Monday, April 9, 2018

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Ajo Mountain Drive

(Clicking on the pictures will open them larger in a new window.)

Sunday, March 18, 2018 (This is one of the rides we took when we were in Why, AZ.)

As a protected area, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument allows the life of the Sonoran Desert to flourish under nearly ideal wilderness conditions. The monument is an outstanding natural preserve where one of the of the Earth's major ecosystems survives almost unspoiled.
Recognizing its significance, the United Nations in 1976 designated the monument as an international Biosphere Reserve.
Conservation and scientific research, including studies of human impact on the desert, will be invaluable in protecting the life of the desert.(information found on internet)

Whenever we go to a National Monument, Park, or Memorial we always start at the Visitor Center today was no different we were there to pick up a brochure for this ride. There are 18 numbered stations on this ride and the brochure explains each one in nice detail.

The Visitor Center at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is named in honor of Kris Eggle.  I included the information about this young man who was killed in the line of duty on August 2, 2002 at the Monument in our  February 8, 2017  Blog if you would like to read about it. 

Like so many of our blogs there are a lot of pictures below. The reason, because we want to have this blog to look back, remember the day, and the ride. If you decide to scroll through I hope you enjoy looking at them. Using  the information provided in the brochure, we received a the visitor center, I have written something about each of the stops. Some of the information is abbreviated and some has been taken word for word.

There is a crested Saguaro on 85.
It is on the left just past Tillotson Peak Wayside
 after going over a hill.

While visiting this National Monument we have seen this sign,
 or one similar to it, several times.

According to the brochure this ride is 21 miles in length. The road is a graded, one-way dirt road. It winds and dips over a route that blends with the primitive nature of the landscape. The drive takes approximately 2 hours. It also mentions that a passenger car driven with caution can be taken over it safely. This route provides access to some of the finest scenery in the monument.

Stop 1
Is a welcome to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the heart of the Sonoran Desert. (The green desert.) This desert covers 110,000 square miles and is the most diverse desert in North America. It is home to over 4,000 species of animals and plants. Based on plant evidence scientist believe this is a young desert, only about 10,000 years old.

Stop 2
The Creosote Bush.
It is one of the most drought-tolerant plants in North America. Its adaption allows it to survive without water for two years before completely dying.  Locals often say that the Sonoran Desert "smells like rain" because of the intoxicating aroma the leaves give off during a rain storm or on a foggy winter morning. The wax coating on the leaves protects the plant from excessive water loss. The creosote bush can be found in the Sonoran, Chihuahaun, and Mojave Deserts.

Stop 3
The Saguaro, Sonoran Desert Icon.
In the Organ Pipe Cactus Monument brochure of this drive it says they think the cacti flower for the first time at 65 years old and might produce their first arms at 90. I have read different ages of when this happens but since there is no real way to tell how old a Saguaro is I would guess there is no real way to know for sure what the right answer is. The brochure also mentions  the location and rainfall has a lot to do with its growth. More rain and it grows faster. If water is scarce a Saguaro may never be able to support arm growth.
These cacti grow to approximately 50 feet weighing several tons and can live to be 200 years old. Its appearance as master of the desert is deceiving . As well adapted it is to capturing and storing water it still needs animals to pollinate and  spread its seeds and other plant species to shelter young seedlings in the first few fragile years of its life.

Stop 4
The Organ Pipe Cactus
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and protects most of the natural habitat of the organ pipe cactus within in the United States. Most Organ Pipe Cactus live south across the Mexican Border but have adapted to living north in the monument. This cactus flowers in June and July and the flowers only open at night and there strong fragrance attracts the lesser long-nosed bats. These bats migrate from Mexico each summer to feast on its flower nectar, give birth, and nurse their young. They roost in the monument's caves, buildings, and historical structures aiding in distributing of the Organ Pipe's seeds across the desert.

Stop 5
Spadefoot Toad
This toad emerges from its subterranean home to breed in temporary pools or tinajas. Eggs hatch quickly and tadpoles must mature to adulthood in as few as two weeks before the tinajas dry up.
These adaptions to ephemeral ponds allow the spadefoot to thrive in the Somoran Desert.
There is a sign and this explanation in the brochure but not water pools or toads to be seen.

