The American southwest is almost as much a place of the mind as it is of the world. The harshness of the desert landscapes stirs something in the soul. It’s the barrenness, the bone dry, spiked, and sun scorched earth, and the way that life happens in spite of the cruel conditions.
The colors are different in the desert too. Days end more dramatically as the evening cool settles and everything softens.
Of all the national parks I’ve been to in the last few years, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument stands out as one of the most unexpectedly beautiful.
It was February. Jesse and I were on the second day of our motorcycle trip from Brenda, Arizona to Katy, Texas, but we had a week before we needed to be in San Antonio, so we started out slow.
We left my Grandparents RV park early in the morning and dove south, meandering through the stretching Sonoran Desert and watching it change from scrubland to out of place irrigated farmland, back to cactus haven as we neared the Mexico border.
This National Monument is the only place in the United States where the many-armed Organ Pipe Cactus grows wild.
It’s the Yuma Desert Section of the Sonoran Desert, and one of the only intact parts left this side of the border (although the park protecting this ecosystem straddles both sides of the fenced line). It’s quiet and bizarre and lush in a severe kind of way.
Spindly Ocotillo grow tall here. Saguaros and Cholla Cactus flourish in furry looking bunches. And the Organ Pipe cactus reign with many limbs, like the Hindu goddess Durga who carries weapons in numerous arms.
We set up camp at the Twin Peaks Campground, finding shelter in the shade of a Palo Verde tree, and dozed while the day was hot. I read Jack Kerouac and Jesse did bike maintenance for a while. We made dinner and tea.
Then we walked in the desert and watched the day soften into lavender the way I’ve only ever seen it do in Arizona.
Dusk fell and the stars came out and we walked through the desert with flashlights, and the next day we sped off to a different part of the Arizona. But this night, this place, has stayed with me. As it gets colder and the months since our last trip draw longer, I’m craving desert sunsets and warmer nights.