Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona

December 14, 2015 at 6:00 am (National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Southwest Landscapes) (, , , , )

Organ Pipe cactus, Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona

Organ Pipe cactus, Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona

The distinctive organ pipe cactus is so sensitive to freezing temperatures that its northernmost range is in very southern Arizona in and near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  However, the most noticeable cactus is the saguaro.


As you can see from the above photo, many are too young to have grown picturesque arms.


Finding just the right saguaros can be a challenge when the sun is low in the sky and you want that perfect silhouette.


I aimed for the starburst effect by letting the sun just barely peek around or through the cactus.  I don’t have one of those lenses that makes the long points of light, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way – use a small aperture.

Saguaro Forest

Saguaro Forest

I highly recommend doing the Ajo Mountain Scenic Drive about two hours before sunset.  It’s 21-mile gravel loop drive is mostly one-way, but it takes you through a tremendous saguaro forest which is stunning when backlit as above.  The chain-fruit cholla are hard to resist as well, glowing like prickly frost as the sun hits the close-packed spines.


Using a super-long telephoto lens compresses the distance and “stacks” up the saguaro even more dramatically.


I think that scene was my very favorite on the drive, which also takes you very close to the mountains.  As the sun lowers, they glow red.



I didn’t have time to hike the trail to this arch.  As it was, I finished the drive after dark.


The park is right on Mexico’s border, and as you can see the terrain is dramatic.


However, its proximity to Mexico has made the park a route for drug traffickers and desperate immigrants.  A young law enforcement ranger was killed several years ago patrolling the park’s 30-mile border with Mexico.  From the park’s website:

Kris Eggle was shot and killed in the line of duty at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, on August 9, 2002 while pursuing members of a drug cartel who fled into the United States after committing a string of murders in Mexico. He was 28 years old.

The main campground just across the street from the beginning of the scenic drive was pretty much empty during my visit, but it fills right up in winter with sun worshippers, I’m told.


The last rays of sun paint the landscape, changing hue and intensity every few seconds.




I stayed at the tiny Alamo Canyon campground the second night.  This primitive spot has only four sites, but has a nice trail that takes you past old buildings and into the canyon.  There was no sign on the road directing visitors to it, but I managed to find it anyway.

I’d love to see this place in spring when the flowers bloom.  With abundant winter rains, it should be stunning!

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Purchase these images here.

Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

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  1. mbkircus said,

    Love the same pic best that you do, also love how you got the sky to be the right blue to really set of that lime green of the lit up cacti.

  2. A Visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument - CabinMaps said,

    […] For some stunning pictures of Organ Pipe, visit Cindy McIntyre’s blog. […]

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