Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Fully Reopens

Alamo Canyon in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Credit:

Alamo Canyon in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Credit:


Visiting all the national parks in the United States can take you to some very remote places.   Few of them in the contiguous United States are as remote as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, located on the U.S.-Mexico border some 2.5 hours west of Tucson and an equal distance south of Phoenix.    Fortunately, this park is about to become a little more accessible, as for the first time in more than 10 years, this park is now fully open to visitation.

More than 300,000 acres of this park were closed to visitiation  in 2003 in the wake of one of the most tragic events in National Park Service history.  Park Ranger Kris Eggle was fatally wounded while tracking down drug smugglers illegally crossing the border through the Park.   In response, large areas of the Park were closed to visitation due to the poor security situation.

In the ten years since this tragedy, there have been substantial improvements in border security.  If you’d like to know the specifics, the National Park Service has a great FAQ about what has changed between 2003 and now.   Additionally, Congress has very appropriately named the Park Visitor Center after Kris Eggle.   You can read more about the life of this public servant killed in the line of duty at the National Park Service’s memorial page

Fortunately, with the improvements in security, the most dangerous activities you are likely to encounter while visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument these days are driving your car and not drinking enough water.

If you would like to get a better sense of what areas are being reopened, this article on the reopening from National Parks Traveler has a couple nice photos of the Quitobaquito area in the western area of the park.  On the other hand, if you are planning a more typical visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the National Park Service has this helpful brochure online for how to plan your visit, based on whether you have just one hour, or else a full half day, or even longer.

The truth of the matter is that the closed areas in the park were predominantly in the undeveloped back country of this park  – areas where relatively few casual visitors were likely to tread.   Nevertheles, even for those visitors primarily planning to visit the paved scenic roads or the developed hiking trails, just knowing that some parts of the park were closed due to illegal border crossing activity likely continued to cause some potential visitors to make other plans.  That makes this unquestionably good news for the park.

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