a photo and align the named peaks. I was told you can also reach the summit off this trail.

I liked looking down at the trail I’d hiked as well as the large rock outcropping.

The colors of the rock mixed with the green vegetation was spectacular but I just wasn’t successful capturing with my camera.

This is appropriately named Teddy Bear Pass . . . but make no mistake those cholla are NOT cuddly!

First of the season Fiddlenecks.

Mariposa lily.

Not sure on this one, possibly a lupine or blue bell?

Phacelia

These are very similar to that pictured above. They are called Scorpionweed for a reason. They smell like onion and can leave you with a rash much like poison oak or ivy. The easy way to tell the difference is the yellow stamen.

I’m intrigued with the juxtaposition of typical mountain flowers mixed with desert vegetation.

I found a large batch of monkey flower near a seep.

Look at all the babies on this organ cactus.

This looks like possibly a cat claw. Maybe I’ll forgive their pokey stems since they offer flowers in exchange.

This 4.25 mile route took me 5 hours. It was less technical than the Arch Canyon route but still provided plenty of challenges with 1,200 feet of climbing.

While driving the Ajo Mountain Drive loop, I found this orange heart on the mountain. Is it poppies? Is it natural or was it shaped?

A few other reminders you are near the border with Mexico.

It’s time to run elsewhere. It’s getting much too hot for this gal. By the time you read this, I’ll consider these optimal temps.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 24, 2019

Tips(s):

  • Camping is available both at the campground and on nearby public land.
  • A benefit for the campground is showers included in the campground fee. Unreserved sites don’t become available until after 11am.
  • Gila Bend, Ajo and Why are nearest towns for groceries, gas, etc.
  • You’ll go through an Immigration Checkpoint leaving Organ Pipe heading back toward Ajo. It was an interesting and intimidating experience.

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arch Canyon

Sunrise provided some color but from the campground, photographic opportunities were limited. From my campsite it was a morning to say goodbye to the moon.

On this day, my goal was to hike Arch Canyon and Estes Canyon Bull Pasture trails along Ajo Mountain Drive, a 21-mile dirt/gravel road.

Once again I was reminded to be on alert, especially as a solo hiker.

It seemed I was the only one on the road around 8:30am so was happy I could stop and admire views and take photos as I desired.

I believe that’s Tillotson Peak.

First view of THE arch, and if you look carefully the double arch. There’s a tiny arch on top of the big arch.

Hike #2: Arch Canyon

Trail details. The plan was to hike the .6 miles on the maintained trail.

Since I was tracking wildflower blooms on this spring jaunt, I was thrilled to find poppies.

The trail was lined with my favorite happy flower.

I found the first Owl Clover of the season.

First Blue Dicks of the season.

First Larkspur.

You just can’t seem to get away from the warnings, as I said it reminded me of grizzly country.

So when I got to end of maintained trail . . .

This cairn may have called my name. I tried fighting the calling.

When the route was like this it was difficult to resist the pull.

A gift along the way. Wonder what it is?

There were a few remaining potholes full of water for the wildlife, now that’s a gift.

Desert penstemon tangled with a ocotillo.

Verbena

Chicory

Always doing my part to clean up after others.

Where is this trail taking me?

The outcroppings sure were pretty.

I found some incredible views. That’s looking back down onto Ajo Mountain Drive. Hmmm . . .  I hiked from way down there. I guess I won’t be doing the other planned hikes today. Might as well keep going and see where this “trail” takes me.

That’s Mt Ajo, which supposedly you can climb from both this trail as well as the Estes Canyon / Bull Pasture trail. This rock had so much color and definition to the naked eye but my camera just wasn’t able to provide good images even with a little editing.

This cairn marked my turnaround spot. I tried finding the backside of the arch but finally just had to cry uncle.

And then what did I stumble upon following one of the many cairn routes? Why yes, that’s THE backside of THE arch! If you look closely you can see a use trail to the arch. I found the way but it would have taken a lot more effort than I had left in me so this distant view was the best I was going to get on this day.

This 3.25 mile route took me over four hours. It provided more than enough physical and technical challenges for me on this day.

After leaving Arch Canyon, I stopped along the way for flowers and views, including this one of a Fairy Duster.

