« Going offline | Main | The Endangered Visitor »

From Borrego Springs to Organ Pipe Cactus

Although the blog is “officially” paused for a few days, I find that after 17 months of daily entries I am compelled to write down some of my observations, lest I forget them. Things are happening so quickly and with such vibrant color that I can hardly keep track of them all; Both visual stimuli and personal encounters are engaging and exciting now that I am free of work concerns for a week, and I am finding that I notice more details. Even the tamales Eleanor made last night seemed to be full of subtle flavors, and so I ate more slowly and anticipated the next course: a slice of Dutch Apple pie left over from our visit with Mike & Sam last week. This is the delicious difference of vacation.

Along the road east from California there seemed to be more to explore than when we went westward, too. Coming down from Octotillo Wells we passed at least a dozen wonderful-looking spots for boondocking. You could spend a year in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and never spend a night in the same place. I wish we had time to try them all.

Then the shimmering blue stripe of the Salton Sea appeared. At first I thought it was a mirage, because I’d heard the Sea was slowly evaporating (which it is), but the Sea remains quite large. A lot of new development is underway on the west side, replacing what had been a very quite section of uninhabited desert. I don’t know who wants to live there beside a vanishing and overly-salty artificial lake with environmental problems, but apparently there is demand.

Along I-8 the highway passes through strange contrasts: stark desert bordered by canals filled with fresh water, then lush green landscapes, then desert again. In places the green is so widespread and rich with carrots, avocados, broccoli, and grass that it appears to be the norm, but then I would remind myself that every inch of that green is courtesy of irrigation. Without the canal system bringing water there would be little other than cactus.

There are many more things we’ll want to explore off I-8 later. There is a massive area of tall sand dunes where the four-wheelers play, parking their “toy hauler” RVs in flat spots near the highway. There are so many that they seem to form their own communities on the weekends. There is an interesting petroglyph site, and the RV mecca of Quartzite. There are Native American historical sites, and small towns.

In Yuma we stopped at a grocery store, and got a knock on the door from a couple that told us, “We’re one of the very few people full-timing in a Safari 30 bunkhouse!” I said, “Well, now you’ve met the other people full-timing in the Safari 30.” Turned out they had read the blog, knew about details of our trailer like our disc brake upgrade, and had subscribed to the magazine. This sort of chance meeting is happening more to us lately. I think we’re becoming notorious.

Let me try to convey where we are now. You drive along I-8 to a tiny truckstop town called Gila Bend. Pick up fuel there, because it’s going to be a long way before you see it again. From Gila Bend, take the lonely two-lane strip called AZ 85 straight south to Ajo, 60 miles away. In Ajo you can find some groceries, food, and gas, but only if the grocery is open (it wasn’t on Monday). Ajo is a tiny land-locked copper mining factory town, but the copper mine is closed and now most of the residents work for the Border Patrol.

Continue south through the intersection – hard to call it a “town” – called Why (and the “Why Not Café”), and about 25 miles later you’ll reach the formal entrance of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Orpi Ajo Mtns.jpg
The Ajo Range

Two things happen as you enter Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. First, the cactus starts to change to a mixture of saguaro and organ pipe, with other common Sonoran desert plants: ocotillo, creosote, prickly pear, palo verde, and cholla. Along the eastern side of the road the view is suddenly dominated by the jagged purple volcanic ridges of the Ajo Mountains, which look stunning in the late afternoon sun.

Second, you may encounter a Border Patrol checkpoint. They aren’t interested in people heading south, but it is commonplace to stop for a check when heading north. Usually this entails nothing more than a quick question from the agent before they wave you onward.

We arrived at Organ Pipe near sunset, so there was just time to dump the tanks, fill up with fresh water, and run over to Bert & Janie’s trailer, just a few spaces away. Emma insisted on a “super quick, quickest bike ride ever!” so we quickly unfolded the Birdy Bikes and pedaled around the campground to the setting sun.

It is warm here, as I had hoped. Last time we were here (January 2006) the nights were around 40 degrees with a strong cold wind. Now, in March, it is running 80-90 during the day and dropping only into the mid-60s at night. Bert & Janie have been sleeping with all windows and entry door open, with a fan running. Janie warned me not to come by their trailer late at night because she had the bear spray ready for an intruder.

Orpi sunset.jpg
Saguaro cactus pointing at Venus

It is rare that we get to sleep with the windows open, because it is usually too cold, too humid, too smoky from nearby campfires, or there is too much pollen. But in the dry desert it is remarkably comfortable, so it was with some glee that I opened all the windows for a night of really fresh air. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument offers no hookups, so there is no option for air conditioning at night, which is actually good since with AC we would have had the trailer sealed all night and not enjoyed the fine night air. We’ll do the same again tonight.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Please enter the security code you see here