Friday, February 7, 2020

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument & Kartchner Caverns - January 2020

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version & highlighted text are links to additional information

Part four of our winter adventure. Click here for Part Three.

Water in the Desert

We attempted to use Sunday to our advantage. It was the end of the weekend and our thought was it would be a good time to arrive at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We wanted to stay at the tiny primitive campground at Alamo Canyon. We weren't interested in the large Twin Peaks Campground near the Visitors Center. After so many nights alone, it would be far too much of a culture shock for us.

We arrived at noon and found three of the four campsites available. So far so good.

The temperature was 69°, the warmest thus far on our trip. It was perfect weather to start up Alamo Canyon.

The Lady was intrigued by all the fruit on the cholla. She picked two of the fruit. I'll leave it to her to tell you that story sometime. It involved a lot of time spent with tweezers.

We found the decaying adobe walls of the original ranch house next to the more modern line cabin for cattle grazing.

The mix of organ pipe and saguaros in this lush Sonoran Desert landscape was the highlight, especially with their ability to grow almost anywhere.

We were thrilled to find flowing water in this canyon, an unexpected surprise for us.

Water is a precious resource that would have been used by past inhabitants. A quick look around and we located several bedrock mortars.

We found a primitive petroglyph depiction of a sheep.

The best part was taking in the sound of flowing water in this desert environment.

Also up canyon was an old corral.

Water is no longer diverted from the creek.

A large mesquite stood at the corral entrance.

We ventured further up canyon but not without being warned.

With never a need to hurry, we turned back down the trail.

As the afternoon waned, we took in the spectacular changing light.

The campground filled around dinner time. We walked after dinner and enjoyed the night sky.

We left the campground the next morning with the spreading first light.

After a stop at the Visitor's Center, we turned north and then east.

Where was our next stop? We really didn't know either. There were possibilities of course, but what one would we choose?

With the availability of a campsite and tours of the magnificent caverns confirmed with a phone call, we drove to Katchner Caverns State Park and settled into a campsite.


The campground is excellent. All sites have electrical hook ups so the horrid drone of generators is eliminated. The restrooms are heated and include hot showers. A nice trail system got us away from the developed area and we returned well after dark from our first go 'round of the Foothills Loop Trail.

We did both cavern tours the next day, one in the morning and the second in the early afternoon. Karthcner is a living cavern, it is wet and the formations are still growing. The year round temperature inside is 70° and with the 99% humidity, it feels like 80°. It is warm and moist. If you're into caverns, add Kartchner to your list.

We hiked all the trails in the afternoon. The Lady, of course. led the way.

She resisted the temptation to discover more wonders of the cholla fruit.

Taking a quick look up a small drainage, we found signs of ancient habitation.

I must share a story about Julie and her binoculars.

She, of course, has multiple pairs of see mores. Pictured above is her pair of Vortex binoculars. These usually clip to the strap on her large daypack and therefore do not have the straps attached. For a short little hike like this she uses her small Nikons but................................

First the left eyepiece broke, we sent it in, it was repaired under warranty. Then the right eyepiece broke, we sent it in, it was replaced with a new pair (model) under warranty. Just got it back, in fact. Back in the Mojave National Preserve, the Lady asked me to look through the Nikons. "They don't seem right," she said. "I can't focus them."

I took a look. "Well, there are two images, one above the other. Is this the first time you've looked through them since dropping them out of the truck?"

"You saw that? They didn't drop far. I've dropped my other pair lots more times and higher drop then that. They still work."

"What?" I asked.

"See mores get dropped," she explained. "They are used outside. They should still work."

"Well apparently they don't, at least these Nikons. They are broke."

"I don't want to send them back again!" the Lady complained.

"Well I don't think dropping and breaking them is covered under warranty. It will cost this time," I replied.

"I'll drop them again and see if that fixes them."

"Don't even think about it!" I finished.

And so the Lady used her Vortex pair of see mores with her prusik loop attached so she doesn't lose them and keeps them in reach..

"Does the banging on your belly bother you?" I asked.

"What banging?"

The Ocotillo Trail gave nice views across the San Pedro Valley to the east and all the way to Tombstone to the southeast.

At an elevation above 4600 feet, this was a different, higher ecosystem than our other stops in Arizona thus far.

Late afternoon was a perfect time to hike these loop trails.

We packed up the next morning. Our adventure was undergoing a bit of a change. We were going to Oracle. 

Click here for Part Five.

I should let you know. It was inevitable. The Lady dropped the Nikons again. Did the trick. They are working fine. 


  1. Great trip and photos. Have been to a few of the same places, but just go more added. Dropped binicolars - oh boy....

    1. Taku, thanks! The opportunities for exploration are almost endless!

  2. The shot of the moonlit saguaros and Orion is a top-notch composition -- well done!