25-Apr-2015 -- We decided to celebrate my wife’s birthday with a weekend camping trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument highlighted by a confluence visit. After nabbing a primo camping spot in the Alamo Canyon campground at the base of the Ajo Mountains, we headed south down AZ Hwy 85 to the Park headquarters. At the headquarters we paid for the campground and then began the counterclockwise journey along Puerto Blanco Drive, a 37-mile unpaved one-way road that circumnavigates the western portion of the Monument.
After stopping to quickly remove a small Mojave rattlesnake from the road, we arrived at the trailhead to Dripping Springs, a year round water source issuing from the soft rhyolite of the Puerto Blanco Mountains. The sound of dripping water and the hum of bees was a nice soundtrack to accompany the view out over the desert valley floor. With that short diversion accomplished, we set off for the confluence.
Located about a mile off the road (to the west), the confluence lies in the Cipriano Hills just beyond a low basalt ridge. Leaving the truck kind of off the road (we are the type who hate to drive over plants), we set off due west along 32°N. We are very close to the Mexican border and the Monument is filled with signs warning of the dangers of encountering smugglers and dotted with blue beacons to guide those in distress to a red safety button (it contacts the Border Patrol for rescue). Upon leaving the truck a Border Patrol helicopter spots us, finds us suspicious and begins to do low circles around us to ascertain our degree of lawfulness. I admit we must appear somewhat odd as we are three people with daypacks hiking in the middle of nowhere on a route not exactly frequented by tourist hikers. Nonetheless, the helicopter moves off and we continue over the ridge and locate our target.
My sister-in-law Sharon builds a small, but noteworthy, cairn of beautiful red rocks, we take some photos, and we return. Notable plants around this confluence not only include the organ pipe cactus, one of three species of large columnar cacti to be found in Arizona, but also Jatropha cuneata, a shrubby euphorb that appears to be a naturally occurring bonsai tree. Both are near the very north end of their range and are considered subtropical Mexican plants.
We return to the truck without incident and then have lunch at Quitobaquito Spring, a phenomenal example of a desert oasis created by a small spring located only a few hundred yards north of the border fence. The spring water is warm, clear and filled with beautiful small blue fish, the Quitobaquito pupfish. We drive the border fence back to Monument HQ, pick up Hwy 85 heading north and return to our camp. The evening is spent around a small fire while surrounded by a forest of enormous saguaro and organ pipe cactus and a dinner of carnitas, rice, beans, and wine.