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Organ Pipe Cactii

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Continuing my reprise of memorable places I ran during a year-long tour of the US and Canada in 1985-86, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, bordering Mexico in Arizona is high on the list.

An organ pipe cactus.

Like many runners, one of the first things I do on reaching any destination is get hold of a map and work out whether there are any appealing places to run.  Sometimes, a trail or road loop jumps out as a very attractive option, and this was the case on the Organ Pipe Cactus NM park map.  I was planning a long run and there, on the map, beckoning, was the 21 Mile Ajo Mountain Loop Road.

Saguaro cactii in the Sonoran desert of the Organ
Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Unfortunately, the park campground was full and we had to stay further south in a commercial campground right on the border, literally, with Mexico.  The next morning we drove back to the park's Visitor Centre and I set out on the unpaved one-way road loop on a beautiful clear sunny day.  Although it was at the height of the season - early Spring in the Sonoran desert - and the campgrounds were full, many of the visitors were "snowbirds', refugees from the northern winter in huge recreation vehicles.  Such vehicles were prohibited from the tourist road loop, which was narrow and rough in parts, meaning that traffic was light.

Sonoran desert landscape in Organ Pipe Cactus
National Monument.

The route meandered through stereotypical desert country, dominated by the unique organ pipe and saguaro cactii, as it gradually climbed towards Mt Ajo (4,808').  After looping around the Diablo Mountains, past rocky canyons straight out of a Western movie, it descended slowly back towards the Visitor Centre, frequently offering grand vistas stretching all the way into Mexico.  I was quite fit at the time and the run was easy and very enjoyable.

In contrast, my run today was a slow 5km on stiff and sore legs around Copa.  It took the whole 5km to warm up enough to run smoothly.  Maybe it's age, or lack of fitness, or excess weight, it's hard to tell.  Although I'm running better than six weeks ago, I still have a long way to go.