January 7, 2014
The wind finally settles down and it is very quiet in the desert in the winter. Looking out the south door of the tent, I can see the lights of Sonoyta, Mexico in the near distance. There are just a few; nothing like the lights of Juarez when entering El Paso at night. It is also very cold in the desert in the winter. I snuggle into my sleeping bag which is placed on top of Stephen’s very long Big Agnes sleeping pad that I had inflated earlier. I am still cold even though I have on a Smart Wool top, wool leggings, and socks. I open a fleece sleeping bag and use it as a blanket. I also put Stephen’s sleeping bag on top of that. Finally, I am cozy enough to sleep peacefully the rest of the night.
Morning comes and I wait in the tent for the sun’s rays to take the edge off the night’s cold. I get dressed, eat a granola bar breakfast, and continue to drink water. I really want a cup of coffee but did not bring anything to boil water. I have two large bags of packaged foods such as tortilla chips and salsa, chocolate bars, granola bars, lots of nuts, a few Slim Jims, and several other items I purchased at Super Target in Phoenix. I easily have enough food for two nights of camping. I make a note to purchase a Jet Boil (and learn how to use it!) and to always remember fruit.
The campsites at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument are laid out in a fan shape with a one-way drive around the perimeter and roads running from east to west. The tent sites are the last two rows with pull-thru RV sites towards the front. There are no hook-ups and generators must be shut down by 10 pm. The sites are clean and flat and private and are only $12 a night. The shower house has an actual Western toilet that flushes, a sink with a mirror, and a solar shower with a dressing area. This is exceptionally luxurious in a National Park! After using the facilities, I return to camp and greet my neighbor, Caroline, also a woman traveling alone.
Caroline is a retired National Park Ranger. Twenty years ago, she was an interpretive ranger at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. She currently lives in Tucson where she owns and operates a B & B called Paca de Paja. Caroline is getting reacquainted with Organ Pipe because she has been invited to help lead a group excursion in February. I like her immediately with her calm voice and pleasing personality. I have a new friend already and begin making mental notes to stay at Paca de Paja while I’m in Tucson. We chat a while and make plans to meet somewhere along the Scenic Ajo Mountain Drive.
The visitor center is always the starting place for exploring any national park and the Kris Eggle Visitor Center at Organ Pipe Cactus is no exception. Visitor centers almost always offer a short informational film and brochures for orienting to the park as well as volunteers to answer any questions and provide tips for things to do. After watching the film, getting my national park passport cancellation stamp, shopping in the gift store (I bought some Prickly Pear candy), and going over the park map with the volunteer ranger, I was ready to explore the park.