There is also mention of the Sidewinder Snake, it is named for its ability to move over loose or unstable sand. It moves or winds across sandy surfaces quickly and efficiently. This winding movement gives the appearance that the snake is moving sideways. Gratefully, none of these were seen here.

The Desert Tortoise spends up to nine months of the year living underground to escape the desert heat. It only comes out to eat, drink, and mate at dawn and dusk. During the summer monsoons tortoises take advantage of these rains, increasing their outside activity. Sadly, no tortoises were seen.

The two next pictures were taken as we traveled to the next stop.

Stop 6
Diablo Wash
This monument was inhabited by people as far back as 12,000 years ago. The Hohokam called the
Sonoran Desert home and cleverly adapted their way of life to the desert's scarce and variable rainfall. A small settlement stood on the edges of the Diablo Wash. They planted drought-tolerant crops (corn, tepary beans, and squash) and dug irrigation ditches. They built dams to divert flood waters into the ditches and used the water where it would be most useful. Surviving in this environment using their skills. The Tohono O'odham continued these dry-land farming practice learned from their ancestors the Hohokam. They built shade structures called ramadas, similar to those in the picnic areas, to shelter them from the heat as they planted and harvested their crops.

We took another couples picture and they took ours with the wash behind us.

More pictures taken between the stops.

Stop 7
This one is entitled Hemana Means Sister.
In the distance off to the left are the Cubabi Mountains. In the middle, from what I can see in the brochure, would be the town of Sonoyta, Mexico and to the right is the campgrounds at the Monument.
Behind the Cubabis lies Reserva de la BiosferaEl Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar or El Pinacate to the locals. This Mexican National Park is the sister park to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. These two parks work together on monitoring, climate and weather trends, and human impacts on the park resources. Looking across the desert we are viewing a complex network of migratory routes for many animals that live in the Sonoran Desert. Working together these sister parks are studying wildlife migration, determining human impacts on wildlife and how the two parks can better manage wildlife populations. State, federal, and Mexican biologists have created the Sonoran Pronghorn Recovery Team, which conducts aerial surveys of pronghorn, provides support to local parklands and operates a captive breeding program.
This relationship allows the sharing of information across a political boundary and collaboration to protect animals like the pronghorn. Plus, it allows cooperation with each other in preserving and conserving two vividly different wild lands.

Looking behind us and then driving on to the next stop.

Stop 8
The Prickly Pear
The engelmann prickly pear is the most common one found in the monument. Yellow flowers bloom along the edges of the flat pads from April through June. Deep purple fruits called tunas are an important food in many parts of Mexico and among Native Americans.The flat pads are modified stems, functioning in place of leaves. The prickly pear has adapted to the desert by keeping its pads straight up and thus only receiving sun on its edges, preventing sunburn under the harsh noon sun. These plants are important to sustaining animals in the desert. They provide food for the javelina who, like goats, will eat anything.Tortoise love to eat their fruit.

The scenery along the drive is beautiful with the ruggedness of  the mountains and the green of the desert plants in contrast.

Stop 9
A Crested Organ Pipe Cactus
This beautiful phenomenon is unexplained in the scientific world. Some scientists believe that it is genetics; others believe it is a deformation due to frost; yet other think it may be caused by an imbalance in growth hormones. In truth they do not know why it occurs. All I would add is, it is beautiful.

A baby Organ Pipe Cactus

On the way back to the Jeep I noticed this Chain Fruit Cholla

and on one of its branches this. I wonder would this be a "crest"?
I never noticed what the ends of these looked like before.

Stop 10
The Cooler Climate of the Canyon Country
The Ajo Mountains receive more rain than any other part of the monument and have cooler summer weather. Reflecting the the high country climate, the jojoba bush and the evergreen scrub community is restricted to the rocky outcrops, boulder slopes and deep canyons of the Ajo range.
High country plant communities support the elusive bighorn sheep and white tail deer that inhabit the area. (Neither of which we observed on our ride.) This mountain environment is especially attractive to turkey vultures, eagles, and ravens that nest in the canyons and the ride the air currents that canyons provide. Caves and rock shelters are also great roosting places for bats.

