The Sonoran Desert extends up from Mexico into Southern California and Southeastern Arizona. It covers about 100,000 square miles of the landscape. Many believe that the desert is an uninhabitable wasteland. But even hours outside of developed cities like Phoenix and Tucson, life thrives.
You can experience the untouched Sonoran Desert at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It comprises 516 square miles of Southeastern Arizona. And it is only about 2 hours from Phoenix and Tucson. It’s great for a day trip if you’re staying nearby.
Where We Stayed
We visited Organ Pipe while traveling with our Airstream. We’d left Southern California and were on our way to Southeastern Arizona. Because the Monument is about an hour south of I-8, we checked into the Gila Bend KOA. By the way, the Gila Bend KOA is a spectacular campground and is a perfect launch site to see Organ Pipe. I’ll review it in another post.
Stopping for Coffee First
We left the campground and headed south toward Ajo. We love good coffee and had read that the Harris & Smith Coffee Company brews a good cup. I ordered a latte. This coffee shop had earned the buzz. We took our coffees to-go because so we could get to the trail before the temperature climbed into the upper 90s.
While driving to the National Monument, we passed through the small town of Why. I assumed it was so named because someone once asked: “Why would anyone live out here?”. The town was originally named “Y” because two state routes joined there in a Y-shape. But Arizona required all city names to have at least three letters, so the town registered its name as “Why.”
Arriving at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
We arrived at the visitor’s center at about 10 a.m. There were only a few other visitors there. There was an information desk, a small exhibit about the Monument, and a short film as well. We didn’t have to pay an entrance fee because we carry an Interagency National Pass.
We asked the Park Ranger where to start, and she directed us to the Perimeter Trail at the Twin Peaks Campground. This is a one-mile trail that offers views of the desert flats. You also get a chance to see different types of cactus up close.
By the way, the plural of cactus is “cacti” or “cactuses.” But after spending over a year in Arizona, we learned that most residents just say “cactus” for the plural. Using local vernacular is always best when traveling.
Driving the Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop
We decided to drive the Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop. It’s a 21-mile trip through the desert and provides close views of the various cactus. Massive saguaro and organ pipe cactus cover most of the drive. Cholla and ocotillo are littered throughout the landscape. We got out of the truck and did a few walks at various points along the ride.
Between the short hike and the scenic drive, we spent about four hours at the Monument. Even though I would’ve loved to drive down Pozo Nuevo Road, our trip to Organ Pipe was over. The road requires 4×4 and high clearance. We didn’t see much wildlife. But we were there during the heat of the day so that was expected.
Thai Food in Phoenix
After taking a rest at the Airstream for a few hours, we made our way into Phoenix. Our first stop was the Wild Thaiger. Don’t let its somewhat cheesy name fool you; this Thai food was top-notch.
We started with the Dragon Eggz. They’ve been featured on an episode of “Triple D.” They were served crispy and had a great flavor. I ordered the Fat One and added chicken to the dish. It had a great level of spicy heat that I quenched with a Singha.
An Amazing Tiki Bar In the Desert
We left Wild Thaiger and headed to UnderTow, a semi-hidden tiki bar within Sip Coffee and Beer Garage. We were there early enough on a Wednesday that we didn’t have a problem getting a table. This place was an experience.
After walking down a staircase and opening the door, it’s as if you’re in the dark hull of an old, wooden ship. Except in the middle of the room, there’s a tiki bar. The entire place is decked out with sailing and island paraphernalia. There are even portholes that display ocean scenes. Every so often, a battleship appears and attacks. Sounds and flashes fill the atmosphere.
That is fun and all, but the drinks are the stars at UnderTow. Custom libations and reinvented cocktails from around the world grace the menu. The borrowed have their origin cited on the drink list. We each had several cocktails, including the Landlubber and the Smoking Cannon. Those were two of our favorites. Every drink was delicious and of superb quality. Even the drinkware, picks, and straws complemented the experience.
We enjoyed this great day trip in the Sonoran Desert. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was a beautiful preserve to see. The Thai food in Phoenix was excellent, but UnderTow stole the evening. It wasn’t only a tiki bar; it was an entertainment experience with some of the best tiki cocktails we’ve ever had.
What are your favorite places in Arizona? Tell me in the comments below.
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