Last Hikes in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Why, AZ

During the final couple of days of our visit to this area we completed two hikes in nearby Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Both were over fairly flat terrain through a multitude of beautiful Saguaro Cacti.  The first hike was on the Victoria/Lost Cabin Mine trail.

Signing in at the trailhead

Organ Pipe Cactus was once called the “most dangerous national park” and has been largely closed to the public for the last 11 years due to a high volume of immigrants and smugglers moving through the park.

But last September all of Organ Pipe’s 517 square miles were once again opened to hikers, birders and desert lovers.  Park officials believe that increased border security and patrols have made the park safe for visitors to get off the beaten path.  During our visits to the park we never encountered any problems and felt very safe at all times.

The Victoria/Lost Cabin Mine trail hike is mainly along an old mine road going over numerous rolling hills.  About two miles from the trailhead the road passes the abandoned Victoria Mine.  There were two other couples exploring the ruins, so we kept going. as the Lost Cabin Mine was two miles further up the trail.

We’re not sure why this is called the Lost Cabin Mine since we found it easily.  The cabin, built in 1910, is in poor shape, with only part of the walls remaining.

Entrances to one of the two mine shafts

The area around this mine contained a large amount of trash, evidence of immigrant or smuggler activity.  Park literature warns visitors to stay clear of anyone carrying large bundles and black water bottles.  We don’t know why the black water bottles, but we found a number of them.  All of the trash looked to have been there a long time and we saw no evidence of recent activity.

On the return we stopped at the remains of the Victoria Mine.  The previous visitors had departed so we were alone to explore.

A young miner pokes her head out of the cabin

Hey, miners like a hot bath too!

One of the things we were looking for on that hike was  a Senita Cactus, a rare plant that is only found in this area and is similar to an Organ Pipe.  We didn’t see any after hiking around for ten miles, so the next day we returned to the park to hike in to the Senita Valley on what’s called the Red Tanks/Senita Loop Trail.  We were a little apprehensive when we arrived at the small parking area at the trailhead to find a park ranger vehicle and a Border Patrol truck with a long horse trailer.

Border Patrol horse trailer

But with a posse out ahead of us checking for intruders, we set out on the trail.  After less than a mile we came to the red tanks.  The tanks are just a rocky area in a wash where water collects after a rain.  While not very impressive to look at, the sparse wildlife probably rely heavily on them for survival.

A little water in the red tanks


We continued down the wash for about a mile, passing some areas with debris from illegals who had passed through the area.  Again, no evidence of recent activity.

As we hiked we did spot a few interesting Organ Pipe.

After hiking through the valley for about four miles we still had not seen the elusive Senita Cactus and were about to turn around when we came upon the posse, a group of five Border Patrol agents and one park ranger on horseback.  While the Border Patrol agents were a bit stoic and only acknowledged us with a nod and brief hello, the ranger was friendly and asked how we were doing.  We told him of our quest and he pointed us to a spot further down the trail where he had spotted a Senita.  So on we went for a tenth of a mile or so and came upon our goal, a Senita Cactus.

It turns out the species is not real healthy right now for some reason.  The one we found was a bit droopy and appeared to be struggling to survive.  This particular cactus is known for its long, softer needles.

While the goal of the hike was a bit disappointing, we hike under the philosophy that it’s the journey not the destination that is important.  We enjoyed both of these hikes and the desert landscape along the way, and clocked 18 miles.

Driving back to the main highway we enjoyed a great view of the Ajo Mountains in the distance.

That ends our stay here at Hickiwan Trails RV Park in Why.  Turns out we really enjoyed it here as the park is very nice (and very cheap, $85 a week for FHU’s).  If the park was crowded the sites would be a little close together, but we didn’t have any close neighbors during our stay.  The sites are level (on gravel) with a concrete patio.  We recommend you check it out if visiting this area.

Next up for us is a stop in Tucson to have the motorhome serviced.  After that, ? ? ?

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19 Responses to Last Hikes in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

  1. pmbweaver says:

    I didn’t know that it was closed to the public. Glad they gates are open again. Looks like a couple of wonderful, educational hikes. We all know how much you two like anything educational…hehe

    Well, I learned something new today. I have never heard of a Senita Cactus. Oh my gosh, that cactus is a hoot. It looks so soft, but since you didn’t touch it, I am going to guess I am wrong about that.

