Nestled in the heart of the Sonoran Desert in Ajo, Arizona, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve where visitors can learn about history, ecology, and geology while experiencing the great outdoors. The monument provides several campsites for both RV and tent-based campers. These include the Kris Eggle Visitor Center, Twin Peaks Campground, and Alamo Canyon Campground. With a variety of scenic hikes, picturesque driving routes, and even equestrian trails, the monument’s many treasures can be discovered in a variety of ways.
The original inhabitants of the land now dedicated to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument were the Hohokam Native Americans. This culture was divided into two separate cultures now known as the Tohono O'odham and the Hia-Ced O'odham cultures. Europeans started arriving in the 16th century. By the late 17th century, a prominent trade route known as the Camino del Diablo was established by Father Eusebio Kino, who was also responsible for introducing livestock grazing to the area. In addition to mining, ranching remained a big part of the local economy up until FDR designated this area as the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The mid-20th century saw the creation of the Park Service Visitor Center, the first campgrounds and the rehabilitation of Quitobaquito Springs. After the last cattle were removed from the park, UNESCO declared this site as an International Biosphere Reserve. It remains one of 56 such sites in the United States and attracts scientists from around the world, who conduct studies that help us better understand the impact of humanity on this unique landscape. In the 1990s, the area began to see an increase in illegal drug smuggling and cross-border criminal activity, prompting the construction of a vehicle barrier aimed to address this issue. The completion of the vehicle barrier and pedestrian fence, as well as the addition of a border patrol station, all contributed to increased security of the monument, which saw its visitation rates increase by 25% in 2015.
The ecosystem within which the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is located is home to a variety of animals. Despite their reclusive nature, the desert bighorn sheep, an animal widely seen as emblematic of the Western canons and deserts, can be spotted on occasion. Most active in the early mornings and evenings, they are known for their beautiful curving horns and light-colored fur.
Bird watching enthusiasts will have ample opportunities to observe several avian species as they move along their migratory flyways over the monument. A staggering total of 270 species of birds has been spotted at the monument over the years. Of these, 36 species have been designated as resident species. Among these, the elf owl, northern cardinal, and Costa’s hummingbird are just a few. Visitors keen on observing the winged wonders are advised to congregate around Ajo Mountain Drive, Twin peaks Campground, and the Kris Eggle Visitor center.
A remarkable desert oasis located within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Quitobaquito Springs offers a remarkable array of ecological wonders. The oldest artifacts that have been discovered in this area date back 16,000 years. The area’s first inhabitants were the Hia-Ced O'odham and the Tohono O'odham people. Back then, the region was part of the Old Salt Trail, which transported goods such as salt, obsidian, and seashells from salt beds located in Sonora, Mexico. Father Eusebio Francisco Kino was one of the area’s first European inhabitants. Almost 200 years later, Andrew Dorsey expanded the spring, deepening it and adding a dam. Over the years, the area underwent many transformations that included further expansion and the installation of a parking lot and hiking trails to accommodate visitors. Due to the park’s intensive focus on preservation, visitors can see a myriad of the spring’s unique animal inhabitants. Among these are the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish, Sonoyta mud turtles, and the Quitobaquito spring snail.
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has many mountains named after people who have been influential in its development. One such peak, called Kino Peak, shares its name with one of the first missionaries who settled in the area. Father Eusebio Francisco Kino was a multi-talented individual who was known as an explorer, cosmographer, geographer, and writer. During his lifetime, he was instrumental in establishing missions all over Arizona, New Mexico, and Sonora, Mexico.
Montezuma’s Head Monolith can be found north of the Ajo Mountains. This natural monument is composed from layers upon layers of volcanic rock. Beyond its natural beauty, this landmark holds a great deal of cultural significance for the Tohono O'odham and Hia-Ced O'odham nations, who still pay homage to the site. This sacred place features prominently in the stories and legends of the Native Americans who live in the area.
10 Organ Pipe Drive, Ajo, AZ 85321, Phone: 520-387-6849