Day 15 - February 12, 1998 - Milepost 1571 - Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ
(BF). Park Ranger Laura Dickson starts her 7:30 AM presentation with an explanation of why birds sing (mark territories, encourage courtship) and then has our group of early morning campers listen to the sounds of birds around the Visitor Center where we are gathered. As we hike along the dry wash edged by snarled green barked Palo Verde, we pick out the songs of Northern Cardinals, Phainopepla, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, and the most precious for me, the spiraling whine of a Costa's Hummingbird. We catch sight of the hummer, a pint-sized frito bandito, with his cartoon-like feathered black beard. Climbing out of the wash and into a cactus garden we hear course Gila Woodpeckers, rattling Cactus Wrens and the rough prrrt of an Ash-throated Flycatcher before completing our circle back to the Visitor Center by 9 AM.
Shari and I pack our lunch and drive the Ajo Mountain road, a 20-mile one-way loop rising from the desert valley up into the edge of the formidable cliffs that separate Organ Pipe from the Tohono O'odham reservation to our east. The estimated 2-hour trip takes us over 3 hours as we stop constantly for a closer inspection of this diverse habitat. When combined with our afternoon hike along the Desert View Trail, we gain an appreciable knowledge of the plant life surrounding us. The names truly describe the plants: Limber Bush, Brittle Bush, Fishhook Pincushion Cactus and, of course, the namesake Organ Pipe Cactus which looks like a cluster of non-branching Saguaro arranged like the pipes of a church organ. My favorite is the Teddy Bear Cholla, looking soft and cuddly at a distance, but on close approach is wickedly spined with needles that hurt on the way in and the way out for anyone foolish enough to give this bear a hug - truly a wolf in sheep's clothing.
(SF). Bert retrieves me at 9 AM and with picnic lunch in the car we take to the Ajo Mountain Trail, a one way gravel road into the mountainous desert country. It takes us three hours to traverse the 19-mile road. We stop at most every bird song, marker and pull out. I am again amazed at the greenness of the desert. According to the ranger program last night, there is more green this year than most since December usually has one inch of rain and this past December had four inches. I wonder what the desert will look like at the end of March when the flowers bloom. We are given a taste of that in some places. The yellow desert poppies show their brilliance in a variety of places and many of the bushes are loaded with buds. After a short nap, we hike the desert trail up the hill at the camp. We are not disappointed by the view as we see for miles in all directions and the land just amazes my senses. I was truly unaware that a desert could be so beautiful. The trail is marked with signs explaining the flora we encounter. I learn many new plants. I just hope my fading short term memory will keep the names handy of a few of the varieties in this Sonoran desert community. We attend the ranger program again tonight. Each night has been a different program, given by a different ranger and each has been well attended and well done. It is like attending a free elder hostel, since a vast majority of the people are retired couples traveling in their latter years and just enjoying this wonderful country we share and often take for granted.
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