ORGAN PIPE ADVENTURES
FEBRUARY 2011

My February Organ Pipe adventures started off with vicious winds, temperatures in the low 20s a couple of nights, and at least one day no higher than 49 degrees. We kept trying to find inside jobs to do!

The campground was doing much better – averaging 60+ campers per night by mid-month, and occasional nights with 70-80. However, the official word was that attendance was down about 30% from last year.

My hose sprung a second leak - at the other end of course! I'm not fond of this sort of adventure, but fixed that one too, feeling very proud of myself. My water hose is now somewhat shorter thus easier to coil & store!

A Mysterious Organ Pipe Adventure

Organ Pipe adventures included a mystery recently. Here’s a story about the most “interesting” (not sure if that’s the correct word - scary might be better) person I’ve encountered in my rv adventures so far:

Last week, while Carol & I were cleaning a restroom in the campground, we noticed a woman with a beat up old camper in site #163 across the road. She sat at the picnic table with something that looked like fur spread out in front of her, and there was a fire burning merrily in the grate. It was a very windy day so we were a bit concerned to see the fire.

View from Estes Canyon in the Ajo Mountains

View from the top of Estes Canyon

I started walking toward her, whereupon she jumped up from the table and started toward me. She was probably in her 40s, had on a floppy canvas hat, baggy brown polyester double-knit pants, and an angry, confrontational look.

"Hi! What are you cooking?" I asked with a smile, thinking I should perhaps caution her because of the wind, since we didn't want an Organ Pipe adventure with fire. However, greetings and small talk were not on this woman’s agenda.

"I'm just burning some pieces of wood." And, as she came to the road, she began complaining about losing her glasses. "I'm very upset and I want to know where I can file a formal complaint." We asked what the trouble was, as she seemed almost out of control.

"I told the man at the kiosk that I'd lost my glasses, either on the van tour or here in the campground, and I wanted him to let folks coming into the park know about it so they would look for them. He didn't make a note of it or anything, and just said that maybe I'd have to go to bed early." We knew he had been joking with her, but she sure didn't get that. She was raging and totally focused on herself and her specific Organ Pipe adventures.

Estes Canyon View - Organ Pipe Cactus NM

Carol told her she could file a complaint at the visitor center, and we turned back to finish cleaning, figuring there was nothing we could say that would make her settle down. When we came back outside, she was burning pieces of paper, but they flew out of her hands and scattered across the road. I went and picked up a piece or two and handed them to her. She was muttering, "Oh, shit! I burned my fire stick by mistake."

As we drove away, I mentioned to Carol that I had seen what looked like fur on the table. "I think she came toward us so fast because she didn't want us to see something. Do you think she was skinning a rabbit?" That would be a different Organ Pipe adventure.

Leaving the campground, we talked with Judy, at the kiosk. She knew exactly who we were talking about. Apparently the woman had started her Organ Pipe adventure the night before, parking her camper all alone at the end of the group campground, and then acting like she had just arrived in the park the next morning. Also, she had parked her camper next to the kiosk the entire previous afternoon while she went on the van tour. So, according to Judy, it sat in the hot sun, with her 19-year-old cat inside! "I can't believe she did that to her poor cat. That woman is bound to be trouble!" said Judy.

We went on down to the visitor center to alert them to the situation. They were already very much aware of her, as she had called about her glasses, wanting everyone on the van tour that morning to be notified and looking for them. Betty, the supervisor, had tried unsuccessfully to reach the van on the radio and said there was no way she would be able to contact them until they returned. She suggested the woman could drive out there herself to look. "I'm not taking my rig out there!" was the reply.

Quitobaquito - Organ Pipe Cactus NM

150-year-old Fremont Cottonwood at Quitobaquito

Soon we heard the campground kiosk requesting a law enforcement (LE) officer. We went back after lunch and learned that she had left the campground, with the LE ranger as an escort. We stopped at that particular restroom to drop off some supplies, and I wandered over to the picnic table. There was a large area covered with blood and bits of fur. I felt sick.

"Carol, come over here and look," I called. "Do you think she really killed a rabbit? What if her cat died and she was skinning it?" I couldn't get that poor cat out of my mind; this was definitely not the kind of Organ Pipe adventures we were used to. We reported our findings to the head LE ranger who said he’d check with the ranger who had gone up to the campground to see what he had discovered.

Later, we heard she told the ranger she had skinned and cooked a rabbit, "road kill from outside the park," but we're all quite sure she snared a rabbit that first night at the group campground. What she did with the remains, we don't know - we checked the trash dumpsters there, in the restroom and at the group campground, but found nothing. And there was nothing in the fire grate except dead coals from the wood she had burned.

So, this particular Organ Pipe adventure remains a mystery and our park is probably short one cottontail. It was clear the woman was unbalanced, and it’s sad to think that her whole life is probably a great struggle.

Mid-month, I took off early one morning with another volunteer to do the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture hike. A total of 5 miles altogether, since we started back down on the wrong path initially and had to backtrack. Stunning views; some pretty rough uphill climbing the 2nd half of the way up; pretty steep downhill path back to the parking area. The weather was wonderful - clear sky, warm, breezy (quite windy part of the time) - a great day. My legs were pretty wobbly on the way down, and I slept very well that night. This was the kind of Organ Pipe adventure I enjoyed.

El Elegante Crater

El Elegante Crater

On the 15th, most of the volunteers got to go on a van tour to Quitobaquito, an oasis in the National Monument that had been closed to the public since about 2003 because of the escalating drug traffic and violence along the border. We were guarded by two LE rangers nearby, and others were posted on top of the surrounding hills probably two hours before we got there. It was a special Organ Pipe adventure and a wonderful learning experience.

