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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The National Park Service literature states that the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is designated as an International Biosphere Reserve due to its unique eco system. What the literature fails to say is that since the park lies astride the Mexican border it is one of the main crossings for illegal aliens and is heavily monitored by the U.S. Border Patrol. It was unnerving to see patrol vans with armed troopers lurking behind cacti, in washes and along the side of the road. We were especially bummed when the park ranger explained that the scenic drive we had planned to take was closed due to the construction of a vehicle barrier along the border and wouldn’t be reopened until 2006.

In spite of the unsettling shadow of the law, we drove the scenic Ajo Mountain Drive (a 21 mile one way dirt road) and tried to focus on the extraordinary scenery. We had missed the main wildflower display by about three weeks, but the Ocotillo, with its long graceful stems, was in full bloom. The Ajo Mountains with their sharp peaks and ridges provide the perfect backdrop to viewing the multitude of cacti. The road guide we purchased at the visitor center provided educational information and helped us really see and appreciate the Sonoran Desert.

As we left the park we made a last minute decision to drive 5 miles south to the international border at Lukeville … better known as Gringo Pass. What a busy place. Cars were being searched on both sides of the border. We couldn’t decide whether to take the pedestrian walkway to the Mexican side, so we stayed in the US and visited a tax and duty free store. Here we found great prices on liquor … Seagram’s V.O. $8, Kaluha $10 and Tequila Herradura (silver) $18.

On our way home we had one last encounter with the Border Patrol. At a makeshift check point we were stopped and a uniformed trooper asked "How was it down there?".  Danny decided not to crack any jokes or try to speak in Spanish … and simply explained that we were not returning from Mexico but had just visited the National Monument. When we returned to the comfort of our Airstream we agreed that we were glad that we had seen the monument but that it would not be high on our list for a return visit.


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Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.

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