Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been called the most dangerous park in America, most notably because of the death of ranger Kris Eggle in August of 2002 when park officials clashed with Mexican drug cartel members. Much of the park has been closed for years as trafficking of drugs and people along the border escalated. Make up your own mind if it’s worth it to venture down there. I’ll not be sued because I endorsed it to be safe but we had no real issues. It is a strange place to visit. We stepped into the visitor’s center and were warned to not take the full Ajo Mountain Drive Loop Road as it was too late in the day. After a lengthy drive in and literally nowhere to stay remotely close by, we were gonna see this place.
It is admittedly a little creepy. You can see the border lights from the visitor center and with all the talk of drug cartel violence getting thrown around, you stick close to the car. Still, after a bit you don’t think every bush will have someone jumping out at you. America sells that paranoia well.
We were hoping to get a variety of wildflowers to use a subjects against the organ pipes. Brittlebush was the only option on this trip and I finally found a composition that I liked with colorful yellow patches leading off into the distance. I found the landscape particularly difficult to compose. Saguaros are just easier subjects as they have more verticality and become more visually distinct as the arms branch out. Organ Pipes are just a jumble of leading vertical lines and I always seemed to end up with a scraggly cholla peeking its way into my shot. Finally, somewhere between Arch Canyon and Bull Pasture I got something I liked as the sun was going down.
Ajo Mountain Drive becomes a one way route at the first split. It was getting dark and even I am not crazy enough to want to be that far away from the ranger station after dark. The real excitement of the trip was after we got back. Dave wanted to do some light painting on the saguaros close to the visitor center. The ambient light is minimal out there and the stars were out in force. After a few attempts, we got a little bolder and went back across the road on foot to see what we could find. The moon was coming up between a saguaro’s arms. I was hooked. So now you have two oblivious dudes with headlamps in the bushes lighting up the resident cactus near the road but just enough out of site. You see where this is going? Awareness struck like lightening when we heard the car door shut. Crap, I’m gonna get shot by rangers while being a complete idiot. How would I ever explain this to my wife? So, we sat in silence expecting at any time to be shuffled off for questioning at gunpoint. After five or so minutes of nothing happening, we decided the best course of action was to be noisy in case they were sneaking up. So, we acted as gringo as we possibly could.
Me: “Man, I’m having real trouble selling my house.” (nearly shouting)
Dave:”Is it because it’s in a gated community?”
I’m not sure why, but nothing happened. Nothing at all. So, we packed up our gear and headed out hoping to catch something still open for dinner in Ajo.