As soon as I found the Ajo Plaza, I went into the thrift store on the corner. I shop primarily at thrift stores, and even if I don’t buy anything, I like to see what different stores have for sell. I hadn’t been there very long when I started chatting with the two women in the store. They were talking about Hatch, New Mexico, and I told them what I knew about the area. When it was determined that I was visiting Ajo, one of the women told me I needed to visit Quitobaquito.
She said Quitobaquito was in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. She said it was an oasis in the desert, but warned me not take the route given on the tourist information. She said that was the long way around, then gave me some quick directions I didn’t understand, referring to roads I’d never heard of. I assured her I’d make it there if I could. I meant it too, because the place sounded interesting and exotic.
When I asked my friend Coyote Sue–who lives down the road in Why, AZ–about Quitobaquito, she said she’d never heard of it, so she wasn’t able to give me directions.
While planning my visit to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I found the following listing under ranger programs (http://www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/ranger-programs.htm):
Location Talk- Quitobaquito Spring: Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 10:30am
Join a ranger at this gorgeous desert oasis and learn about the animals and its rich cultural history. Meet the ranger at Quitobaquito or contact the visitor center to reserve a spot on the van.
I asked Miss M if she wanted to attend this talk. She said yes. Good ol’ Miss M, she’s up for most anything. So I called the visitor center and signed us up for the van ride. (There was no extra charge for the van ride and talk. All of the ranger programs are included in the $12-per-car, good-for-seven-days, admission to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Because Miss M had the federal land pass for seniors, neither of us had to pay a dime.)
On the morning of the tour, we hit the road plenty early to get to the pick-up spot at the visitor center in time, but when we got out to the highway, we saw a state police roadblock. Oh no.
A female officer approached Miss M’s car. She told us the border was closed. When Miss M asked why the border was closed, she said they had no information. Miss M told her we weren’t planning to cross the border or even go near it. When Miss M said we were headed to the National Monument, the officer said no problem, and the cops let us through. At that point, both Miss M and I knew we probably weren’t going to be able to visit Quitobaquito that day.
See, Quitobaquito is close the the Mexican border…really close. According to https://organpipehistory.com/orpi-a-z/quitobaquito-springs-2/, Quitobaquito Springs is located
a mere two hundred yards from the U.S.-Mexican border.
No way was the National Park Service going to let a small group of tourists traipse around so close to the border while some sort of incident was occurring.
When we arrived at the visitor center and told the ranger about the roadblock and the closed border, he told us he hadn’t heard anything about it. However, over the next half hour, the ranger got word that the border was closed, it had been closed by Mexico, and there would be no location talk at Quitobaquito that day. He offered instead to lead a short hike (about a mile and half round trip) to the Red Tanks Tinaja.
I was disappointed. I’d been really excited to see Quitobaquito. But I knew Miss M wasn’t going to drive out there while an international incident was possibly in progress, and I wasn’t going to go get my van to drive out there on my own, so Red Tanks Tinaja it was.
(I wasn’t the only one disappointed by the cancellation of the Quitobaquito location talk. When the ranger stopped the van at the campground to pick up the other folks who’d signed up for the ride and talk, one woman was obviously angry. Because Miss M and I were in the van with all of the doors and windows closed, we couldn’t hear anything she said, but her body language announced her displeasure.)
This is what Trails.com (https://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.aspx?trailid=HGS226-086) says about the Red Tanks Tinaja hike:
The trail begins as a narrow footpath, but soon merges with an old two-rut wagon trail. The wagon road runs southwest across desert flats studded with tall saguaros. Far to the east, the Ajo Range towers beyond the lesser crags of the Diablo Mountains. The cloud-rending spire of Pinkley Peak crowns conical hills to the north, while the crest of Twin Peaks rises above foothills to the south.
Never heard of a tinaja? I hadn’t either until I went on this hike. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinaja
Tinaja is a term originating in the American Southwest for surface pockets (depressions) formed in bedrock that occur below waterfalls, are carved out by spring flow or seepage, or are caused by sand and gravel scouring in intermittent streams (arroyos). Tinajas are an important source of surface water storage in arid environments. These relatively rare landforms are important ecologically because they support unique plant communities and provide important services to terrestrial wildlife.
While I was sorry to have missed out on Quitobaquito, I did enjoy this hike very much. Again, the ranger was knowledgeable and informative. I would have enjoyed being out in the desert and seeing new places and plant life, but I found it much better to make the journey with an experienced guide who could explain what I was seeing.
I took all of the photos in this post.