So John wants me to write about our trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The story is too feel-good, too cutesy and cuddly.
Apparently that’s my department.
Well, we decided to risk our lives and liberty by traveling on the incredibly dangerous Interstate 8 through Arizona. We did this even though it certainly is riddled with drug smugglers and scary, scary, scary illegal immigrants.
However, we weren’t going to risk it at night. We spent another night at the Cocopah Casino, where I had won big ($11, baby!) at the slots the previous morning.
Saturday morning we set off, with much trepidation, down Highway 8, Captain Bill’s warnings on our minds. He’s off his rocker, we reasoned, he is a wingnut reactionary, probably thinks of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News as gospel and is afraid of anybody with any pigment to their skin or accent in their voices.
But still, I thought to myself, not even willing to voice my fears to John, he does live here. It’s very easy from the comfort of our Northern liberal perch to condemn racism and fear-mongering.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s something to what he says. Of course there isn’t. He’s off his rocker. It’s complete bullshit. This is what Highway 8 looks like:
Needless to say, we made it to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument without incident. We had a fantastic time, even though it has been called “the most dangerous park in the U.S.”
It is well worth a visit, if you ever get a chance to travel to the Sonora Desert.
Max even became a Junior Park Ranger, an accomplishment of which he’s very proud.
We decided to take a little hike, and after getting directions from Park Ranger Robb, we took the behemoth on what we thought was a couple-mile drive to the trail head. We misunderstood, and thought we had missed a turn (in actuality, the trail head was 10 miles into the 21-mile loop). So after a rumbling, clanging, bumpy ride of nine miles we came upon a different trail head and decided to go for it.
Max, bolstered by his new title of Junior Park Ranger, took the lead, explaining to us the entire time about the different cacti and flowers we saw, and how to navigate the trail.
“You’re the parents, but I’m the ranger,” he said. “So you have to listen to me. Right?”
Eventually, we came to a sign warning of a rough, steep route ahead. John mentioned he had read that if we wanted to go further, we were supposed to contact a park ranger. Well, it turns out we had one with us. Max Wallingford, Junior Park Ranger, recently enrolled in a rock climbing class at the Y, was undaunted.
We had a great time climbing rocks and gazing at truly incredible views. The Sonora Desert is, as Robb told Max, very much alive. The green cacti are plentiful, and interspersed with several different types of colorful desert flowers.
It was on our way down the rocks that I spotted what looked like a shoelace tied to one of those organ pipe cacti.
“What do you think that is?” I asked John. “It looks like it could have been used to keep the cactus from crowding that little tree next to it,” he replied.
Reasonable, so reasonable. Certainly some sort of official National Monument activity, and not, say, a coded message from a drug runner or spotter to a cartel member.
A few feet later we spotted some rocks stacked atop one another. You can see similar constructions, I guess they call them cairns, on just about about any trail in any park. Hikers erect them to say “I was here” or let friends know they are on the right trail.
Somehow this innocuous and familiar sight suddenly seemed sinister. But we were on the way back to the camper now anyway, so we just kept going.
Max, our intrepid leader, was out front. He wanted to try out a different trail that snaked a bit further into the wilderness.
“No, no,” John and I both said, “we finished the whole trail, and now we need to get back to the camper.”
Max was insistent. He wants to be a nature scientist, after all, and he loves to explore nature. He begged, he pleaded, he cajoled.
It’s hard to say no to a kid who wants to explore nature, especially since you can’t exactly explain that you’re worried you may have stumbled onto a drug throughway. Fortunately, fate intervened. I stumbled, and lost my footing, cutting my hands up slightly. This was enough of an excuse.
“Sorry, sweetie, but I need to get back to the camper right away and get a Band-aid.”
We kept going, following the same path. Suddenly, something gleamed in the sunlight.
As good stewards of nature, we of course decided to pick it up and take it to the trash cans at the trail head.
Well, those likely can be purchased at any convenience store in the area. Everybody loves cookies, right? And even though it is kind of rare to encounter litter on trails (all the nature freaks tend to abide by the “leave nothing but footprints” directive) it certainly could have fallen out of somebody’s pocket, right?
Well, it turns out, we may very well have been spotted by drug runners, but, much like bears at other national parks, the danger is probably overstated. As long as you don’t surprise them, you’re fine. And the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is well worth it.
Just be sure you aren’t carrying any contraband humans or narcotics in your vehicle. We’ve had to go through three border patrol checkpoints on our trip.