Bull Pasture Hike – Organ Pipe Cactus Nat. Monument

Why,  AZ

It is a twenty mile drive south from Why to the Visitors Center for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  The drive takes you through flat desert filled with Saguaro Cacti.

If you followed our blog two years ago during a visit to Arizona, you may remember that the nimble hiker has a love of the unusual forms of a “crested” saguaro.  As we drove down Rte. 85 at about sixty miles an hour, a cry suddenly went out from the passenger seat to pull over.  We couldn’t stop safely in time so we had to turn around and drive back a bit to check out the reason for the cry.

Aha, a crested saguaro in the distance!  We hiked out to it for a closer look.

Crested Saguaro

After checking that one out, we continued south to the visitor center.  When we inquired about hiking in the monument, the volunteer told us his favorite hike – Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture.  The trailhead is about half way around the Ajo Mountain Loop Road, a 21 mile scenic drive on a maintained dirt road.  The road crosses the Diablo Mountains and goes along the base of the Ajo Mountains.  Along the way there are dense concentrations of saguaro and organ pipe cacti.

Ajo Mountain Drive

A crested organ pipe cactus

Strange patterns on a saguaro

Hillside full of organ pipe cacti

Park literature says this is possibly the largest organ pipe cactus in the monument

Arch Canyon with an arch on the right

A closer look reveals a small arch above the large arch

The hike we were going to do is on two trails.  The Estes Canyon Trail is a loop of about three miles.  The park literature lists it as moderate in difficulty with one section climbing up the side of the mountains.  At the highest point of that loop it meets Bull Pasture Trail.  This is a half mile trail going steeply up the mountain and is listed as difficult in the park literature.  We decided to do both trails.

Estes Canyon – Bull Pasture Trailhead

We’re going where?

This hike has an elevation gain of almost a 1,000 feet, so we were pleased to reach Bull Pasture and the great views found there.  We have no idea why this spot is called a pasture.  There is no grazing area that we could find.

The view from Bull Pasture

As we looked to the south we could see another point, a bit higher than where we were.  OK, time for a bit more climbing.

We followed a series of animal trails to the top of that point.  Once there we had a great three sixty degree view of the valleys and mountains around us.

Looking south to Mexico

Looking north to the town of Ajo (too small to see in this photo)

Lunch with a view

The way back down to Bull Pasture was a bit tricky as we couldn’t find a trail for most of the hike.  You watch your step very carefully when going through low cacti!

Sure would like to find a trail!

Back enjoying the view from Bull Pasture

Once we hiked back down into the bottom of Estes Canyon, it sure looked a long way back up to where we had enjoyed lunch.

A distant view of our lunch spot

Returning back through the canyon

Although not extremely long (about 4.5 miles total), the elevation change made this a pretty challenging hike.  But we love seeing beautiful vistas, and the top of Bull Pasture was one of the best we have experience.

Next up is a tour of the nearby town of Ajo.  More on that later . . .

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37 Responses to Bull Pasture Hike – Organ Pipe Cactus Nat. Monument

  1. RV Cheaper! says:

    Awesome photos, I’ll bet the views were incredible! Thanks 🙂

  2. Gay says:

    I love, love, love the crested organ pipe cactus…and WOW what a view! Are rattle snakes out yet?

    • placestheygo says:

      Gay, we haven’t seem any rattlesnakes, but then the only one we’ve ever seen was the young one we posted from a Zion hike. Someone told us the other day that the ranger told them that rattlesnakes don’t hibernate so they are out all year and show themselves when it is sunny and warm. So you always have to watch. Hope our good luck continues:)

  3. pmbweaver says:

    What a gorgeous photo of the crested saguaro! Great job. WOW…how cool to see the largest organ pipe cactus. You look so tiny Pam.

    Love the two arches. What a neat find.

    What a glorious view at the top. The volunteer didn’t stir you wrong with that hike.

  4. Laurel says:

    How gorgeous!! I love crested saguaros, too, and I think you found the most beautiful one ever. What a spectacular hike (of COURSE you decided to do both trails!). Great views, cool arch, beautiful variety of cacti — now I’m really excited about going there in a couple of weeks. Thanks for leading the way!

    • placestheygo says:

      Laurel, we saw many more crested Organ Pipes and saguaro but we didn’t want to over do for those who really aren’t interested. You’ll seeing them all when you do the loop drive:)

      When someone mentions a nice vista, we are there:) And in true fashion John has to go the best and highest vista.

  5. dalees107 says:

    This would be a effect hike for us. Not sure when we’ll get out to the SW, so we love your details and pictures!

  6. Love the cacti. A great hike with a view for lunch. What a fun day!

  7. Sue says:

    Wonderful pictures of such a beautiful place. This is another spot I have on my list, now I’ve underlined it on my list! Good boy John, stopping AND turning around for a photo shows much evolution.

