The main attraction in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument are the scenic drives, the most popular being the Ajo Mountain Drive. If you only have a few hours to visit this is the one you want to take. It is jam-packed with scenic vistas and examples of the Sonoran Desert Landscapes. Also, you will get to see a ton of Organ Pipes! Be sure to pick up the free Ajo Mountain Drive Guide at the visitor center. All along the drive are numbered signposts that correspond to entries in the guide giving you all sorts of info about each marked stop. You will learn about the plant life, geology, history and climate of the region, quite interesting
Ajo Mountain Drive
The road is, for the most part, graded gravel with the odd paved sections where it runs across a desert wash and on a few steeper inclines. High clearance isn’t necessary, and most vehicles will do fine. If you’d rather not take the car, there is a ranger-guided van tour January through March. The drive is mostly a one-way loop up into the mountains and back around and about 20 miles long. Once you head down the one way part starting at around 2 miles in you are committed. The drive starts out pretty flat as you head towards some very colorful mountains. You then climb and wind your way into them, and this is where the Organ Pipes begin to get thick. Up in the mountains, there are a few hikes you can take called Arch Canyon and Bull Pasture. We didn’t take them as our beagle was along for the ride and pets are not allowed on the trails but heard they are really nice. About half way along you descend back down to flatter land and wind your way back towards the entrance.
I’d advise you pack a picnic lunch as there are numerous fantastic locations to sit back and have a bite to eat while enjoying the scenery and wildlife. The place had plentiful birdlife, and we spotted a few rabbits along the way. As dusk came, the calls of coyotes could be heard, and many bats began to appear attracted to the truck headlights. Other essentials are water, your camera (this is a photographer’s paradise) and a set of binoculars.
Be sure to stop at number 9 as the large, crazy shaped Organ Pipe located there has a few unique abnormal growths on it called a crest. It’s also a great place to snap a photo to show the folks back home what a cool Organ Pipe Cactus looks like and how big they grow.
Another favorite spot was about halfway around at stop 11 I believe. This area was really dense with lush green cactus and has very interestingly colored mountains as a backdrop. Then you look south and get a terrific view down into the valley and all the way to Mexico.
Stop 14 was another favorite with many Organ Pipes and views south of the Daiz Mountains. This is a great stop for some sunset photography.
Video Highlights of Ajo Mountain Scenic Drive
I think the best time of the day for the Ajo Mountain Drive is a late afternoon. As the sun gets lower on the horizon, the hills get shadowy, and the colors are all more vibrant. With the lush green landscape, blazing red, orange and gold of the hills and a blue sky it’s quite a site. We loved the drive so much we did it twice and really enjoyed this unique parks scenery.
UPDATE – here is a new video of the Ajo Mountain Drive published in FEB 2018
Ajo Mountain Drive Photo Gallery
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