Early in our travels we learned that you can't go wrong visiting a national park or monument. These special places preserve something rare, unique or wonderful and are always worthwhile to visit. Organ Pipe National Monument is off the beaten trail extending to the US/Mexico border. Mexico has a national park, El Picante, abutting it south of our border. Together both parks work together to monitor projects such as wildlife migration, climate and weather trends and human impacts on park resources. From our perspective this is the only place in the US where one can see the Organ Pipe cactus which gives the park on our side its name.
Although the organ pipe cactus resembles the saguaro which we have enjoyed all around Tucson, it cannot endure freezing temperatures and flourishes in hotter and drier zones. When a saguaro seed hits the ground, it needs shade from a nearby plant to begin growing. These plants are called nurse trees and once the saguaro is big enough, the nurse dies because it no longer can compete for moisture. Organ pipes grow best on south facing slopes with little vegetation near them. At night the rocks surrounding the plants release heat stored during the day to keep the plants from freezing.
Although there are some hiking trails, most visit the park by driving a 21 mile loop. You wouldn't think a 21 mile loop would have taken us all day to travel. It was a dirt road, but the scenery was so dramatic we could barely drive half a mile without stopping to take photographs. Spring is arriving and blooming flowers added to the beauty.
We saw many now familiar plants. The ocotillo were blooming. Some had bare limbs; others were dotted with tiny green leafs. The leaves come and go depending on how much water the plant has received. The palo verde which often serves as a nurse plant for the saguaro has a bright green trunk and branches, which photosynthesizes whether the plant has leaves or not. The teddy bear cholla, whose bright white thorns glisten in the sun and the chain fruit cholla, whose thorny joints break off at the least encounter with a passer by. All these amazing plants have developed survival mechanisms that allow them to turn the desert green and lush.