Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument… A Photographic Exploration of America’s National Parks

Saguaro Cactus in Organ Pipe National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

While Organ Pike cactus give the National Monument its name, Multi-limbed Saguaro give it character. The power lines in the background are headed for the Visitors’ Center.

Organ Pipe National Monument had been on my bucket list for a long time. I liked its remote feel, how it hugged the Mexican Border, and how the only way to get there was via a small, rural road.

What surprised me were the number of Border Patrol police and their extensive network of roadblocks. I felt like I had left the US and entered a police state. People with guns to shoot you, dogs to sniff out your innermost secrets, and X-ray machines to probe your car make me nervous.  It didn’t matter if I was innocent, I felt guilty.

On top of the national paranoia over illegal immigrants, there was Arizona’s unique twist on the issue. Mexican-Americans and Mexicans were guilty until proved innocent.

As an aside, Peggy and I were on a bus to the small Mexican town of San Sebastian in the Sierra Madre Mountains last week. Our guide asked where we were all from and one couple announced they were from Arizona.

“Aha!” the guide proclaimed to the couple, “You must show me your passports.” He was joking and we all laughed, including the couple. But his point was made. What if people from Arizona had to carry special papers when they traveled in Mexico and were regularly stopped by police?

Politics aside, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was, um, filled with cacti. There were mighty Saguaro, whip-like Ocotillo, Barrel Cactus, Organ Pipe Cactus, Cholla, and round Prickly Pears that something with a large mouth had been eating. We got up early in the morning to miss the midday heat and followed a winding trail out into the desert. Dark clouds hung over the mountains; birds were busy announcing the day. Curiosity pulled us off the trail but sharp thorns required that we walk with care. The dark of early morning gradually gave way to bright sun.

Organ Pipe National Monument in early morning light. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Early morning sun broke through the dark clouds and provided enough light to walk by. Sort of. Running into cactus thorns is not fun.

Two Saguaros and an Organ Pipe Cactus in Organ Pipe national Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An Organ Pipe Cactus grows between two Saguaros.

Misty mountains in Organ Pipe National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I loved this photo of the misty, almost mystical mountains.

Organ Pipe National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Whip-like Ocotillo Cactus grows behind fuzzy Cholla.

The "bones' of a Saguaro at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The “bones” of a Saguaro.

Cactus garden in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A cactus garden with an Organ Pipe Cactus on the left. It’s easy to see why care is required when walking off trail.

Organ Pipe Cactus in Organ Pipe National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson

A mature Organ Pipe Cactus. Note the small holes in the top where birds nest.

Multi-armed Saguaro Cactus in Arizona. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I’ll close today’s blog with a Saguaro who didn’t quite know what to do with its arms.

NEXT BLOG: We are off to Dinosaur National Monument where the big lizards roamed.


23 comments on “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument… A Photographic Exploration of America’s National Parks

  1. Yikes, backed into a prickly pear on a lawnmower once and have had a healthy respect for cacti ever since. Don’t envy you the police state experience but the land, cacti and mountains look wonderful.

  2. I have prickly pear memories too (living in Gibraltar aged 4-5-6), they were delicious if you could only get in. Love the atmosphere in the photos, but chilled by the feel of Mexican border. Thank you for the laugh at the end.

    • I pre-posted my blogs since I am playing in Mexico. Yesterday I realized that I had posted the immigration problem on Thanksgiving (and Peggy and my Anniversary). It’s an important issue but I would have saved for another day… –Curt

  3. I don’t know why I feel such affection for Saguaro. I suppose it’s the gangly limbs. Well, and the funny video that explains their role in the propagation of tumbleweeds.

    I don’t know if I’d have the whatever to make a trip down there to see them, now. It’s a little rough, even away from the border.

    • I, too, love Saguaros, Linda… it’s like they have a sense of humor. I pre posted the blog as I explained to Hilary, not realizing it would fall on Turkey Day. Otherwise I would have posted photos of turkeys in love. (grin) –Curt

  4. Wow, you do visit some fascinating places Curt. The cacti here are magnificent, it looks like a gorgeous place. What a shame that there is such a strong police presence – I totally relate to the notion of feeling guilty even if you’re innocent. It is very intimidating isn’t it.

  5. As long as I live, I will never understand why we have borders within this world.. Last time I checked, us humans did not create this planet therefore why are we allowed to regulate who goes where.. insanity..
    off my soap box now… Cacti and I had a run in a few years back hence I only get as close to them in pictures now. 😉

    Happy belated Thanksgiving to you and Peggy!

    • We can only hope that our children of the future will get beyond extreme nationalism, and the other isms. I suspect that the future of humanity will be tied into that capability.

  6. Hi Curt, I’ve always loved the Saguaros, and now I’m enthralled with the Organ Pipes, too. Beautiful photos. You made an interesting observation about exploring the Arizona-Mexico border. I guess as travelers we’re used to always having our documents with us, but you don’t think about it when you’re home. ~Terri

    • Actually, I’ve often run into checkpoints and men with guns in other countries, as I am sure you have Terri. It goes with the territory. But it doesn’t fit my concept of the US. –Curt

  7. Hi, now that I’ve lived in Arizona I’ve begun to realize just how problematic bordering Mexico is. It shouldn’t be and for the most part I fault Congress for avoiding its duties, but I also know a lot, lot, lot of drugs come up through there which is an ugly business. While the border patrol is out there unafraid to use force, it also has rescued half dead poor souls only trying to make a living. What’s supremely self-righteous, in my opinion, is now that Mexico is developing a middle class and economics are better Arizona has suddenly wondered why it doesn’t get it’s share of international trade compared to other states. If I were a Mexican consul I’d tell us to shape up our act first. Well, I could go on….and I so love the cactus, too. They are a poet’s muse and a dying, thirsty man’s last sight.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I know the issue is complex. The drug business is ugly… ugly for what it does to Mexico and ugly for what it does to us. I certainly don’t know the solution but what we have done so far doesn’t seem to work. A start might be to legalize Marijuana, tax the heck out of it, and use the money raised for prevention. I put together a tobacco tax in California in 1986 known as Proposition 99 and made sure that a significant proportion of the money went into discouraging tobacco use. California went from having one of the highest incidents of tobacco use to one of the lowest in America. The California Health Department figures it has saved over a million lives since and saved the tax payers billions of dollars. I bring this up simply because I believe there can be solutions to difficult, drug related problems. –Curt

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