The Parks Podcast
The Parks Podcast
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Episode 5)

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Episode 5

Organ Pipe Cactus

Episode Guest

Cate Blanch, Digital Interpretation and Education Park Ranger
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Park Stats

Location: Pima County, Arizona

Park established: April 13, 1937

President in office: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Park size: 330,000 acrtes

Visitors: 133,317 in 2022

Fun fact:

    • 28 miles of hiking trails
    • It’s called “The Green Desert” and is the wettest desert in the world
    • 650 species of plants
    • 31 species of Cacti
    • Home to 3 large columnar cacti
    • It is the only place in the US where the Organ Pipe Cacti grows naturally
    • The Sonoran Desert is the most biodiverse desert in the United States
    • United National Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designation was awarded in 1976

Speed Round

What is your earliest park memory?

My earliest park memory is very faint, but in second grade I went to Hopewell Furnaces. I remember very little of this, but I do remember they made us do a little clay impression of the furnace and I kept it for years.

The one that I recall appropriately was Fort Pulaski. I lived in Savannah, GA and I remember going into that one and being like “that’s a lot of canon ball holes in that wall.”

What made you love the parks?

So for the parks themselves, it’s a bit of a story. But where I grew up, I never went hiking or camping or any of that.  When I was 30, I decided to do a cross-country road trip because I’d only ever lived in Harrisburg, PA, or Savannah, GA.

While at Fort Pulaski, I got the park pass and I wound up driving to Mesa Verde. As I entered, I got a ticket for one thing and then had to drive another hour and a half to get there.  It was my first time experiencing a park where you enter and then you have to keep going. Until that moment, I’d seen mountains in a painting or something, and it was very abstract. Driving up to the Long House in Mesa Verde, you could see all around and you could see these gorgeous mountains. I thought “The mountains in the painting exist somewhere.” That was really my intro to the parks themselves and kind of paying attention to the natural landscape.


I suddenly got interested in rocks and geology. I got interested in the mountains. I got interested in oceans. It created an inspiration to learn more about this world. That love really spans to all of the parks.

What is your favorite thing about Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument?

I would say the dark skies. I love being able to look at the sky and see thousands of stars. Where I grew up you may be able to see a few stars, the Big Dipper or Orion. I remember coming out west and looking up and just being dazzled by the fact that you could see so many stars. I didn’t know the Milky Way was visible until I came out west. And of course, Organi Pipe is a place where you can see the Milky Way. It’s an absolutely breathtaking dark sky that you can find here.

What is your favorite thing to do at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument?

I’m a huge hiker. So I would definitely say that. I also really enjoy interacting with people. Most of the time this may be their first interaction with the Sonoran Desert. They have a picture of a desert being a barren landscape. When they come here they see trees and bushes and so many plants, so they see the amazement that the desert is very green and lush. It’s a pleasure to always interact with visitors and get to share that experience with them.

What park have you yet to visit but is on your bucket list and why?

Haleakala. I have always wanted to go to Hawaii. I love volcanoes. I would love to see one in action. So  Haleakala is a big one on my bucket list.

What are three must-haves you pack for a park visit?

Water. Lots and lots of water. And then some more water.

Besides water, sturdy boots. Gotta have sturdy boots. I wind up doing a lot of hiking, so I’ve seen people out in sneakers.  Some people do like hiking in sneakers, but I tend to get a lot of gravel or bump my feet a lot, so I’m definitely a sturdy boot person.

And then my day pack. I usually wind up using a reservoir. I can put all my salty snacks in there and just being able to kind of hold everything, having a nice light day pack is a really go-to for me.

What is your favorite campfire activity?

I have a friend who’s a librarian and she’ll come down for fires and she will bring a children’s book and read us a children’s book around the campfire. It is so much fun. I highly recommend it. Definitely my favorite activity.

Tent, camper, or cabin?

See, that’s a hard choice because I used to work as a trailhead/wilderness ranger in Sequoia, so I’m used to living out of tents and backcountry cabins, and they both have benefits.

I would say though that I ultimately like the tent because I like being able to pick up and move and go somewhere else the next day.

Hiking with or without trekking poles?

I’m going to have to say both again. That goes back to if I am hiking with my day pack, so a very light pack, and I’m not doing anything too strenuous, so not a lot of uphill, I usually will forfeit the hiking poles and just not bother with them, because I don’t need much assistance.

If I’m wearing my backpacking pack and I have 30 pounds on my back, or if I’m doing some really strenuous hikes going up thousands of feet in elevation, I definitely take the poles. They are a lifesaver on your knees.

And what is your favorite trail snack?

I feel like it’s overused, but I love trail mix.

Mozzarella sticks though. Mozzarella sticks. I love mozzarella sticks. They carry so easily. They don’t melt. Definitely a fan of those.

What is the best animal sighting that you’ve had?

When I went down to Quitobaquito the last time, which is a beautiful oasis here in the monument, we actually went down with a school group and we took binoculars. We arrived and there was, what I believe was, a great blue heron in the middle of Quitobaquito and it stayed around the entire time we were there. So we all just immediately pulled out the binoculars and we’re just admiring this heron. That’s kind of like the skunks you mentioned. I did not know great blue herons were in this area and I found out that they were.

 I don’t have full verification, but, that was an amazing sighting.

What is your favorite sound in the parks?

I would say the monsoon rains. If you come from mid-July through mid-September, that’s when the monsoon season happens, because we have five different seasons instead of four here in the park. So we have the dry summer and the monsoon summer.

So right (July) now we’re in dry summer when all the cacti flowers and fruit wind up blooming on the cacti. And then we’re about to move into the monsoon summer. And it’s essentially like if you just picked up the park and put it in Florida and you just got dumped with hurricanes every day, that’s essentially what happens here.

We get these amazingly beautiful thunderstorms that roll in with high winds and just dump rain all across the desert. They’re absolutely spectacular. What winds up happening during that time is, of course, the desert gets very green, very lush, and very verdant. But the sound of that rain hitting the pavement and hitting that dirt is just so magical to hear in the middle of the desert where it’s usually so dry.