When a national monument is named for a very special cactus that only grows in a small corner of Arizona and Mexico, you know the scenery is going to be good.
We briefly visited this national monument during our previous stay in Ajo. It was a short day trip where we checked out the visitor center and drove the 21-mile scenic drive. That was our first time seeing such a large concentration of Organ Pipe cactus and right away we vowed to return for a longer stay. Since that time we know of several friends who have stayed at the campground inside the park. Everyone reported nice sites, good sunset views, and a strong Verizon signal. Sounds perfect!
Like most campgrounds inside national parks, this one offers the perfect mix of rustic and convenience. We had a concrete parking pad, a generously sized yard with some natural desert landscaping, easy access to a water spigot, and bathrooms with solar showers (pro tip: don’t wait until after dinner to take a shower because it will be cold). Plus it had an extra special feature — a no generator section!
Of course, a no generator section inside a campground is kind of like a no smoking section inside a restaurant. There is always going to be some spillover noise. We were two rows from the generator area and for the most part, could only hear a faint generator hum during the two (very short) periods of generator hours each day. But then, during the last two days of our stay, someone showed up with one of those el cheapo, so loud you can probably hear it in space, kind of generators and polluted the campground with their noise several times a day. There’s always one in every bunch.
Our week-long stay flew by. We filled the afternoons with desert hikes and bike rides around the campground and down to the visitor center. Many of the trails near the campground travel to abandoned mines. On two separate afternoons, we hiked to both the Victoria and Baker mines. Not much is left of either, but the views along the trails were pretty awesome.
We also had the pleasure of meeting fellow Airstreamers, Vermonters, and blog readers Kathy and Jay. When we pulled into our site they happened to be parked in the spot across the street! I neglected to take any photos but we enjoyed a nice happy hour one evening where we discussed all things Airstream and Vermont related. Hope to run into you again Kathy and Jay!
On our last day in the area, we decided to take ourselves on an adventure — a hiking adventure of course! Most of the trails in the park are on the short side (under 5 miles) but when I was doing research on the Bull Pasture trail I came across a few mentions of a trail to the top of Mount Ajo. The specific comment that caught my eye said, “Why hike all the way out here and not climb to the top of Ajo Mountain?” I guess I took that as a personal challenge because immediately I was typing “Mount Ajo hike” into Google. Sure enough, I found several accounts of an unmaintained trail that travels from the end of the Bull Pasture trail to the top of the mountain.
At 4,800 feet tall, Mount Ajo is the tallest peak in the area. With a total distance of 9 miles and an elevation gain of 2,500 feet, it was reported to be a challenging yet rewarding hike. That’s our favorite kind!
While it’s not a popular trail by any means (we only saw three other people) and it’s not on any official maps, it was well trodden and easy to follow. It was also extremely steep in a few sections. Loose gravel made the steep sections difficult on both the up and down journey, but after we made it past that challenge, the last few miles were pleasant enough with amazing views from the top of the ridge.