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    • Robert Baker

      Just got back from a quick trip to Yuma for some "across the border" dental care....I knew I would have a free day so I picked out the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as an opportunity to shoot something new and unique. These organpipe cacti mostly just grow in Mexico but I guess there was a big enough batch in this region 75 miles south of Gila Bend that the Fed's made it a National Monument.

      The final scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie-
      Bridgekeeper: STOP! What… is your name?
      Sir Galahad: Sir Galahad of Camelot.
      Bridgekeeper: What… is your quest?
      Sir Galahad: I seek the Grail.
      Bridgekeeper: What… is your favourite colour?
      Sir Galahad: Blue. No, yellOOOOOOOW!! [is cast into the gorge]

      In my mind I had a handful of exceptional compositions I had hoped to accomplish and I was even prepared to sleep in my car overnight to perfectly capture sunset, the stars and then sunrise. Three hundred miles later on the same day I returned to Yuma feeling the Bridgekeeper has cast me into the gorge with barely an image to show for my efforts.

    • Thanks to the under-achieving performance of our elected officials, this trip included the current Federal Government shutdown that excluded driving the best areas of the National Monument. About 30 miles south of Gila Bend, you have your first encounter of the unique cacti wonderfully composed with mini-mountains and colorful rock formations. But, my clock shows 3pm and I am hoping that my arrival to OPC will net a sunrise shot so I don’t take the time to pull over. After 30 minutes in the park, I now know I could have just done my shots there and been better off. Not all adventures net a blue ribbon!

      Still pressing the gas, I putter through the small towns of Ajo (what did you call me? lol) and Why (the local market sign says “Why Not”). Right away you can tell there are an abundance of artists living in Ajo and I am hoping I have enough daylight on my return trip to explore.

    • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a U.S. National Monument and UNESCO biosphere reserve located in extreme southern Arizona that shares a border with the Mexican state of Sonora. The park is the only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus grows wild. Along with organ pipe, many other types of cacti and other desert flora native to the Yuma Desert section of the Sonoran Desert region grow in the park.

      Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is 517 square miles (1,338 square kilometers) in size. In 1976 the monument was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, and in 1977 95% of Organ Pipe Cactus was declared a wilderness area. Organpipe cacti are pollinated by bats and they can take 150 years to reach full maturity.

    • There are two different sets of advice for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an austere swathe of desert on Arizona’s border with Mexico.

      “Immerse yourself in a photographer’s paradise!” advises a glossy tourist brochure. “Explore the abundance of plants and wildlife unique to the Sonoran desert. Guided walks through the park, as well as hiking trails, camping and picnic facilities, are available. Drive the scenic 21-mile Ajo Mountain loop … star-studded night skies wash away the modern world.”

      An identical-sized pamphlet on cheap paper, which you find in Mexican towns bordering the park, offers starker tips in Spanish.

      “Use the north star and the movement of the moon to guide you towards the north during the night. Carry one gallon of water in each hand and six litres in the backpack. You can drink cactus fruit but the skin has nearly invisible spines. Peel carefully. If you have no water, drinking urine can sustain you for a while. Don’t do it repeatedly because it will become toxic.”

      One park with two very different types of visitor. One seeking recreation, the other survival. This is the new normal on the front line of America’s border crackdown.

      On August 9, 2002, Ranger Kris Eggle was shot and killed by a suspected Mexican drug smuggler during a United States Border Patrol operation. The visitor center has been named in his honor. The majority of the park was closed from 2003 to 2014.

    • As I was driving north from OPC, a rain-burst blanketed the area and the first mural wall was vibrant in contrast from the fresh rain and contrasting light. Not too much further you cannot help but notice the two buildings for the Immaculate Conception Church. Pondering how the Catholic Church was a beacon of morality in the midst of fast-money that comes with a mining town.

    • Ajo Art is a collection of art around town, the majority of which is accessible to the public. Over the past years, Ajo has evolved into a haven for hikers, mountain bikers, artists, bird watchers, environmentalists and star gazers. Combined with its history as a tri-cultural copper mining town, Ajo’s eclectic nature and diversity are expressed in a wonderful display of public art, community art, and outsider art. Click here for a self-guided tour of art around Ajo.

    • Some people think that this community was named “Ajo” as a reference to the spanish word for garlic – wild garlic plants did grow in the surrounding hills at one point.  The Ajo Chamber of Commerce believes that since this community was originally settled by the Tohono O’odham Nation that the indigenous peoples used the term “au-auho” for the pigment obtained from the ore-rich rocks.

    • I recently picked up the Laowa 12mm zero-d lens....wow...It is an full frame e-mount but I had it on my a6300. About 15 yards from the front door...just a couple slight tweaks in LR. Amazing!

    • Driving back to Yuma after a long 300 mile day I was a little disheartened that I had not collected the stellar images I had hoped for....but, as the sun had set, you realize, at least out west, how awesome it is to be able to drive all day long and never really have to battle any municipalities. The great outdoors and then some.

    • Wow! Thanks for this trip report - Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been on my list of places to see for a long time. You make me realize that I need to make a visit happen.

    • Great write-up, thanks! I had to ask Google Maps to show me where this is. I had no idea about bats pollinating cactus and the comparison between the pamphlets in Arizona and Mexico were fascinating.

      I wonder what it does to the locals who don't work for the government to have a shutdown? Fewer visitors that buy things in their local stores?

    • I do think that sans a government shutdown, this would be an interesting place to car camp for a couple of days to get settled in and explore the wildlife available. Obviously May-Sept is not the ideal time. hahahahhhaha

    • Robert Baker

      Hey Chris....

      Interestingly enough....in other outposts like this you sort of expect the local government component to have a big influence on the economy....even with the shutdown, border patrol was strong and I believe that does account for a significant influx of $$'s spent. Hotel rooms, meals, etc. The rest are retirees eeking out a simple life. My gut tells me that Ajo is probably what Santa Fe was like 40 years ago. All it takes is a couple of celebrities to fall in love with this outpost and then it becomes a destination.

    You've been invited!