The massive amounts of mallow was impressive.

I stopped by the visitor center to ask a few questions and learn a bit more about the park. In so doing, I learned about Kris Eggle for whom the visitor center is named.

I also collected my I Hiked for Health pin. This is my fourth I believe. It’s an Arizona parks program. I wish more would do it to encourage movement and exploration beyond the vehicle or campgrounds.

I drove up Puerto Blanco Drive to Pinkley Peak viewpoint for sunset.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 23, 2019

Tips(s):

  • Camping is available both at the campground and on nearby public land.
  • A benefit for the campground is showers included in the campground fee. Unreserved sites don’t become available until after 11am.
  • Gila Bend, Ajo and Why are nearest towns for groceries, gas, etc.

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Victoria Mine and Desert View Trails

Remember when I said a few posts ago I was on a wildflower safari. This park was on my list although I knew I might be a bit late and it might be warmer than I’d prefer. This was the first time during my travels I’d been in the southwest corner of the state. So as I say, “the time is now!”

The warnings reminded me of being in grizzly bear territory. It’s enough to make me uncomfortable but not scared.

With the security concerns, I elected to stay in the park campground. I really liked their available campsite system. If the placard was yellow it showed reservation, if green available. A serious problem though is that each road is one-way so you might need to drive in circles multiple times before locating a spot. I also liked that they had separate areas for generators and for tent/car campers but the price was the same regardless.

Hike #1: Victoria Mine to Desert View

The terrain is fairly friendly for off-trail travel although you have to be on alert for stickery prickeries. The park encourages such exploration as long as you adhere to LNT and soil preservation guidelines. I created a loop to connect the two trails with the goal at being at the right place for sunset.

Look at this interesting cactus growing out of this dead-ish cactus.

I believe these are Fishhook pincushion cactus. So tiny. Gotta watch your foot placement constantly when off trail.

New growth on an Organ Pipe cactus.

As I approached what I thought was the summit, the light was looking good to catch sunset. Yep, just me and my shadow.

The views kept improving as I found more summits to climb.

The park’s namesake cactus and the campground. Another benefit for staying in the campground are trails within walking distance.

Evening colors, no complaints here. I’d call this a happy Jan on night #1 of her first visit.

It was interesting to learn how plants grow within plants for naturally improved odds of survival.

This was a 3.5 mile jaunt.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 22, 2019

Tips(s):

  • Camping is available both at the campground and on nearby public land.
  • A benefit for the campground is showers included in the campground fee. Unreserved sites don’t become available until after 11am.
  • Gila Bend, Ajo and Why are nearest town for groceries, gas, etc.

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Painted Rock Petroglyph Site

As I traveled from Yuma toward Organ Pipe, I saw an opportunity to stretch my legs.

They provided helpful interpretive signage to help explain these petroglyphs and the history of the area.

WHO MADE THESE PETROGLYPHS? Many of the petroglyphs at Painted Rocks were authored by people from nearby villages along the Gila River. The closest villages were less than two miles to the north and west—a 20-minute walk away. People lived there year-round, farming on the floodplain. Archaeologists attribute the earliest of these communities to the Hohokam and Patayan cultural traditions. During the Spanish colonial era (1699–1821), explorers met descendant communities of O’odham-speaking “Pimas” and “Papagos” and Yuman-speaking “Cocomaricopas” living in nearby villages. Today, we know them by their own names: Akimel O’Odham, Tohono  O’Odham, Hia C’ed O’Odham, and Piipaash. Several other contemporary Native American tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Baja California recognize ancestral connections to Hohokam and Patayan traditions and cultural properties. These include Quechan, Cocopah, Yavapai, and Mojave, among others.” Source: Archaeology Southwest,

A highlight for me was getting to see a couple lizards, I believe collared lizards. Crappy photo, I know but best I could get from a distance.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 22, 2019

Tips(s):

  • Camping is available both at the campground and on nearby BLM land.
  • Gila Bend is nearest town for groceries, gas, etc.

