500,000 bottles of sparkling wine mature in this section of the underground cellars at Cricova Winery just north of Chisinau, Moldova. Photo taken December 3, 2016.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Chisinau, Republic of Moldova.

Where are they going next? Transnistria. The country that doesn't exist!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The difference between a National Park, and a National Monument

We arrived at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument at around 10:30am. It was only a 45 minute drive south from the town of Ajo where we had spent the night before. We had purposely planned to arrive as early as possible to give us the most time to enjoy the area while we're paying for a campsite.

Our first stop was the Visitor's Center in order to find out what programs were included with our cost of admission, and to pick up a hiking map.

One of the limitations of not traveling with a vehicle other than our motorhome and bicycles is that we can't do things like the 21 mile (34 km) scenic drive they have here. However, it turns out that they do ranger guided van tours of that route, so we asked if we could sign up. And they're no extra cost!

They had an afternoon tour scheduled for 1:00pm, and not another one until Friday. There was only one spot left on yesterday's tour, and the Friday tour was sold out. There are only 10 people allowed on each tour.

We asked if they sometimes get "no shows" or last minute cancellations, and they occasionally do. One of the rangers noticed how interested we were, and went and made a phone call to check on one of the sign ups. He came back and scratched out a name, and wrote our names down! Nice!

They also do a hiking shuttle that brings you to a trailhead that allows you to hike back to the campground area. So we signed up for that shuttle for Friday afternoon.

With that done, we made our way to the campground entrance. There are no reservations allowed here. It's first come, first serve. But, they're only a little better than half full, and there are 174 RV sites. There are no hookups, but they have a well designed water and dump station as well as six washroom buildings, three of which have showers. They also have a "generator free" zone, so that's nice for those of us who don't like generator noise.

Camping is a reasonable $12 USD ($15 CAD) per night. A day use vehicle pass is $8 per day, or you can buy an annual National Parks Pass for $80 USD ($104 CAD). We decided on the annual pass because we have plans on using it a few times more between now and the end of April and again in the fall.

Sherman, happily parked up in the "generator free" zone.

All sites are angled pull throughs, and decently spaced apart. A well designed campground!

It was 11:30am by the time we got ourselves set up. We were pleased to discover that we had a really good Verizon signal way out here in the desert, so we have good internet. We had some lunch, and then walked over to the meeting point for the van tour.

Ranger Sardius giving us a pre tour talk.

The 21 mile (34 km) tour is three hours long and stops at various points of interest along the way where the ranger gives a little talk about the things in the park.

Yes, it is a "park",  and it is operated by the National Park Service, however officially it is not called a park, it's called a "monument".

What's the difference, you ask? Well we wanted to know as well, because it sure seems like a park to us!

Well, National Parks in the U.S. are land areas that are set aside for inspirational, educational, and recreational purposes and generally contain some sort of outstanding scenic feature.

National Monuments in the U.S. are land areas that contain some sort of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest.

So, now you know. Still seems like there's a fine line between the two to us!

At our first stop. 

Saw much of it out the window. 

Lots of colors in the hills.

This Organ Pipe Cactus was an odd variety.

Desert landscape.

Our second stop.

Ranger Sardius was a wealth of information. It was a really good tour!

I love the Saguaro cactus.

Ruth, with a huge old Organ Pipe cactus.

There's an arch in this park. It's actually a lot bigger than it looks in the photo...the opening is 90 feet from left to right.

Desert scenery in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

We totally enjoyed the tour. Can't believe that it's included with the cost of admission. So of course it's a popular tour and we were very lucky to be able to get on at the last minute. 

We've booked in for a three night stay here!


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26 comments:

  1. National Parks are also established by an act of Congress. National Monuments can be established by the President without an act of Congress. :)

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    1. Thank you Judith for that extra bit of info on the differences between the two. :-)

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  2. That is so nice that the Park is so accommodating. Beautiful area for the campground.

    Thanks for the explanation. We didn't know about the prehistoric aspect.

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    1. We were so happy to see that they offered the van tour because otherwise I don't think we would have made the loop around, especially not in Sherman. And, it would have been a hard go of it on our bikes as well seeing they are not mountain bikes and it would have been a long 21 miles.

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  3. We really enjoyed that park. It was one of the highlights of our trip last winter. Sunset shots amongst the cactus are spectacular.

    Nina

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    1. We are really enjoying it ourselves. The sunsets and the sunrises are both beautiful here.

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  4. What a nice tour, and so much to see, glad you enjoyed.

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    1. Yes, we really enjoyed the tour as well as the helpful information that was provided on the various plant and animal life here.

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  5. nice place that we have yet to visit... on the list though so we will make it there one day...

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    1. There is only so much that you can see at a time. It is nice to know that it will be here when you return another year.

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  6. Nice they offer the van tour with a knowledgeable Ranger.

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    1. Yes, it sure helps out when you don't have vehicle that can do a road like that.

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  7. We enjoyed our stay there tremendously! Didn't know about the guided tour...What a great service.
    We did take the opportunity to visit Puerto Penasco which is within the vehicle free zone, so it was a fun and easy day trip. Came home with the biggest, most delicious shrimp we've ever seen!

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    1. We won't be heading to Puerto Penasco this year but we have heard that the shrimp are big and delicious! Maybe we will head that way when we return to Mexico next time and check it out.

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  8. My wife and I loved our stay at Organ Pipe last year in our RV before heading to Puerto Penasco. A fabulous National Park with some of the largest Cactus we have ever seen. Can't wait to return! Perhaps your readers would enjoy or post and photos on Organ Pipe National Monument as well!

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    1. We were saying yesterday when we were hiking how huge some of the cactus are.

      Kevin has posted our post to their facebook page, thanks for the suggestion.

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  9. On one of our 3 Ajo loop drives Kelly & I hiked in behind that arch. Went as far as we could but I could see the trail kept on going up in the direction of that arch itself. Great that they have those tours for folks & greater still it's free. Organ Pipe is truly a great place & I've always liked that Ajo Mountain range.

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    1. The ranger was telling us about the latest rescue that the park had to do, it was with two women that had continued on that path up to the top, then wandered around before losing their way back to the path. The actual hiking path only goes to the arch after that you are on your own as he put it. Might have been a good thing that you didn't continue up it.

      We are enjoying our time here among the cactus and the mountains.

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  10. What Judy said and the land required for a National Park is much larger than that for a National Monument but some ultimately get enough land to get the "upgrade". Sounds like you had a fabulous day. So glad to hear that they make it possible for folks without cars to see and do so much. Really great pictures. Love that picture of Ruth with the Oregon Pipe and the one of Sherman in that fine looking campsite.

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    1. Thanks Sherry for that additional bit of information on the difference between the two.

      Yes, we were happy to see that they offered this tour and that we were able to get on the tour under such short notice. They also offer a hiking van dropoff in another hard to get at area and then you just hike from there back to the campground. If you were to do it without the van it would be a very long hike as it is it will be at least an 8 mile hike.

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  11. Good idea in purchasing the annual pass. You'll get your money's worth with that. Love the cactus pics!

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    1. We are pretty sure that we will be able to make it worthwhile between this spring and next fall.

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  12. Replies
    1. Thanks Chris, I think he is feeling pretty happy about it too!

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