Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A Prickly Experience

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

The drive to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was about 3½ hours south east of Yuma. We went through two border inspections but they didn’t stop us. There were about 8 police cars sitting in the middle of the highway within a short distance, nearly as many as we have ever seen in our entire time here – it must be a crossing point for illegals. The park is only about 7 miles to the Mexican border and they do have problems with drug cartels here. I guess we didn’t have the skin colour they were looking for as they weren’t interested in us. I did see a Mexican walking in the middle of nowhere…not sure how far he will get. I was surprised there were no signs along the road warning you not to pick up hitchhikers like the ones we see near prisons.

Although the campground is about 50 years old, it has recently been updated with all RV sites being pull-throughs and all the roads are bitumen. We have a concrete pad, a tap (not for our personal connection of course!) a garden each side, along with a BBQ and table with benches. There are restrooms with free solar showers if you want them but I heard they are boiling. Between each site are amazing cacti and other desert plants so it's like your own personal garden, it would have to be one of the nicest campgrounds we have been to. There is also a dump here, so very reasonable for $12 a night. My only complaint is that the sites are the wrong way around for the sun in the afternoon when it's at it's hottest.

Saguaro Cactus
The mountains shade the cacti in the campground around sunset, so you really can only photograph the ones on the northern side.

There are a number of trails and drives to do in the area
The sunrises in the morning are spectacular
I love ranger talks and surprise surprise they had one on Cacti.

Here are some of the things I learnt:
  • It takes 10 years for a Saguaro to grow the first inch as it can’t hold much water
  • They don’t breathe during the day to conserve water, a normal tree loses 10 gallons of water a day, a cactus – 1 glass
  • Dying out in the desert? Don’t cut a cactus up, even if you have the strength needed, the juice in it will give you renal failure
  • The roots are as long underground as the height of the cactus above ground
  • They can live for 200 years and grow up to 50 feet tall, they flower at about age 65 and produce their first arms at age 90
  • The flowers bloom in May and June, which come out at about 10pm and close at 9am or 5pm the next day, depending on the species. The red fleshed fruit grows in July. After the seeds are spread by birds and animals eating the fruit, it's time for the monsoon rains to start
  • They take nine years to die and can produce flowers during this time which is decieving 
  • The saguaro produces around 4 million seeds the size of poppy seeds, of that maybe one will survive. They need water within a week of hitting the ground
  • As they grow older they add more ribs
  • The saguaro skin is thicker on the side that faces south to prevent sunburn
  • If a limb is pointing down, it has been frozen by frost, it will then grow upwards from here
  • If the trunk or limb is bumpy, this is usually due to frost damage
  • The saguaro grows under a nanny tree, such as a Parlo Verde for protection from the sun and for nutrients
  • A young saguaro has many spines on the top much like a sunhat for shade
  • Some saguaros never produce limbs, usually because of lack of water
  • Bats and birds pollinate the flowers
  • Wood-peckers make their nests inside the trunks. They hollow out an area inside much like a gourd, leave it for a week for the cactus to “heal” which produces a hard skin, much like a scab for us. Then they lay their eggs at the bottom. They only use that nest once, whereby other animals can then use it such as owls. These are the cactus hotels.
  • They only grow at certain altitudes and don’t like the cold
The Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile loop that has 18 stopping points. The parks service has made a brochure that gives you interesting information at each point. 

Ocotillo are the long spiny plants, described as an upside down carrot. The long orange red flowers attract hummingbirds to help pollinate the plant and continue it’s survival. They store water in their roots and stems. In dry times they shed their leaves and when the rains come, they restore themselves so that it looks like there had never been a dry spell. Lindsay calls them Phyllis Diller.

I now know that the cactus that stuck onto my sock that morning on our walk was a Teddy Bear Cholla, so named because they look fuzzy and cute but have millions of barbed spines that are designed to hook onto anything that passes it by. Prior to this I had nudged one with my foot to see if it was just laying on the ground or if it had re-planted itself, the spines imbed themselves into my tuff sole and the leather of my boot; apparently they do re-root themselves. Pulling them out by hand was difficult as they are slippery, so we used a pair of pliers, but they just broke off close to the bottom. There were forests of organ cactus and saguaro cactus as well as many other desert plants.

Scenery from the Ajo drive
Crest on an Organ Pipe Cactus
A crest can occur when the growth cells from a straight line instead of a circle.

Organ Pipe Cactus love the sun and will often be seen on south-facing slopes where no other plants seem to grow. Their flowers cover the columns in June and July. The lesser long-nosed bats who migrate from Mexico, come to feast on the flower nectar which pollinate the cacti. They later gorge on the fruits, distributing the seeds across the desert. The flowers only come out at night and close in the early morning, lasting only a half a day.

How to pronounce these words:

J = H         jojoba: hoe-HOE-bah,     Ajo: AH-hoe

G = W       saguaro: sa-WAH-row

Mesquite – mess-KEET is a tree of life. The fruit is high in carbohydrates, the seeds are ground into flour which have more protein than soybeans.

Palo Verde – PA-loh-VAIR-deh - serves as a nurse tree to the young cactus to preventing sunburn, floods and frosts. Also provide nitrogen to the ground for the new plants

Related posts:
RV Campground Review - Ajo, AZ

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