Resources:

Links:

CA – Picacho State Recreation Area

While visiting my friend Petra in the Yuma Arizona area, she invited me to join her for an adventure in Picacho, the California Picacho not the Arizona Picacho. How confusing! More so as I had the Arizona park on my list for chasing wildflowers and had never heard of the California park.

Of course I said YES. I love new adventures and especially ones recommended by friends. You all know by now I’m an opportunist and when opportunity arises I usually say YES!  This park is 25 miles north of Yuma and includes the Colorado River as well mining history and colorful badlands. Upon arrival, we were joined by Petra’s friend Lorene and hiked the Picacho Mills Historic Trail.

According to park interpretive literature, “the colored slopes are natural formations of volcanic tuff. Minerals cause the color variations.” As one who loves this type of geology, I was in heaven. That’s the Colorado River a haven for folks who enjoy fishing and boating.

The trails are in good condition and easy to follow, however they are made of decomposed rock so can be slippery.

The Beavertail cactus were just beginning to bloom. The bright pink was such a standout among the otherwise barren landscape.

The history is interesting.

Such fun to experience an area long loved by new friends Petra and Lorene.

Later that evening we were joined by another friend Jan, what two Jans? Ha! We hiked up Red Mountain.

We were treated to views like this.

What a fun hike. So great getting to hang with new friends.

Later that evening, we took a short jaunt to the river where the group was catfishing. Would this spooky full moon result in good fishing? YES!

We stayed in the park campground where I said good morning as the moon said goodbye for another day.

Temperatures can be unpleasantly hot as this is the Sonoran Desert. In fact the park brochure indicates huge swings in temperatures from 20F in the winter to 120F in the summer. Since I was still in winter mode, anything above 70 seemed hot. Thus we got an early start. I’d provide a photo of the lake . . . but it’s dried up.

The hike though is mostly on ridges, definitely my preference.

Thank you Petra for being an amazing host and adventure partner.

This shows what I believe are the maintained hiking trails but there are many roads and others to be explored. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 20-21, 2019

Tips(s):

  • This park seems to be under visited in part due to it’s remoteness. Be prepared to drive 18 dirt miles, rough but okay for most any car. Call or visit the web site to check on current road conditions.
  • Plan to stay in the park campground although there is nearby public land available for dispersed camping. A benefit to staying in the campground is showers as well as much more walkable access to trails and the river.
  • The best time to visit is mid-October through mid-April.

Resources:

Links:

Photo Credit: Lorene

AZ – Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Palm Canyon

After 1,700 miles of driving over the past couple weeks, I said goodbye to California but couldn’t resist this short stop to admire Salton Sea and the surrounding geology. Sad to learn about it’s shrinkage and negative impact on wildlife.

Hello Arizona! Have you missed me?

I found myself in the middle of a butterfly migration. It was crazy seeing the thousands flying through traffic on Interstate 10. Sadly more than a few found themselves splattered across my car.

You know you’re in Arizona when . . .

I stopped in Quartzsite and was so disappointed in the quality of the library and services after my time in Borrego Springs where everything exceeded expectations. But when I drove toward the refuge and saw the beautiful Kofa Mountains all was forgotten.

I stopped at the kiosk on Palm Canyon  Road.

As I drove Palm Canyon Road in the late afternoon, I got this first view of the the area I planned to hike the following day.

Lighting was good for photography, so I stopped to explore further.

There was a sign at the informational kiosk indicating Big Horn Sheep so I was pretty excited to be welcomed by this little guy. It’s the only one I saw during my entire visit.

There are great dispersed camping options along the road. The Reserve has done a great job making designated areas for camping which provides plenty of privacy. I hiked a nearby knoll to watch sunset.

Sunset colors were phenomenal.

I like to align my car to capture morning sun.

There is a light use trail around the front of the mountain. Per internet research I found there’s a route around the mountain. The first day I hiked to the north. After about a mile the use trail disappeared. There were multiple cairns which could be followed but they were all over the place making it a bit easier to just make your own trail. I called it my Etch-A-Sketch hike.

I found a few blooms along the way including this Broomrape.

Phacelia and poppies.

Poppy love.

Ghost Flowers.

Globe Mallow.

After hiking for a few hours I arrived at this feature just before the Queen Canyon Road.

I loved the shapes and colors of the mountains.