    • placestheygo says:

      You names did come up on our drive in to the monument, Sue. As we were speeding by the crested saguaro, I said we have to go back. John very nicely turned around and went back. I replied with a thank you Dave!! John learned a lot during our month stay with you two:) Haha!

      This is a nice park for everyone because most of it driving trails but there is also some hiking. The loop we did yesterday had two driving booklets, one for the crested cactus and arches and another for the general landscape. You two would really enjoy it.

  8. Jim and Barb says:

    One of the things that Barb and I like to do it look for uniquely shaped saguaros. We find a lot that look like cartoon characters or animals (in our imaginations) but I do not recall ever seeing a crested one. Very cool.

    • placestheygo says:

      The saguaro sure give you lots of unique creatures, don’t they! I discovered the crested saguaro from another blog and it then became a mission when ever we hiked in Arizona to find some. I Google them, as well. There aren’t many but we’ve been pretty lucky on finding at least one on most hikes. If you do a search on our blog for crested saguaro, you can see several. We actually did a whole blog with the ones we had found. Any cactus can form a crest. We saw a teddybear cholla with a crested arm the other day.

  9. Jodee Gravel says:

    Although I have been in the saquaros often, it was in your blog that I first saw a crested saquaro two years ago! The organ pipe little one is cool too – great pic. That large organ pipe behind Pam looks like something Captain Nemo would be hunting! Love the shots of each of you at the top – you look like the only people on the planet 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      This is definitely not a crowded park. The pull offs on the loop trail will only fit two cars. Kind of tells you how few people get this far south. But it is definitely worth the trip.

      There were several Organ Pipes that had crested arms. The largest one had two arms and another that we saw had three crested arms and two that were just starting. It was a great crested day!! The park office has a guide to finding the crested cacti that are near the road.

  10. Janna says:

    Someone said on our blog the other day, “we are just going to follow you guys around,” well, I’m thinking that is what the cowboy and I should do, follow you guys around! Great photos and hike!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Janna! I think that we all kind of follow each other. As a matter of fact, this trip to Why, Ajo, and Organ Pipe Cactus NM is following another bloggers trip that they did in December:)

  11. Amanda says:

    Love, love, love the Organ Pipe Cactus NM! We only drove the road since we had our pup with us and couldn’t do any hiking. Thanks for taking me along on the trail.

  12. Gorgeous! Looks like you are having an awesome time!

  13. colibabas says:

    Thanks for the tour. We weren’t able to do many parts of the park because our truck is over the 25′ limit.
    Great pics as usual!

  14. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    The last pic reminded me that that the first part of the Bull Pasture hike has the tallest Cholla cacti I’ve ever seen. They are TREES! It is a long hike as I remember my body telling me :)). We biked that loop a few times, not sure we could make it now.
    Box Canyon Mark

    • placestheygo says:

      Mark, we said that exact same thing about the cholla. They are huge!! Some are probably ten feet tall.

      We are headed out to find the hairy Organ Pipe Cactus today since that part of the park is now open. I remembered that you and Bobbie went into that area just to find them. Good that we don’t have to break the law to find them:)

  15. Sheila says:

    You guys are amazing! Love the photo of you taken with the cactus. Gorgeous photos!

  16. Sherry says:

    That is one gorgeous crested saguaro but how in the world did you see it going by at 60mph? Now that’s amazing. I love all the unusual shapes of cacti too and really enjoyed this post. The pictures of the tall cactus and the beautiful views make me very envious of your day. Few things better than no mark of the hand of man in your view for miles. Thanks for sharing it with me. Had to LOL at “we couldn’t find the trail”. With the “oh well” attitude. You guys are great.

    • placestheygo says:

      There were hundreds of saguaro on both sides of the road. My neck was getting quite a workout scanning for crested ones. Luckily, the one I found was quite large so it was easy to spot. John tells me to just look forward…haha!!

      This park is the place to come if you really want to leave civilization behind. There are so few visitors that you are pretty much alone.

      John had the “oh, well” attitude, I was really grumbling behind him as I looked at the “path” he was choosing. Sometimes we get into quite a mess!!!

  17. Becky says:

    Wow! Those are some impressive cactus. We love to play the “find the most unusual cactus game.” I think you won. Also, love all the murals on the buildings. Thanks for sharing!

    • placestheygo says:

      We can’t take credit for all the crested cactus finds, Becky. The only one I found alone was the first one. The park has a guide for the driving loop that points out arches and crested cactus:) So glad we knew about the this guide. The crested organ pipe would be hard to find since the crested arms were all inside.

  18. Everytime I see a picture of your lunch with a view, it made me itch.
    Those are really impressive saguaros and your smile Pam is just ear to ear with delight. Your vivid pictures makes me missed AZ.
    We missed this turn when we were in the area and I would sure go there one day.

  19. LuAnn says:

    I can see that the nimble hiker is really in her element, beautiful vistas and those lovely cacti. Glad you were able to find some crested saguaros. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Pam Leonard says:

    Added this hike and your great RV park find to my list!

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