The Arch,  is not a numbered stop but this information is at the trailhead for the Arch Canyon. A two-mile round trip hike into the foothills of the high country.

Another Arch.

Stop 11
Wintering in the High Country
The brochure mentions the Agave, commonly called the Century Plant. There was not one to be seen here and I did not see one the rest of the drive. I did see some before this stop but had not taken a picture.
Archaeologists have discovered agave-roasting pits in the high country of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. These pits are associated with the Hohokam who cultivated agave for ceremonial purposes. It is believed they along with The Tohono O'odham used the canyons as winter homes. These higher elevations afforded the chance to catch more water. Snow and rain were more likely in the mountains. It is believed they adapted to the desert by moving biannually to find food and water. There migratory routes were always associated with tinajas, springs or other water sources.

An Agave, Century Plant, taken on our ride in
the Chiricahua Mountains on Thursday, April 5th.

Stop 12
The waist-high blue-green shrub is jojoba.Tiny flowers grow on the male plants, producing pollen that is wind deposited onto female plants. The female plants then produce an acorn-shaped seed in summer. These nuts are consumed by many animals, including squirrels, rabbits, birds, as well as humans. During times of hunger native people would eat the fat-rich seeds to suppress appetites until food was again available.
These shrubs have adapted to the extreme dessert heat by keeping their leaf edges facing the harsh midday sun, thus reducing evaporation of precious water from broad, flat leaf  surfaces.

Other desert plants on our way to the next stop.

Stop 13
The Trees of Life, Mesquite
 The fruit of the mesquite is high in carbohydrates and attracts different herbivores. Rabbits, packrats, javelina, and coyote all depend on the seasonal seedpods for food. These animals, and others, help to scatter the mesquite seeds across the desert.
Often called the "Tree of Life", many desert-dwellers owe their survival to the mesquite tree. The seeds were, and still are, ground into flour used for breads. These seeds have more protein then soybeans and were a major food source for the Tohono O'odham.
Palo Verde
With its green trunk and branches, the palo verde has a very clever way of conserving moisture. By not having leaves during the hot season, it can photosynthesize and respire (that is to create energy and breathe) through its trunk, thus conserving water.
The palo verde can also serve as a nurse tree.Saguaro seeds need shelter from a nurse tree such as creosote or palo verde tree. These nurse trees protect the young saguaros from sunburn, torrential floods and the occasional winter frosts. They also fertilize the young cacti as the trees fix nitrogen from the air into the soil for themselves. The young cactus in "nursed" as it grows tall and strong, as it spreads it shallow roots just 3 to 4 inches below the surface the fight for water begins with the Saguaro the victor. Which is why so many larger Saguaros are surrounded by the remains of their dead nurse tree.

Stop 14
Traveling in the Footsteps of History
In the 1860's, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino arrived with orders to establish missions throughout the region. He worked with the O'odham people, teaching them about cattle grazing and learning human migratory routes in return. Padre Kino's expedition mapped the region, recording valuable water sources and ancient pathways. They adapted to the region, learning the trails must be near water, among high mountains and through passes. Without this knowledge, Kino's expedition along with many others that followed since would have perished.
Many of these maps Padre Kino created are still in use along with the names he placed on them. Looking at the map of the monument today, one can immerse oneself in the history and geology of the region. Bull Pasture gets its name from the monuments' ranching era; Twin Peaks is named for its double-peaked appearance; Pinkley Peak commemorates Frank Pinkley, Superintendent of Southwestern National Monuments 1923 -1940.
The Diaz Mountains are named for Captain Melchior Diaz, leader of a 15 member group in the Coronado expedition 1539-1542. In January 1541, when the expedition was close to here he suffered a freak accident and was mortally wounded. He left a valuable legacy. The information he gathered on the native peoples he encountered offers the modern reader a glimpse into a way of life prior to European contact.

