Each year the people change, too. This year there are seven of us in the group
– some returning, some first-timers. Even those of us who have been here
before are not the same we were then. The eyes that look out over the desert are
a year older, a year richer in experience and memory.
Family gathering at Organ Pipe Cactus.
Again this year we take the Ajo Mountain loop drive, and this too is different
and yet the same. For the first time, we hike up the Arch Canyon Trail, where we
pause and marvel at the towering rock walls all around us. Later, we hike the
Estes Canyon / Bull Pasture loop trail, which we had also hiked last year. But
then, this trail was awash with wildflowers; now there are only a few. More
fortunately, last year this trail was uncomfortably hot; this year late
afternoon clouds make for perfect hiking conditions. Indeed, before we can make
it back to our cars, the clouds have unleashed a furious combination of
lightning strikes and pelting raindrops. That evening, back at the campground,
as the storm recedes, I take some photos of the distant lightning. Again, no two
lightning strikes are ever identical – each traces its own random branches
between cloud and ground.
Soon, the sky clears and the magnificent starry sky is revealed. What could be
more unchanging than the stars in their eternal expanse? But even the sky has it
“wanderers”, or planets as we call them, and this year there are
four that can be seen with the unaided eye. Venus blazes brightly in the west,
Jupiter is almost as bright in the east, and Saturn rules the sky almost
straight up. Faint Mars is there too, if you know where to look. Through my
telescope, Jupiter and Saturn are revealed to be systems of their own, each with
its own orbiting swarm of moons. Again, the pattern never exactly repeats.
Even when I deliberately try to make things the same, changes intrude. Every
year I stand in the exact same spot and take the same photo of the visitor
center. But this year my photo shows that the visitor center has a new sign,
having been recently named the “Kris Eggle Visitor Center” for a
park ranger who was killed by drug smugglers along the border. Nearby, a
memorial plaque provides a place to pause and contemplate this particularly
For all the changes I have seen at Organ Pipe, one thing remains the same: as I
leave behind this desert wonderland and drive back to the city, I look back on
the weekend as time well spent. Year after year, I'm very glad I came.