It's A Fry Heat

Even Without The Petroglyphs, Organ Pipe National Monument Is Hot Stuff

By Kevin Franklin

AS I EMERGE from the mouth of Growler Canyon in Organ Pipe National Monument, I begin to wither under the unmitigated heat of the Bates Mountains' bajada slope.

Review I need to bring a thermometer on these trips. I know it's well over 100 degrees, but I have to know exactly how much more: If it's only 102, I could order my sweaty hide to push on with a few self-deprecating words; but if it's a respectable 110 or so, I could forego further self punishment and just collapse in a heap right here. That way, when future snowbirds visiting the monument (in temperate January) point to this slope and say "that's where Out There Guy finally got what was coming to him," my spirit can reply, Well, yeah, but it was 110 degrees.

On second thought, maybe it's better not to know.

I turn to look for my two companions, park rangers Dominic Cardea and Nancy Favour. I shrink into the shade of a skinny saguaro--the best available option--to wait. I match my pose to that of the saguaro's shadow, bent arms and all. Relief is immediate, if spare, as the shade encompasses my body, albeit in a somewhat undignified position. Hell--image is nothing, obey your skin cells.

"It should be near here," Cardea says as he comes within ear shot. He studiously ignores my pose. We're on a quest for "cowboy" petroglyph art, glimpsed here by Cardea in years past. Supposedly it's among one of many piles of black basalt boulders scattered across the bajada. We scramble over a few, pitching from rock to rock completely unlike the graceful bighorn sheep that live here.

"I remember it being right along here somewhere," Cardea says again. Under most circumstances, no one's more for seeking out obscure historical landmarks than I, but at this particular juncture I'm focused on a big wash in the basin below. A large palo verde tree beckons as a shady retreat.

In spite of our efforts, we fail to find the dancing cowboy. And having lost our zeal for the idle etchings of some bored buckaroo, we slink off into the shade. A few boot kicks clear the area of tracks and chips left behind by a merry band of javelina, making way for the Sonoran Desert version of a La-Z-Boy recliner.

In the kind shade of the palo verde, we cool down with a few swigs of hot water. The sun's just reached its zenith, and we discuss whether it's better to leave now and arrive at camp in good light, or hang out until the day cools off a bit. After three hours of drinking and lounging, highlighted by a few minutes of debate, we decide unanimously to leave immediately.

Our desert trek has a purpose, of sorts. Dom's decided it's time to change out the trail register on top of Kino Peak, a seemingly vertical 3,000-foot volcanic plug in the heart of the Bates Mountains. In the grand tradition of Everest climbers, we hope to reach its base by nightfall, allowing for an early morning ascent.

At the mouth of a canyon heading east toward Kino Peak, we enter the outskirts of a forest of organ pipe cactus. The season for the fruit of this unique Southern Arizonan cactus (similar in appearance to the saguaro) has past, but Dom manages to sniff out one of the last of the season. He carefully cuts away the spines and skin protecting the seedy red fruit within, affording a sloppy stolen treat.

We camp near the lucky cactus, and after a quick meal, spread our bags under a ceiling of stars. The daytime heat might be tremendous and the promised art elusive, but who can complain about a temperate, star-studded evening in the desert wilderness? With visions of organ-pipe fruit dancing in our heads, we nod off with giant Kino Peak looming nearby.

Getting There

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is 140 miles west of Tucson along Highway 85. Visitors need a backcountry permit from the visitor center before going into the wilds of Organ Pipe.


Trails Illustrated makes a good topographical map of the area. TW

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