Stop 15
My favorite, the Ocotillo
Even though this plant may look like a cactus because of its spines it actually belongs to the Candlewood Family and is the only representative of its family in the United States. It's cousin, the boojum tree, grows mainly in Baja California, Mexico, and has been described as an upside down carrot.
These plants store water in their roots and stems. In drier times they shed their leaves and resemble long spiny sticks. Once it rains they restore just as if there was never a dry spell. The dark green leaves once again grow in a spiral pattern around the branches. Each spring leaves come out and brilliant orange-red flowers bloom at the ends of the stems. These flowers attract hummingbirds to pollinate the plant and are vital to the ocotillo's survival. At the same time the nectar found in each tubular flower is a vital energy source crucial to the hummingbird's survival during its long and arduous migration. This mutual beneficial relationship is another example of adaptation in the desert environment.
These plants are not only beautiful but are useful as well. Ocotillos are resilient and have been used for roofs and living fences by the Tohono O'odham and other people in the area. When the branches are cut and planted in the ground, they often root, surviving to bloom again during the rainy seasons, creating a beautiful and useful fence or a lovely home.

Stop 16
A Forest of Spines, Chain-fruit Cholla
They are called chain-fruit because fruit-upon-fruit hang down, creating long chains.The joints of the plant are biologically designed to detach as an animal is walking by within its spiny reach. The spines are barbed and hook in the coat or flesh of the passer-by and cholla joint is transported to a new location. If the conditions are favorable where it falls, the cholla joint might grow into a new plant. They are sometimes called "jumping cholla" as the joints seem to jump off the plant and attack unsuspecting passers-by. Reality is they do not jump; they are just very efficient at picking up a ride. Picking up one of these would be very painful. Use caution when hiking and carry tweezers to remove any cholla joints.
Surprisingly some birds take up residence in these cacti; the spines prove to be some defense against desert predators.

Stop 17
Teddy Bear Pass
This cacti gets its name because they look fuzzy and cute but do not be deceived these Teddy Bear Cholla will bite. Look carefully and you will see millions of tiny hooked spines genetically designed to attach to anything that gets to close. Those spines are an adaptation to the desert sun; they create shade for the cholla itself, reducing its exposure to the sun. The Teddy Bear Cholla reproduces much like the Chain-fruit Cholla; by breaking off joints and rooting them into the ground. All the ones that can be seen here may have come from one plant brought to the area by an animal that brushed by another Teddy Bear along its path. According to botanists, it is very possible that all the teddy bear cholla in the United States comes from a single strain.
Packrats will take the cholla joints to make a very protective nest called a midden. A midden in the Puerto Blanco Mountains records the arrival here 10,000 years ago of the Teddy Bear Cholla. It arrived here when the Sonoran Desert was in its infancy and has adapted very well.

Stop 18
What Does the Future Hold?
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument exhibits an extraordinary collection of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert. This is a showcase for creatures who have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this Southwest region. Twenty-six species of cactus have mastered the art of living in this place, including the park's namesake and the giant saguaro.(information found on internet)
Long -term monitoring projects indicate that our climate has begun to change again. Many of the plants and animals species that we associate with the Sonoran Desert are threatened: bighorn sheep, the spadefoot toad, even our beloved Saguaro. How will these and other species adapt to survive, can the adapt to the changing environment? What new species might move into the monument? What is the future of the Sonoran Desert? We are only beginning to understand these questions. 
This desert is a magnificent living biome with relationships that span the entire space. Plants depend on animals to disperse their seed and animals depend on plants for food and shelter. Even plants depend on each other for survival. (Saguaros and nurse trees.) Just because you see something dead in the desert, don't assume that it has no purpose. Death begets life out here in the desert. A dead or dying Saguaro may mean that a wood rat or a lizard may take comfort in its shade. the connections all over this incredible land is what makes it the Sonoran Desert. 

We have taken both drives in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and if we only had time to take one drive this is the one we would choose. We, in fact, did take this ride our first time here in February of 2015 I just never did the blog. We enjoyed it this time just as much as the first time and would take it again in the future. The dream would be to explore this area with our grandchildren.

"The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. 
It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us."
~Ashley Montagu

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