Organ Pipe Thanksgiving

November 29-December 1, 2013

It has become a tradition for us to spend several weekends during what passes for Winter in this part of the world at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. In the hottest and driest heart of the Sonoran Desert, OP is always a few degrees warmer than Tucson. And while the park doesn't deserve its reputation as the nation's "most dangerous national park, it sure cuts down on the annual snowbird migration.

I never tire of the drive westbound along route 86. Past Kitt Peak there is an endless sea of cactus and the road is just inches above high tide. Sandwiched between the Tohono O'odham Reservation and Mexico, this part of Arizona seems to belong to no particular country.

Organ Pipe National Monument is a place where we do things we never seem to have time for anywhere else.We actually read some of our books about Arizona trees, animal tracks and rocks and minerals. We go for walks that aren't hikes. I sit outside stringing beads that sparkle in the sun. Dennis takes the time to erect a four-element yagi. We light our campsite with a Coleman lantern that belonged to Dennis' grandfather.

We stare at birds (I can't call it bird-watching since that implies a certain level of expertise). We have developed a meaningful relationship with a pair of ravens who make their home in the park, and are content to spend hours watching them staring lovingly into each others' eyes, or exchanging tokens of their affection in the form of bits of grass or twigs and other found objects.

It makes me very sad that so much of the park is off limits. Diaz Spire. Montezuma Head. Sweetwater Pass. Virtually the entire 53-mile-long Puerto Blanco loop.

The window of opportunity for hiking the nine-mile loop trail connecting Red Tanks, Baker Mine and Milton Mine was maddeningly small. Completed around 2003, it was closed along with the Puerto Blanco loop in 2004.

During a hike along the Victoria Mine trail, we strayed as far as we dared toward Senita Basin, and were awe-struck by a forest of giant saguaros. But we turned back when we came across vehicle tracks, abandoned bicyles and black water jugs.

I want my park back.