Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

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It was time to find an rv job as a volunteer in return for free hookups for the rv. There had been three years of pretty extensive traveling, watching my meager savings dwindle. Staying put for a few months would save on fuel costs, as well as overnight camping fees.

I found my first rv job online through and on December 10, 2010, moved my rig to Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, in the Sonoran Desert just five miles from the US/Mexico border, an area noted for illegal crossing attempts along with drug, money and gun smuggling. Several friends suggested it wasn’t too smart to go to this area; however border patrol and law enforcement rangers were highly visible throughout the park. Never once did I feel at risk.

Silver Cholla at Organ Pipe Cactus NM, AZSilver Cholla

The job was in the custodial/maintenance department. My supervisor, one other volunteer and I were in charge of cleaning the restrooms at the Visitor Center, the campground and three remote areas, as well as keeping the Visitor Center and some other buildings clean and doing trash pickup along the highway. And you would not believe how much trash there was due to the illegal border traffic as well as joy riders who think the desert is a good place to toss their beer cans and bottles!

Though the job was a bit more strenuous than I had expected, it was excellent exercise. This park, like most national parks, required 32 hours/week (four 8-hour days, then three days off) in return for electric, water, and sewer hookups, and free propane. Four 8-hour days was somewhat more than I had wanted to work – after all, I am supposedly retired – but I decided the opportunity was worth it. Had I stayed in a park in Tucson for the winter, it would have cost me $700-800/month.

There were quite a few volunteers at ORPI (our government really loves acronyms) and we had our own campground with a very nice community room/laundry facility for our use. This building had a refrigerator, as well as three freezers – a wonderful perk as RV refrigerators are very small and we were 35 miles from the nearest market in Ajo. On the border itself, a town called Lukeville (“Gringo Pass” by the locals) there was a general store, with high prices and no fresh produce.

Many, if not most, of the parks that you might volunteer in, are pretty far away from good grocery stores and other needed supplies. But you can get almost anything (rv supplies, books, food items, clothing, art supplies, you name it) shipped to you from these days. So, don't let the inconvenience of the location get in your way.

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Alamo Canyon - Organ Pipe Cactus NMIn Alamo Canyon, Organ Pipe Cactus NM

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One thing to keep in mind if you should decide to volunteer at ORPI: cell and internet service in the VIP (Volunteers in Parks) campground is quite poor. Several volunteers either had or acquired boosters and were satisfied. I had an Alltel wireless card and got no internet service at all at my site – had to go up to the campground which was a higher elevation and work in my car. I upgraded to a new Verizon 4G LTE device and that was much better at my site, but not too reliable. It worked best if my neighbor, who had a booster, was on the internet – apparently his booster would then strengthen my connection. My cell phone worked in a couple of spots at my site, but not very well.

You can learn a lot while you’re parked out in the desert: how to develop your intuition, your focus, your business success, improve your health, or just about anything you want. I discovered Learning Strategies, Inc. back in 2006 and continue to use their programs today. There’s nothing so good for us as lifelong learning. Caution: using these programs may cause radical changes in your life.

Once I grew accustomed to getting up at 5:15 am in order to start work at 7:00, I found that I quite enjoyed being up to witness the new day as it is born. It was so peaceful and calming to watch the light growing behind the Ajo Mountains. Many of the sunrises were spectacular. And in the evening as the sun went down, those same mountains turned rosy, and the sky was often filled with apricot, gold and magenta.

View from Pinkley Peak - ORPIView East from Pinkley Peak

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Days off were catch-up time as I was generally too tired to do much at the end of a work day. Once a week there had to be a trip into Ajo for groceries; there was laundry, cleaning and cooking to do as well. But I had some wonderful hikes – into beautiful Alamo Canyon a couple of times; up into Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture, a 4.5 mile round trip, fairly strenuous hike, which rewarded us with stunning views; and shorter hikes near the campground and Visitor Center.

My rv job as a volunteer at Organ Pipe Cactus NP was a terrific experience and the folks there were super. This part of the Sonoran Desert is especially beautiful - I never grew tired of looking at it. On March 11 I left, heading back to Tucson for a two-week break before starting my next job.

ORPI SunriseSunrise at Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

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