An under-the-radar national monument… almost 1,000 miles away, on the border of Mexico… in its off-season. Say no more! This assignment for National Parks magazine was as good a reason as any for a big road trip! I convinced a friend in San Diego to go with me, and we (she a coastal-dweller and I a woodsy-foothills type) discovered why the desert calls to people so powerfully. I fully intend to return some day when the monument is in full bloom, but being there nearly-alone in the off-season had was its own special experience. This piece was the cover story for the magazine’s Spring 2014 issue, and you can read it in its entirety on the NPCA’s site.
If clouds move in toward the end of your day at the monument, get excited—it means you’re about to experience one masterpiece of a sunset. Settle in at your campsite with a glass of wine and wait for the show to begin. You can take as many photographs as you like. Just know that when you get home and show people your pictures, you’ll likely hear yourself saying, “This really doesn’t do it justice.” After the sunset come the stars, and the dropping temperature means a wholly different desert is stirring in the dusk; creatures that hid under, around, and inside cacti through the long hot day surface to prowl and partner, thriving unseen.
As my friend and I packed up the next morning, two ravens loitered unabashedly. We were the only ones there to people watch, after all. Perhaps they knew we had missed most of the blooming season and hadn’t glimpsed any of the monument’s adorable pygmy owls or beautiful Sonoran pronghorn, so it was only hospitable of them to offer themselves up as a farewell party. They hopped about genially, croaking occasionally, two seasoned and earnest diplomats for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I promised them I’d do what I could to send more guests their way, even if takes a lot of explaining.