    All that debris drives me nuts. They want to come to our country, but they don’t want to respect it. Makes me very angry.

  2. That last picture of the valley with the saguaro’s is beautiful! I wonder how it would look like once the flowers bloom! Will you still be there when the desert pops up with spring flowers?
    That saguaro you are looking at Pam is so tall!
    Thank you for showing Senita Cactus, something new I learned from your hike.

    • placestheygo says:

      Once again we will miss the saguaro when it is blooming time:( They bloom so late April/May and it is so warm here, but one year I will be here to see it!!! The senita cactus gets the neatest fruit. After the big white flower, their fruit looks like red cherry tomatoes! The photos are so cool. I would love to see that.

  3. Jim and Barb says:

    I always love coming across old structures like the lost cabin. I find the construction very interesting, how they built it and what it must have been like to live there back then.

  4. Janna says:

    Never heard of a Senita cactus, I need a new cactus book!

  5. Boy, the Sonoran desert sure is a lot prettier than the Chihuahuan desert! We are now in brown land, your photos were a sight for sore eyes!

  6. Sherry says:

    Thanks for the park recommendation. Your cactus pictures are terrific. I love the one of you by that REALLY TALL cactus and am feeling sorry for the Senita. I wonder what’s wrong. I’ve never seen or heard of it so thanks for doing all the hiking so I could see it.

  7. Gay says:

    What a nice 2 days of hikes. I have never heard of the Senita Cactus. Hope there are many others fairing better.

    Enjoy Tucson and good luck on MH service…..

  8. Ingrid says:

    Thanks for all the info you posted on the area as we’ll be visiting the last week of February. I think that was a male Senita Cactus you encountered 😉

    • placestheygo says:

      Ingrid, I couldn’t find anything that said there were male and female cactus. My reading said that all the older arms get these longer hair like needles.

      • Ingrid says:

        Hmm, when you said the arm was limp my mind jumped to a little blue pill 😉 You need to get the book “Everything you wanted to know about cactus, but were afraid to ask”, by Rod Gozinya 😆
        Hope to meet you guys in March along with the Weavers!

  9. heyduke50 says:

    love seeing the Senita Cactus as well…

  10. Laurel says:

    Thanks so much for the great tour of Organ Pipe NM — you’ve given us lots of great ideas for our visit there in a couple of weeks. That has to be the tallest Saguaro I’ve ever seen. And like everyone else here, I’ve never heard of a Senita cactus — are the needles really soft? Can’t wait to see you guys in Tucson! 😉

    • placestheygo says:

      Laurel, the needles weren’t actually soft but less brittle. I was able to touch them but they were still prickly:) I was under the impression the needles got very long like a beard and could be rubbed. But from all I’ve read they only get to a length of about five inches and all of the older arms get the needles. I didn’t find any mention of a male vs a female.

      See you in a couple days!!!

  11. Jodee Gravel says:

    The tall cactus above Pam looks like its skin is slipping from the top! I imagine it was a nice reprieve for the park to have those years “off”. Given the amount of security in the area, I wonder if they leave those water bottles and other debris to remind hikers that there “really are” immigrants crossing the area to be aware of? The area is so beautiful and green – can’t wait to “find” that lost cabin too!!!

  12. Rick Doyle says:

    Great photos as usual. I don’t think I’d ever heard of a Senita cactus before reading your blog.

  13. LuAnn says:

    Having lived in AZ for many years, I thought I knew a thing or two about the local cacti but you two have raised my cacti knowledge up a notch or two. 🙂

  14. Pam Leonard says:

    I wondered about why the trash is out there still, even if they want to leave a “reminder” couldn’t they pick a spot and mark it with a sign and then clean up the rest? I would have to ask the rangers if I was allowed to clean it up because it would make me feel uncomfortable to leave it there if I had the means to collect it while I was visiting. I’m sure there is a lot to the situation on both sides, no issue like this is uncomplicated.

  15. rommel says:

    What’s up with those park rangers?!?! I would have pegged you as an illegal immigrant wandering about and trying to cross. Ahihihi. 🙂 Once again, love the saguaro cactus.

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