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Arizona

Treasured Landscapes: Hiking Organ Pipe and Saguaro National Park

Program No. 22724RJ
Join experts in southern Arizona to hike among the signature cacti of Saguaro National Park and Organ Pipe. Experience stunning landscapes and a dazzling array of life.
Length
7 days
Rating (4.92)
Activity Level
Starts at
1,699

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DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Jan 23 - Jan 29, 2023
Starting at
1,699
Jan 29 - Feb 4, 2023
Starting at
1,699
Feb 13 - Feb 19, 2023
Starting at
1,699
Feb 19 - Feb 25, 2023
Starting at
1,699
Nov 6 - Nov 12, 2023
Starting at
1,699
Nov 12 - Nov 18, 2023
Starting at
1,699
Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2023
Starting at
1,699
DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Jan 23 - Jan 29, 2023
Starting at
2,109
Jan 29 - Feb 4, 2023
Starting at
2,109
Feb 13 - Feb 19, 2023
Starting at
2,109
Feb 19 - Feb 25, 2023
Starting at
2,109
Nov 6 - Nov 12, 2023
Starting at
2,109
Nov 12 - Nov 18, 2023
Starting at
2,109
Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2023
Starting at
2,109

At a Glance

The Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona is like a great sea of mighty cacti and windswept brush — its vast desert basins lap against isolated mountains that stand like lost islands. These swaths of desert may look barren to the untrained eye, but beneath that facade lay hidden oases and spectacular vistas teeming with life. Join local experts to explore Saguaro National Park and the magical lands of Ajo — one of Arizona’s hidden gems. Enjoy forays on the winding trails of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and discover an incredible diversity of life as you hike these majestic landscapes.
Activity Level
Outdoor: Spirited
Daily hikes of 3-7 miles over varied terrain. Elevation changes of 500–1,000 feet. Elevations above 3,000 feet.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Enjoy an introduction to the Sonoran Desert with a hike among the iconic cacti of Saguaro National Park.
  • Explore Ajo with four days of invigorating hikes in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the surrounding Ajo area.
  • Stay at the newly-designed Sonoran Desert Conference Center in the heart of Ajo and near the town’s historic, Spanish-style plaza.

