Tag Archives: cactus

Castle Mountains National Monument

Overview

Designated in February 2016, this small monument borders Nevada and is surrounded by the much larger Mojave National Preserve on its other three sides.  Its highest point is Hart Peak (5,543 feet), named for James Hart who discovered gold here in 1907 and founded a boomtown that reached 1,500 residents. 

Highlights

Hart Peak (5,543 feet), Hart Mine ghost town, view of Castle Peaks

Must-Do Activity

This new National Monument is undeveloped with no trails, no visitor center, and little signage.  Drive or walk its network of dirt roads to get a feel for the Mojave Desert.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Joshua trees are always photogenic, especially when the jagged Castle Peaks are in the background (though they are outside the monument’s northern boundary within Mojave National Preserve).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

There are visitor centers in the adjacent Mojave National Preserve that have hours posted here:

https://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Walking Box Ranch Road is a groomed dirt road passable to any vehicle from Highway 164 west of Searchlight, Nevada.  Access roads from Mojave National Preserve require high-clearance.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed within the monument.  Hole-in-the-Wall Campground within Mojave National Preserve is accessible by paved road from Interstate 40.

Explore More – Piute Spring is charged by the aquifer within Castle Mountains National Monument; when researchers tested it, how long ago did its water fall as precipitation?

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Overview

Since there are no campgrounds at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, many people stay at Guadalupe Mountains National Park just across the state border.  The park contains the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet, so snow is not unheard of here.  One night when we stayed there in December, we awoke to an inch of snow.  It always looks like it just snowed at the Salt Basin Dunes.

Highlights

McKittrick Canyon, Pinery Station, Guadalupe Peak, Salt Basin Dunes, Dog Canyon

Must-Do Activity

The Chihuahuan Desert is home to many unique plant species,so start with the Pinery Trail behind the visitor center and learn to spot the differences between lechuguilla, sotol, yucca, and the many species of cacti. 

Best Trail

Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet and the steep trail to its summit from Pine Springs Campground crosses through several ecosystems providing wonderful views of El Capitan and the surrounding landscape.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Autumn is a great time to visit to catch the vibrant red leaves of bigtooth maple trees.  Find them by hiking from Pine Springs Campground on Devil’s Hall Trail or further north through McKittrick Canyon to secluded Pratt Cabin, built in the 1920s. 

Peak Season

Summer, though wildfires can shut down large portions of the park.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gumo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$5 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, including the 60 mile drive to Dog Canyon at the north end of the park, except the last 7.5 miles to Salt Basin Dunes (good dirt road) and Williams Ranch (4×4 road).

Camping

Pine Springs Campground and remote Dog Canyon Campground both have running water, but no RV hookups. Free backcountry permits provide camping opportunities at designated sites, though trails tend to be very steep and strenuous.


This design we created to celebrate Guadalupe Mountains National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why are the peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains full of marine fossils?

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Overview

“The green desert” is home to dense stands of saguaros, ocotillos, and its namesake organ pipe cacti.  The monument’s 330,689 acres sit on the Mexican border of Arizona and were recognized as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976.  The park has a reputation for being dangerous, which it can be for NPS Law Enforcement due to its border location, but tourists should encounter no problems while enjoying the beautiful landscape.

Organ

Highlights

Ajo Mountain Loop, Alamo Canyon, birding, earn an “I Hike For Health” pin

Must-Do Activity

The namesake cactus is more common further south and shares this landscape with 27 other species of cacti, including the famous saguaro.  To see the cacti at their best, I recommend driving the 21-mile dirt road Ajo Mountain Loop in the evening before turning in for the night at the campground.

Best Trail

The National Park Service (NPS) runs a shuttle some mornings to Senita Basin from where you can hike back to the visitor center (with an optional side trip to the abandoned Victoria Mine).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park’s Ajo Mountains are mostly volcanic rhyolite and their jagged outlines photograph well in the twilight hours with the famous saguaro cactus silhouetted in the foreground.

Saguaros and Diaz Peak

Peak Season

Anytime but summer when temperatures regularly soar above 100°F.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The highway is paved to Kris Eggle Visitor Center and Twin Peaks Campground, but most of the dirt roads are passable for all vehicles.

Camping

The park has the very nice Twin Peaks Campground (with solar showers) where you can pick up free hiker shuttles that allow for one-way trips back to your tent.  There are also a couple dry campsites (permit required) on Alamo Canyon Road.  A permit is required for backcountry camping.

Lots of organ pipes

A cristate formation on an organ pipe
An organ pipe cactus with a unique cristate formation.

Sunset on the Green Desert

Estes Canyon

Phainopepla
We saw unique bird species like this phainopepla, in addition to Scott’s orioles, Gila woodpeckers, black-throated sparrows, and, of course, ravens.

Explore More – Why is the Visitor Center named for Park Ranger Kris Eggle?

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