Mount Ajo and Alamo Canyon

December 16-19, 2010

Every year we lose more and more of the Sonoran Desert to development and border conflict. The western half of Organ Pipe National Monument including the fabulous Puerto Blanco loop has been closed for years, and more recently, all backpacking was prohibited within the Monument. I’m so glad we camped on the ridge while we had a chance!

At least Alamo Canyon is still open, and it was our base for three days of camping and hiking with the Tucson Backpackers.

Karen, Max, Matt and Susan joined us Thursday afternoon. A sudden winter storm made for an interesting cookout and a fabulous sunset. The evening’s entertainment was “Phlashlight Photography” courtesy of the Nikon D-300.

On Friday we explored Alamo Canyon and visited the site of a ranch that dates back to the early 20th century. Remains of the corral and well are still visible, along with metate holes for grinding corn from prehistoric times.

Karen and Max returned to Tucson Friday, but we had a full campground that evening with the arrival of Tom, Flo, Beth, Lois and Deanna. We all took a sunset stroll along the base of a huge red rhyolite cliff.

The main event was Saturday’s hike toward — not quite “to” — Mount Ajo. The liquid landscape of Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture was as thrilling as ever, although the scramble to the top of the cones was even tougher than I recalled. We were rewarded with jaw-dropping views and a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch.

Tom, Flo, Susan, Matt, Dennis and I treated ourselves to one more heavenly night in Alamo Canyon. In the morning we were a little unnerved to see four Border Patrol agents heading up the canyon shouldering M16s. But just a few days earlier, on December 14, 2010, Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed on the border near Nogales. Terry was part of a five-man team on a mission to protect illegal immigrants when they were approached by Mexican bandits. Gunshots were exchanged and Terry was shot in the back with an AK-47.

We thanked the agents for the service and expressed our condolences for the loss of their comrade. I don’t think anyone can summarize the bottomless tragedy of the border crisis better than Tucson musician Kevin Pakulis in his song entitled, “Land of Plenty”:


i face my job like a coming storm i start my day with a clean pressed uniform a 9mm and a 4 wheel drive i kiss my family good bye

across the line a man leaves home too we may meet up before the day is through a little bit of spanish is all i speak enough to stop a man tryin’ to feed his family

yeah and it’s a high tide up and down the front line keepin’ an eye on the land of plenty

i wear a heavy black kevlar vest my wife prays it never gets put to the test i don’t worry ’bout the rocks that the young ones throw but a semi-automatic keep you on your toes

another hour my shift is done i spot a group but i let ‘em run you gotta appreciate what a man will do carrying the water and his baby too

In addition to the hawk we photographed on our hike to The Cones, we also spotted three Harris’ hawks hunting together on our way back to Alamo Canyon. And Sunday afternoon was the ultimate thrill. Just west of Sells, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and put the TacoMa in the ditch. Perched on a mesquite branch next to the road was a CRESTED CARACARA! I’ve only seen caracaras three times on this side of the border, but it’s always been in this spot. Since he/she was very preoccupied by the close proximity of an irate raven as well as a Harris’ hawk, we had time to capture some fabulous photos.