Organ Pipe – Or Up Against the Wall

We met good friends Jim and Janell in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Our first day it was too windy for a nice walk, so we drove – south, toward the Mexican Border. Just before hitting the border in Lukeville, New Mexico, we turned west, and drove on a dirt road along the famous wall. I guess I’d never given any thought to the composition of the wall, but it surprised me. It must be 20 or 30 feet tall. Its metal bars are spaced apart like vertical blinds… you can see through, but the gaps are only a few inches wide so no chance of slipping between them. The wall is topped with a solid metal strip, possibly 5 or 6 feet in height. It’s not the Great Wall of China by any stretch, but it is more imposing than I’d expected. And the oddest thing was a series of gates, people sized, bolted securely, spaced sporadically along the wall. Why so many? Why spaced apparently randomly? The wall obviously raises many questions!

Also strange, is that if you should happen to get across the wall (Very tall ladders? Batman style grappling hooks?) there are rescue stations scattered around, to aid in your survival. (It’s not really comfortable terrain around there!) Station 27 shown below has lights and a radio beacon. The pictures tell you to push the button, and it will signal help. It says to wait, and the position of the sun in the pictures tells you you might wait a while!

There are other less sophisticated aid stations, like this one. Marked with blue flags, they show locations of life-saving water.

Here is the actual border crossing facility in Lukeville.

Organ Pipe monument is in very beautiful desert country. The mountains are colorful, the cacti varied, interesting (and ubiquitous!) and the skies were beautiful.

Organ Pipe cacti differ from the Saguaro dramatically. They grow in a crowd of vertical stalks, as if they exploded upward from one point. The Saguaro usually look more stately, taller but with a few arms growing out sideways and up.

The Ocotillo were just beginning to bloom – their thorny stalks starting to leaf out in green, and long skinny red flowers adorning the tips.

The Cholla sometimes even look soft and fuzzy, but I wouldn’t recommend cuddling one!

Here you can see the Organ Pipe and Saguaro compared.

A short hike took us to this double arch. Pretty cool!

A few HooDoos guarding the canyon.

This Saguaro seemed straight out of Veggie Tales… A couple of eyes, and arms that seem to give him a smile.

Teddy Bear Cacti look to me to be Cholla that haven’t grown up yet. They are shorter, and appear more huggable. Don’t hug them.

Then we found some of these bearded creatures. What looked like Organ Pipes in need of a shave, were Senita Cacti. Sometimes they have the fuzzy look, but always they have much wider vertical ridges than do the Organ Pipes. The Senita are by far the rarest of Arizona’s big three cacti (with Saguaro and Organ Pipe), since they cannot tolerate even the slightest frost. They are only found in a narrow band along the southern edge of the monument.

The visitor’s center has a nice path through a beautiful desert garden.

Well worth a visit!


  1. We loved being there in February. Did you stop at the village of Ajo?? Loved your pictures.

  2. Loved the variety of cactus and your pics of them! The wall was a little imposing and can’t imagine trying to climb it. Thanks for taking us along!!

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