More Cactus and Some Trees

Hey everyone, the blog updates should hopefully be updated more regularly for a while. We've just set up camp outside of Zion National Park where we will be spending the next week with our long lost friend, the internet.

After leaving Catalina State Park, we headed south to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in order to explore more of the Sonoran Desert landscape. It was a long boring drive, but we did get to see one of those super-RV buses nearly flip over while driving on a straight-away.  When we arrived at the park, we settled into a nice campsite at the park's Twin Peaks Campground.  The camping was pretty rustic with no power hook-ups, but they did have solar showers.  Unfortunately, the showers were a popular destination for all the snow-birders and it was like power-washing our bodies with ice water every time we took a shower.  Organ Pipe Cactus has two scenic gravel roads: the Puerto Blanco Drive and the Ajo Mountain Loop.  We started out by driving the 10-mile Puerto Blanco Drive to get a feel for the park.

 It was a nice drive, but unfortunately only the northern section of the road was open for traffic.  The southern section, which would take us much further into the wilderness, was closed for visitor safety.  The park sits right on the US/Mexico border and they have had serious issues with drug trafficking, so needless to say, the place was swarming with border patrol. 

After we finished driving the Puerto Blanco, we drove the very scenic Ajo Mountain Drive. It was 21 miles of varied landscape, including Saguaros and Organ Pipe cacti. We drove through valleys of lush vegetation and up and through large mountains. It was a great drive and we ended up doing most of our exploring in this area.

The arch in the distance


Behind where I was standing to shoot the arch

One of the first hikes we did was the Arch Hike, which is only about 3/4 of a mile. Atop the mountain rests a huge arch, but you can't get up to the arch by walking the normal trail. We kept reading signs that made it sound like you could actually reach the arch itself, but there was no actual trailhead leading to it. We stopped by the visitor center and asked about hiking to the arch. The ranger said he has never done the hike but it was possible. He gave us a rough idea of where to start. We had a pretty good idea of where the actual "trail" might begin, but it was nice to get confirmation so we weren't wandering aimlessly. At the end of the Arch hike we ascended a pretty steep rock face and eventually came upon a cairn marking the way. It was about 1 mile or so straight up the backside of the mountain where the arch was located. It was a tough hike, made only tougher by the blazing sun and 40 pounds of gear on my back. We finally reached the top and the trail seem to stop. There wasn't a real clear cut way to get to the arch, only some very very steep cliffs down to a flat area which led to the arch. After some looking around, we found a wedge which dropped down into the flat area down below. To say it was sketchy is an understatement. Once down, the hike over was pretty easy. The arch itself is huge and only seemed to grow larger the closer we got. The view was terrific and it was worth the tough hike to get there. The trek back down was a cakewalk and probably took us a quarter of the time it did going up. 

For sunset, we stopped around mile 18 of the scenic loop to catch the light from the setting sun on the Ajo Mountain Range. There's nothing like watching mountains out west light up with the wonderful glow of the afternoon sun. It never gets old to see and I think it's one of those things you have to witness in person to really appreciate its beauty.

The next day we hiked the Bull Pasture/ Estes Canyon Trail. It was about a 4.5 mile roundtrip hike which only got tough near the end when you ascend to the overlook which gives you a view of the valley where we began our hike down below.

Cheese Balls
We explored some of the shorter hikes around camp and our last night there we also hiked the Alamo Canyon trail which was about 15 miles from the main park area. There were some old ruins along the way and a ton of Organ Pipe everywhere you looked. The next morning we packed up and set off for Joshua Tree National Park in Twenty Nine Palms California. It was our first time in California and also our first experience with 5-6 dollar per gallon gas prices. It's times like these when having a car that gets 55 mpg comes in handy. We decided to stay at the Cottonwood Spring Campground, which is located at the southern end of the park.  We noticed that there were no joshua trees when we entered the park and we still didn't see any by the time we reached our campsite.  We made the joke that all the joshua trees were probably at the other end of the park.  Well to our surprise, it ended up being true. They were all at the north end of the park which was about 45 miles away. What made it worse was that there was road construction between us and the north area of the park. Every time we drove north, we had to wait for an escort vehicle to shuttle everyone through the construction area which added a bit extra travel time (about 30 minutes each time!)

One of the first things we checked out was a pretty crazy arch right near the White Tank Campground. One thing I will say about Joshua Tree is that the rocks in the park look like something right out of a Flintstones episode. One slightly disappointing feature about Joshua Tree is that the majority of the hiking trails are short (1.5 miles or less round-trip).  We like to hike and tend to hike trails pretty fast, so by the end of the first day in the park we had knocked out about 75% of the trails.  The trick with parks like this is to get off the trails.  Basically we just drive until we find an area that looks nice, pull off on the side of the road, and start walking.  You can usually find the most interesting things that way and usually there is no one else out there. Most of the crowds flocked to the "points of interest" and they were gone by mid-afternoon. The joshua trees themselves are really cool and unique, with a bizarre Dr. Suess quality. Each one is different; some are severely gnarled and twisted, some are tiny and some are giant. On our first night there, I met a really nice photographer and his wife, who was also a photographer. I ended up chatting with them for a good 30 minutes and we shared stories of our travels.

Once the sun dipped behind the mountains, we went hunting for some interesting trees to shoot while the light was still good. The light was fading pretty fast and once we spotted an area, I pulled off the road, grabbed my gear, and high tailed it a good 1/2 mile out to some pretty unique looking trees. I managed to grab a few shots before the color was gone. We headed back to camp and hit the sack. The sun was pretty viscous and it took the energy out if us.

The next day we decided to visit the Hall of Terrors trail. We had seen it the day before and it sounded pretty awesome. Well it wasn't. It was basically just a trail for the rock climbers and Hall of Terrors was the name of the route. We were kind of let down as we were expecting some kind of awesome slot canyon type trail. We then took a trip to Barker Dam, half expecting to see it filled with some water. We made it to the Dam and found it completely void of any water. It was crazy to see the water line which was maybe 6 or 7 feet in some spots and now only filled with dirt and sand.

Once we had our fill of Joshua Trees we headed to a KOA in Needles, CA. We went and had new tires put on the trailer since we were getting close to 12,000 miles on the original tires.  We figured we should play it safe and have them replaced rather then getting a flat in the middle of nowhere. We took much needed showers and did our laundry which was overflowing out of the bag by this point. We were all geared up and readied ourselves to head to Death Valley in the morning. Expect the next blog update in a few days, which will cover Death Valley and Valley of Fires. 


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