General Notes

Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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Mike Masek
Mike Masek is a wilderness skills instructor, herbalist and ethnobotanist living in Flagstaff, Ariz. In addition to his current work with Road Scholar, he is adjunct faculty at Northern Arizona University where he teaches traditional uses of native plants and outdoor survival skills. He also teaches programs at the National Parks and Coconino Community College. He has spent a lifetime exploring the canyons and deserts of the American Southwest and loves to share these treasures with others.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Mike Masek
Mike Masek View biography
Mike Masek is a wilderness skills instructor, herbalist and ethnobotanist living in Flagstaff, Ariz. In addition to his current work with Road Scholar, he is adjunct faculty at Northern Arizona University where he teaches traditional uses of native plants and outdoor survival skills. He also teaches programs at the National Parks and Coconino Community College. He has spent a lifetime exploring the canyons and deserts of the American Southwest and loves to share these treasures with others.
Profile Image of Kristin Hooten
Kristin Hooten View biography
Kristin Hooten has spent the majority of her life in the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona. She earned a bachelor's degree in Parks and Recreation Management with an emphasis in Outdoor Education and Leadership from Northern Arizona University. Kristin has worked in the outdoor industry in different capacities and enjoys her ongoing education with the surrounding region. When not in the office or field, she is found enjoying the great outdoors either on a paddleboard or in her camper.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert
by Patricia Wentworth Comus (Editor)
"Once in a generation, a guide to understanding a major North American landscape comes along. This book is such a touchstone, sure to become a classic. The emphasis here is on biodiversity, mutualism, co-evolution, and, especially, ethno-relationships—the long history of connection between desert peoples and their homeland, on both sides of the border.
The Secret Knowledge of Water
by Childs, Craig
Deserts are environments that can be inhospitable even to seasoned explorers. Craig Childs has spent years in the deserts of the American West, and his treks through arid lands in search of water reveal the natural world at its most extreme. This book is a very personal narrative about discovering not only the essence of water sources in arid lands but about the very soul of the place that contain these hidden treasures. A delightful read.
A Guide to the Geology of Saguaro National Park
by Bezy, John V.
Saguaro National Park offers a variety of spectacular geologic features. Because of the relatively sparse vegetation in the lower elevations of the park, most of these features are easy to recognize and photograph. Some of these features are common throughout the Southwest. Others occur only in regions that have similar geology. This booklet is your field guide to the geology of this magnificent desert and mountain landscape. Most of the geologic features described in the text can be reached by short hikes from the tour roads of the park. This book is written for the visitor who has an interest in geology, but who may not have had formal training in the subject. It may also help ensure that the visiting geologist does not overlook some of the features described. http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1525
Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey
Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, the noted author's most enduring nonfiction work, is an account of Abbey's seasons as a ranger at Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. Abbey reflects on the nature of the Colorado Plateau desert, on the condition of our remaining wilderness, and on the future of a civilization that cannot reconcile itself to living in the natural world.
Roadside Geology of Arizona
by Chronic, Halka
The 18th printing of this book in the Roadside Geology Series offers a mini-course in geology, focusing on what can be seen from Arizona highways. Although written especially for those with little or no geologic training, there's plenty here for the professional geologist as well--a great introduction to Arizona and its past. Geologic terms are defined where first used and again in the glossary. Inside the front cover is a legend to geological symbols and abbreviations commonly used by geologists. 321pp
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Book of Answers
by David Wentworth Lazaroff
What exactly is a desert? How can I attract hummingbirds? Are cactus spines poisonous? Is a javelina a pig? This book provides detailed answers to 42 questions that the staff at the Desert Museum are most often asked. Supplemented with nearly 100 illustrations, this 200 page book is broken down into three sections: getting to know the desert, the desert as one's backyard, and enjoying the desert. Seven useful appendixes cover a range of topics including hummingbird gardening, venomous bites and stings, climate, and additional sources of information about desert life. A fun way to learn how wild and fascinating our deserts really are! 192 pg.
A Guide to the Geology of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve
by Bezy, John V.; Gutmann, James T.; Haxel, Gordon B.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in SW Arizona and the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve in NW Sonora protect two magnificent yet geologically distinct parts of the Sonoran Desert. Rocks of the Organ Pipe-Pinacate region have been faulted and eroded into mountains and basins typical of the Basin and Range Province of SW North America. The Biosphere Reserve contains young volcanoes, basalt lava flows, and giant maar craters on the Pinacate Volcanic field. This booklet is your field guide to the geology of these splendid desert landscapes. http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1685
Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis
by Glennon, Robert
In the middle of the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas casinos use billions of gallons of water for fountains, pirate lagoons, wave machines, and indoor canals. Meanwhile, the town of Orme, Tennessee, must truck in water from Alabama because it has literally run out. Robert Glennon captures the irony—and tragedy—of America’s water crisis in a book that is both frightening and wickedly comical. Unquenchable reveals the heady extravagances and everyday inefficiencies that are sucking the nation dry.
Birds of Arizona Field Guide
by Stan Tekiela
Learn about and identify birds using Stan Tekiela's state-by-state field guides. The full-page, color photos are incomparable and include insets of winter plumage, color morphs and more. Plus, with the easy-to-use format, you don't need to know a bird's name or classification in order to easily find it in the book. Using this field guide is a real pleasure. It's a great way for anyone to learn about the birds in your state.
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7 days
6 nights
17 meals
6 B 5 L 6 D
DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Tucson. AZ
D
Hilton Garden Inn Tucson Airport

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m. Registration at 5:00 pm, Orientation at 5:30 pm. Remember to bring your nametag (sent previously).

Afternoon: Program Registration: 5:00 p.m. After you have your room assignment, come to the Road Scholar table in the meeting room to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please locate your Group Leader and let them know you have arrived. Orientation: 5:30 pm. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions in our private meeting room. We will review the up-to-date daily schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer any questions. We will review COVID-19 protocols and will adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines and requirements throughout the program. Transportation will be provided primarily by passenger vans, unless otherwise specified. Throughout the program, our naturalist Group Leaders will cover various subjects including geology, geography, ecology, and human history while we hike as a single group with a hike leader in the front and a sweep towards the rear. Periods in the daily schedule designated as “Free Time” and “At Leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may be changed due to local conditions/circumstances. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: In the hotel conference room.

Evening: At leisure. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night's rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
Hiking Saguaro National Park – Rincon District
Tucson. AZ
B,L,D
Hilton Garden Inn Tucson Airport

Activity note: Getting in/out of passenger vans; driving about 21 miles to trailhead; approximately 3/4 hour riding time one way. Hiking up to 7 miles, about 6 hours; well-established but rocky Park Service trails. At 2.8 miles, Bridal Wreath Falls entails an elevation gain of approximately 1,100 feet from the Douglas Springs trailhead. Hiking distances: Trailhead to Bridal Wreath Falls roundtrip 5.6 miles. Trailhead to Bridal Wreath Falls returning to Trailhead via Three Tanks and Wildhorse Trails 6.9 miles.

Breakfast: At the hotel restaurant.

