Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Back in July, we were able to take a vacation out west, but life in general (especially the home buying process!) got in the way of me finishing this post.  We decided to rent a car in Phoenix and drive in a large circle, stopping at NPS sites in southern Arizona, then heading to San Diego and Los Angeles, with a stop in Las Vegas before we headed to Phoenix for our return flight.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

We arrived in Phoenix early enough to drive out to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  It’s about a two hour drive from the Phoenix airport – through the desert.  We watched dust storms in the 100 degree heat while we tested the air conditioning in our rental car.  We drove through the towns of Ajo and Why before arriving at the entrance to the park.  Since the park shares its border with Mexico, we saw way more border patrol agents then NPS rangers.  There were also lots of warnings about the danger in the park due to illegal immigration and drug trafficking.  That being said, the most danger we encountered was when I was stung/bitten by the largest ant I have ever seen.  My hand was on fire (pun intended) for over 24 hours!  Apparently those little critters are poisonous.  Besides that adventure, we spent some time in the visitors center, getting our passport stamp and reading information about the cacti in the park.  The visitor center is named for Kris Eggle, who was killed while working at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  He was a ranger and a victim of the drug border violence.  A terrible tragedy, the park service has done a nice job paying homage to him.  We spent some time driving through the park, seeing the 28 different varieties of cacti.  The cactus for which the park is named, is rarely found in the U.S. – except in this area of the Sonoran Desert.

Back in Phoenix, we met friends for dinner at Fresh Mint.  A very tasty dinner of fresh Asian food, then early to bed!  We got to spend some great quality time with Kimberly, Shane, and Gavin.  Gavin loves to read, so he borrowed my book for the trip The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and spent some time reading it in his comfy chair.

While in Phoenix, we were able to eat at one of my favorite restaurants, Pita Jungle.  I always order this plate called 1,000 Beans.  It delights me.  Anthony had tasty falafel.  He is always on a quest to find falafel that rivals that which he ate in Detroit while living there.

Hohokam Pima National Monument

Upon leaving Phoenix, our first stop was Hohokam Pima National Monument.  The problem is, in our quest to get stamps from and visit every National Park Site in the country, Hohokam Pima is completely inaccessible to the public.  There is no stamp and no visitors center.  It is owned by the Gila River Indian Community and they are not allowing visitors to the site at this time.  Though we wanted to respect the community, we also wanted to say we had been there.  So we entered the location into our GPS, drove down a dirt road, and waited until the GPS said we were inside the park before we turned around.  We took a photo of the GPS to prove we were there.  How nerdy are we?  And I just found this statement on their website, “Attempting to go to the site is trespassing.”  Oops.  We didn’t see any “No Trespassing” signs where we were, and did not attempt to go to the actual site – which apparently protects an ancient Hohokam village called Snaketown.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Our next (legal) stop was Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  Casa Grande is the ruins of a large structure from the Hohokam Indians.  It was named by Spanish explorers, but by the time they found it, it had long been abandoned.  The informative film in the visitors center told us about their trials with irrigation and potential tribal warfare that caused the desertion of the location.  There are other ruins at the site, but Casa Grande is by far the most impressive.  It was built around 1350, and though archeologists have theories about its use, no one is exactly sure what its purpose was.  We were able to wander through the desert and take a look at the protected ruins – they erected a massage shade cover in 1932 to save it to some extent from the elements.  Sadly, in the 1800’s early visitors chose to graffiti the soft ruins.  Besides that, Casa Grande is an impressive monument you can see for miles before you arrive.

Tucson was our next destination.  We stopped for lunch at Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a vegan comfort food restaurant.  I had the Deli Club sandwich and it was absolutely fantastic!  We loved it there so much we went back for dinner later that night! Anthony had the Country Fried Chicken Platter, which he claims is one of the best vegan meals he’s ever had.

To be continued…

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