I’d heard the palms in the canyon were only visible mid afternoon due to sun position and shadows. This was at 2:50pm and only the lower half was visible.

This is the canyon where the palms are hidden. According to the handouts these are the only native palm trees in Arizona and they are California Fan Palms. In 1986 42 trees were counted.

After my hike I saw this guy preparing to go out overnight. He was with three others who were not armed. This is a very family friendly trail. It was very disturbing to see someone going out with such armory.

I was delighted by another nice sunset my second night.

I hiked south along the front of the mountain the next day. You won’t hear me complain when there’s flowers.The use trail disappeared much sooner going south and there were far fewer cairns.

I was told by another hiker the palms were fully in the sun around noon so I hiked up earlier my second day. I arrived at 11am and waited until 11:30am. The sun still had a long way to go so I accepted what I got.

The only designated hiking trail in Kofa is the short one to the view the palms. There are many use trails and roads in the preserve but many of the roads are only accessible by raised 4×4 or ATV. If you’d like to hike maintained trails, check out those in nearby Dome Valley like Muggins Mountain. My friend Petra lives nearby and introduced me to the area. Loved the geology.

Here it is mid-March and temps are increasing quickly.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 14-19, 2019

Tips(s):

  • I found the travel center truck stops at the junction of I-10 and Hwy 95 were a great option for a shower. Pilot had a shorter line and nicer place to wait vs Love’s but both were extremely busy and noisy. Pilot also has free WiFi whereas Love’s charges.

Resources:

Links:

CA – Anza Borrego State Park, Mountain Palm Springs Loop

My friend Randy recommended this loop trail which wanders through several native palm groves as well as a Torote grove. I was curious about the Torote tree after my hike in Torote Canyon, so it seemed like a great choice. This loop trail is detailed on Borrego Hiking (link). This route does require a bit of navigation as the groves are not clearly marked and one could get turned around quite easily. I recommend using a tracker such as Gaia.

My friend Rockin’ aka Christy of Lady on a Rock joined me for this jaunt.

The signage at the beginning of the hike tells about these native palms. It’s hard to imagine such a dry arid area once being full of lush vegetation.

There are several groves to be discovered as you hike the loop. Some are larger than others and some in better condition. There is even evidence of fire supposedly caused by arsonist.

Some palms were tall and skinny, others short and squat. These were the beefy variety. Notice Rockin’ for comparison.

Some groves were in canyons, other in bowls.

Figuring out a way to the next grove was sometimes challenging as there were quite a few use trails.There was a fair amount of up, down and around as we traversed between groves.

The palms aren’t alone, they have barrel cactus for friends.

We enjoyed spring blooms. Thanks for the photo Rockin’.

Some palms had hanging fruit.

To wear a skirt or not?

Sometimes the groves were quite small.

This is how you hike in the palms. Photo credit: Rockin’.

There is something for everyone. 

A couple of days prior I hiked a route including Torote Canyon which had information on the Torote or Elephant Tree. But to find the elusive tree, I needed this hike.

It’s called Elephant Tree because the trunk and limbs are much larger than the leaves.

This hummingbird moth was a highlight of our day. So interesting.

Borrego Springs celebrates it’s past with several huge sculptures depicting creates which may have roamed this land.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 13, 2019

Tips:

  • For park and area information, go to the Anza Borrego State Park store in “The Mall” in Borrego Springs. They will give you the same information as the visitor center which costs $10 to park. Save that fee until you are ready to spend a day in that particular area of the park hiking the associated trails. There is no fee elsewhere in this state park.
  • Dispersed camping is readily available. Ask for map at the park store or visitor center.
  • If you end up in Ocotillo Wells, ask about the showers. It was a great option and $1 for 4 minutes.
  • The library in Borrego Springs is the best small town library I’ve visited. It’s an extension of San Diego and has the latest technology. They leave the WiFi on and have a back patio for use when they are closed. Another free WiFi option is in Christmas Circle, which includes restrooms, shade, picnic tables, charging outlets, etc.
  • You can refill gallons of water for 30 cents at Center Market.
  • Ocotillo Wells has an amazing educational center, all for free including a wildflower guide.

Resources:

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