We settled in for a three night stay at the National Monument campground called Twin Peaks (no utilities at their campsites). Normally we get enough power from our solar panels but it was overcast the entire three days so we had to run our generator twice a day for about 45 minutes to charge the batteries completely.
After getting settled we drove over to the Visitors Center where we watched a movie about the park. The National Monument is a 516 square mile “biosphere reserve” of rare cacti located in the Sonoran Desert.
One afternoon we drove along part of the southern boundary of the National Monument on the Puerto Blanco Drive which borders Mexico for 31 miles. We could see some of the wall separating the United States and Mexico in the distance, but were shocked to see this “border” along the boundary of the National Monument!
We looked and then asked each other if that could really be the only thing separating the two countries?? About that time a Border Patrol vehicle with two border agents came by and stopped to ask us if we were okay. We asked if that was really the border fence. They said yes and we commented on what a hard job they have and thanked them for their service.
We drove for about an hour and many many border patrol vehicles passed us as well as helicopters flying overhead. What a tough and dangerous job they have. A park brochure said the smuggling of drugs and humans goes on in the park. In 2013 there were over 4,000 arrests and approximately 100,000 pounds of marijuana seized just in the National Monument alone! At the Visitirs Center is a monument to a young park ranger named Kris Eggle who was killed in 2002 while attempting to apprehend illegal aliens. The National Monument Visitors Center is named the Kris Eggle Visitors Center in his memory.
It was not unusual to see signs like this in the park. Our first day in the National Monument we talked with a Park Ranger driving through the park and asked him about safety concerns. He told us most smugglers and migrants want to avoid detection and therefore avoid contact with people. But we did take extra precautions at the campsite and while hiking.
Speaking of hiking, we learned if we walked at least five miles in the park we would earn a park pin. We kept track of our hikes and on the last day we stopped by the Visitors Center and picked up our pins. We were pretty proud of them.
During our stay we took several nice hikes which were relatively easy except we had to walk on very rocky trails. A little hard on the feet but at least I didn’t have to do any rock scrambling which I detest.
This area is the furthest they grow north of Mexico and the only place they grow in large stands in the United States.
Our second day in the National Monument we drove a scenic road called the Ajo Mountain Drive that wound along the foothills of the Ajo Mountain Range for 21 miles. It was a dirt and gravel road and our car was really dusty by the time we finished! The Ranger at the Visitors Center gave us a driving guide that explained various stops along the way.
While we were very happy not to see any snakes, we were disappointed we did not see any wildlife other than birds. We were especially disappointed we did not hear any coyotes at night. We always heard them while in Tucson and felt certain we would hear them in this very remote park.
When we left the National Monument we drove through the tiny village of Why. Next to a gas station we saw a coyote and stopped to take his picture. Normally they are shy and hard to take their picture.
Next stop: Yuma, AZ where we will be for seven weeks through the Christmas and New Year holidays.
- A Saguaro cactus’ first arm appears at between 95-100 years of age. It reaches its full height with two or more arms at 200 years of age!
- Average height of the organ pipe cactus at maturity is fifteen feet.
- They were named organ pipe by the early settlers who thought they looked like church organ pipes.
- The organ pipe cactus produces its first flowers at around 35 years of age.
- Organ pipe cactus, unlike saguaros, live around 150 years.