Southwest Arizona

Some highlights from an early January 2021 trip through Southwest Arizona, starting at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, and then heading towards Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, both located in the Sonoran Desert.  The trip covered 4 days, two and a half at Kofa and one and a half in Organ Pipe Cactus.

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is an area of nationally protected land originally established as part of an effort to protect the bighorn sheep which reside within the park. There are established hiking trails, but off-trail hiking and backpacking is also allowed although only appropriate for experienced and well-prepared individuals.  It is also a great site for being able to camp for free for up to 14 days.  The camping is dispersed style, so you are far away from any neighbors, allowing for a more intimate experience with the desert as you spend the night, and is what I consider to be the most ideal form of public camping. 

Kofa is an absolutely beautiful section of desert environment, and I cannot recommend the experience of camping in this desert enough.  This part of the country has some of the lowest light pollution, so the visibility of the night’s sky is amazing and a wonderful experience to camp underneath.  

Most of the people visiting Kofa for the day tend to stick to the Palm Canyon Trail, which is a short and easy hike up a canyon, ending at a section of naturally growing palm trees.  Palm trees are generally not native in Arizona, with the exception of a very small cluster of California Fan Palms, existing up a steep ravine, inside a narrow canyon in the Kofa Mountains.


There is an unofficial trail leading up to the palm trees themselves, but is quite steep, covers loose ground, and is only for the very experienced hiker.


Another interesting find was this dead cactus.  When a Barrel Cactus dies, the inside rots away but an outer layer of spines remains intact, resembling a woven basket.


Here are some examples of the great landscapes and plant life found.  Most of these took place inside of the Kofa Queen Canyon section, which is what I consider to be the most beautiful section of the park, and is where we stayed the night to camp.  


Before heading down to The extreme south west of Arizona, to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, we stopped in Quartzsite at a mineral show, where I met this man who was selling rocks out of the van which he called his home.  Quartzsite is known for its nomad population of van lifers, who use the abundance of Bureau of Land Management free camping areas scattered across the region as the grounds which to park the vehicles they live out of.  Quartzsite’s slogan is the Rock Capital of the World, and is the host of multiple gem and mineral shows and swaps. This man was one of many people attending this show, selling and trading rocks.


Our next stop was the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which is both a national monument and UNESCO biosphere reserve, directly on the Mexican border. The park is the only place in the U.S. featuring its namesake, the Organ Pipe Cactus. 

One of the noticeable details and points of modern political relevance is the presence of the massively tall U.S. border wall, which runs directly through the protected lands, and the border patrol environment which surrounds the wall.  No matter your political views on this subject, and it is not something I want to go into, it is hard to deny the reality of the restrictions this wall places on the natural flow of wildlife inside their natural habitat, and their ability to access vital sources of water on the opposite side.  


A really cool thing I was fortunate to capture was this Raven stealing an embryo from the egg of another bird’s nest, built into a cavity in the top of a saguaro cactus.


Here are a few highlights from inside the park. 


To see the standard length photo album, click here.

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