Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Greetings from Paso Robles! Gourmet Girl Gail here. A short update on my whereabouts after spending five days cooped up inside my apartment with the windows shut tight. As I’m sure you are aware, the southern California fires have affected my home base in Santa Barbara, California. Under voluntary evacuation, I left yesterday for points north. I traveled with the smoke up to Five Cities (just before Pismo Beach). Currently (and thankfully), everyone is breathing much cleaner air up here in Paso. I’m holed up at the La Quinta Inn and Suites for a couple of days before heading farther north to the Bay Area. A majority of the guests here are from Ventura, Ojai, and Santa Barbara, and we were able to trade stories and give support to each other at a wine tasting in the lobby. The hotel is pet friendly and many have brought their dogs and cats with them. We’re very appreciative of the hotel’s discount on the rooms for evacuees! There is such generosity of spirit and caring throughout the entire community, it’s hard to put into words, but we feel truly blessed.

If you recall my post from a couple of weeks ago (I was in Gila Bend, Arizona), I mentioned some sightseeing we did. One of the highlights was a 21-mile drive (called the Ajo Mountain Drive) through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This monument resides in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, which is the most diverse desert in North America and home to over 4,000 species of plants and animals. Most animals that live here are either nocturnal or crepuscular (dusk- or dawn-active) because of the high daytime temperatures.

Scientists believe that this is a young desert, only about 10,000 years old, with its ancestry in the tropics! The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They call it the Green Desert, and the desert does smell like rain. Two plant communities merge here, the lower Colorado Valley and Arizona Upland communities.

If you close your eyes and think of a desert, what colors come to mind? Brown? Tan? Sand and rock? We were very surprised to find this place is green. Each of the plants have learned tricks and techniques to survive heat and drought, as well as freezing temperatures and floods. This is a land of extremes when it comes to plant life.

There are plenty of hikes and walks to take in the park (October through April are the best months) as well as picnic areas and campgrounds.

I heartily recommend visiting Organ Pipe if you ever have the opportunity to do so. There are so many magnificent views and vistas to take in. Not to mention that the connections all over this incredible land are what make it the Sonoran Desert. Plants depend on animals to disperse their seed around the desert by ingestion and digestion or by transport. Animals depend on plants for food and shelter. Just because you see something dead in the desert, we can’t assume that it has no purpose. A dead or dying saguaro may mean that a wood rat or a lizard may take comfort in the shade.

Comfort seems to be a theme during this holiday season, especially for the displaced residents of southern California. We wish you the best during such challenging times and hope and your loved ones remain safe!

Love from the Gourmet Girls!

Gail, Denise, and Lindsey