Quitobaquito borders the int'l boundary between US & Mexico and the park resource employees are working to preserve and protect its well-being. It is an extremely important piece of the history of the area - archaeologically, culturally, historically, pre-historically, etc. - an important trading center between the Gulf of CA and the interior of the US on the Salt Trail, and pretty much continually for the past 1500 years, mostly by the various O'odham tribes, and eventually a few whites.

There are natural springs that come out in several places on the slopes of the granite hills to the north. Small canals, now maintained by the park, run from the springs and lead the water down to a pond. The pond is home to a distinct variety of pupfish which is on the endangered species list. How did they get there? One theory is that they migrated during heavy rains that may have occurred, flooding the area between the pond and the Sonoyta River, about ¼ mile to the South.

One morning as I went to work, I could smell the rain coming - it's not a scent you notice very often around here. For the past couple of days, we had had clouds along with a very few sprinkles of rain. We had our fingers crossed that we’d get enough moisture to make this parched landscape start greening up. As it turned out, we got just 2/10” from that storm.

After successfully dealing with the leaks at both ends of my hose, it sprung a new leak, right in the middle. I went to Ajo, bought a new hose, attached it a couple of days later, and the next morning it had sprung a leak. I filled my water tank and worked off that for a few days, then went and got another new hose and asked Maintenance if they could reduce the pressure, thinking that was the problem.

On the 20th, my new water hose sprung a leak! This particular Organ Pipe adventure was getting old! I filled the tank and called it quits.

Andy & Mike (maintenance dept.) came by to put some kind of pressure reducer on the faucet itself but told me it wasn't the pressure, and it probably hadn’t been the freeze originally - it was a pack rat - my second experience with this sort of Organ Pipe adventure! It looked like he had taken a bite of my electric cable too, so I got that up off the ground & moved the light down under the coach near that area, then called Robert, who was coming down on the 24th, and asked him to please get me a new hose at WalMart.

Carol & I headed out onto the highway to collect trash (a weekly Organ Pipe adventure) at Alamo Canyon one day and saw a great caravan of big, beautiful motorhomes coming toward us - each one representing $100K+. We thought for a moment that they were going to turn into the park, but they continued on - probably headed for Rocky Point in Mexico. We counted 27 - all had green placards in their front window, so it was a group of some kind, off on an rv adventure together.

Robert arrived on the 24th with my new hose. We topped off the tank, then put the hose away – I’m not leaving it around for the pack rat anymore. It can devise some other Organ Pipe adventures to amuse itself.

A Visit to Mexico and the Southern Sonora Desert

On the 26th, one of the park employees, Janet, who worked at the Visitor Center and lived in Sonoyta, took four of us on a journey into Mexico and the southern portion of the Sonora Desert. We traveled through Sonoyta and onward, to a small visitor center where we could access the road leading to the volcanic craters. This part of the Sonoran desert is quite different. The land is flatter and more sparsely vegetated than in the Monument - few saguaros, lots of chollas & mesquite, brittlebush, very few rocks on the ground, except close to the hills & mountains. Initially there was very light-colored sand surrounding us. As we got closer to the craters, the sand gradually got darker, then black.

Volcanic Shield - El Pinacate y Graan Desierto de Altar Sonora

Volcanic Shield with Pinacate Peak in far distance

Our destination was El Elegante, the biggest crater. We were able to drive almost to the top, where we parked, walking up the last bit. It was a very windy, cold and overcast day. As we got to the edge of the crater, we were almost blown over by the force of the wind. The crater was enormous and very deep.

Altogether, there are about a dozen Maar craters and 400+ cinder cones in this biosphere - our sister park - named El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar. It’s an amazing, otherworldly place.

From El Elegante, our Mexican adventure took us back the way we had come, then on to the highway again, passing the Sierra Blanca Mountains, then further to the main visitor center, called Schuk Toak by the Tohono O'odham Indians. This is a very impressive building, the first self-sufficient, energy-wise public building in Latin America, (132 solar panels and a wind generator) sitting on the furthest edge of the lava flow from Pinacate Peak, which erupted some 4 thousand years ago. We were surrounded by black lava, yet every dip & crevice was filled with the light colored sand with ocotillo and brittlebush growing. We could see huge dunes in the distance, at the southern edge of Pinacate. These are the most extensive mobile dunes in N. America.

From there, we continued on to Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco) on the edge of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). This is a fairly large city, with a stark contrast between the many new high-rise condos, mostly unoccupied, along the beach and the abject poverty seen in some other areas of the city. Some of the high rises were not even finished - just left there - waiting for a better economy, I suppose.

We had a great lunch, wandered to the edge of the sea and bought some shrimp. Wind-blown sand was everywhere. On the way out of town, we stopped at a supermarket to wander the aisles filled with familiar looking cans and bottles, all labeled in Spanish. The day had been an unexpected Organ Pipe adventure, and Janet was a wonderful guide.

The rain started fairly soon after I went to bed that night and the wind, which had blown all day, picked up strength as time went on, rocking Mehitabel and waking me several times. It finally calmed down & stopped raining in the wee small hours.

We got 3/4" of rain - wow! There was snow on the Ajo Mountains early the next morning. And on the 28th, the start of another work week, the desert looked so much lighter and greener, washed clean by that wonderful rain. Many of the ocotillo had tiny green leaves starting, and colors were changing and brightening. The birds were singing their little hearts out in celebration. A happy end to this period of Organ Pipe adventures.

Great Dunes - Sonoran Desert

Great Sand Dunes at Southern Edge of Sonoran Desert

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