Morning: We’ll begin by loading our vehicles and transferring to Saguaro National Park’s Rincon Mountain District, which contains some of the most outstanding Saguaro cactus specimens in the southwest. We will begin our hike at the Douglas Springs Trailhead. As we hike, we’ll link together a combination of national park trails (Douglas Springs, Three Tanks, and Wildhorse) and cover a variety of terrain including out-wash plains, foothills, and desert dry washes. In addition to brief trailside natural history and geology talks given by our Group Leader, we will identify many desert plants encountered and relate Sonoran Desert themes to the group. Our destination for the morning will be Bridal Wreath Falls. Water that flows over the falls is an intermittent and seasonal affair dependent on rainfall or snow melt from the higher elevations. The setting of the Falls is pleasant all year round, with an abundance of bird life and stone terraces surrounded by towering Saguaro cactus mixed with higher desert vegetation.

Lunch: Lunch will be planned at Bridal Wreath Falls (weather permitting). We'll enjoy a sack lunch.

Afternoon: After lunch, we will continue our hike. For those who choose, we will offer a shorter mileage return back to the Douglas Springs Trailhead with a Group Leader by hiking back along the same route as before. Total hike mileage for the day with this option is 5.6 miles. For those who may be looking for more hiking distance and physical output, we will also offer a longer arcing route (linking the Three Tanks and Wildhorse Trails) back to the Douglas Spring Trailhead. Total mileage for the day with this option is 6.9 miles. After completing our hike in the late afternoon, we’ll return to the hotel with some time to freshen up and relax before dinner.

Dinner: At a local Mexican restaurant.

Evening: After dinner, our Group Leader will discuss tomorrow's activities and timing before returning to the hotel. Be sure to prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
3
Half-Day Hike in Tucson Mountain Park, To Ajo, Desert Botany
Ajo, AZ
B,L,D
Sonoran Desert Conference Center

Activity note: Getting in/out of passenger vans; driving about 20 miles to morning hike, approximately 1/2 hour riding time. Hiking about 2.5 miles, approximately 2 hours; sandy dry wash, rocky trail. Driving about 130 miles from Tucson to Ajo, approximately 2.5 hours riding time.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel and loading our vans, we’ll begin by driving to the Tucson Mountain Park for a half-day hike on the King Canyon Trail, which showcases a lovely riparian habitat along a desert wash. We’ll enjoy spectacular desert scenery, see ancient petroglyphs, immerse ourselves in Basin and Range geology, and see evidence of Civilian Conservation Corps-era structures.

Lunch: Sack lunches in the field.

Afternoon: Upon returning to our vehicles, we will take a short rest break before transferring to Ajo, where we will arrive for a late afternoon check-in at Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center (SDCC). Before checking into our rooms, the group will receive a warm welcome and thorough introduction to the facility by our host.

Dinner: At the SDCC.

Evening: At leisure. Feel free to linger around the fire pit awhile or put your feet up and rest up for tomorrow's hike.

DAY
4
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Hike
Ajo, AZ
B,L,D
Sonoran Desert Conference Center

Activity note: Getting in/out of passenger vans; driving about 80 miles, approximately 2 hours riding time roundtrip with a stop. Hiking about 5 miles roundtrip, approximately 3 hours; well-established rocky trails.

Breakfast: At the SDCC. After breakfast, we will assemble our own lunches; sandwiches will be made to order by a conference center chef.

Morning: Heading out from the hotel, we’ll make our way to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Visitor Center and obtain entrance permits for the group. Today will be an "Instructor's Choice" hike day. Hiking locations will include one or more of the following areas of the park: Senita Basin, which has a network of hiking trails through a botanical wonderland that is home to all three columnar cactus found in the United States (Saguaro, Organ Pipe, and Senita) growing side-by-side in this sheltered locale. Alamo Canyon Trail, located along a major drainage of the Ajo Mountains, features desert bird species, historic ranching structures, riparian habitat, and towering rock faces. During the day, we will plan a visit to the southern boundary of Organ Pipe National Monument, which is also the international boundary with Mexico. During our stop, we’ll take a short walk to a portion of the "wall"/fence that is in place to separate Sonoyta, Mexico and the United States. A current topic of interest, this will be an opportunity to see for oneself the reality of the edifice.

Lunch: Along the trail, we’ll stop at a pleasant spot to enjoy the sack lunches we prepared after breakfast.

Afternoon: Upon the completion of our hike in the mid-afternoon, we’ll return to our accommodations.

Dinner: In the SDCC dining room, we’ll enjoy a delicious dinner. Feel free to bring beverages of your own.

Evening: Gathering in the meeting room with a local expert, we’ll settle in for an informative presentation relating to Ajo and the surrounding area. Potential topics include local arts, native cultures, or other topics of interest.

DAY
5
Crater Range Hike, Ajo Free Time
Ajo, AZ
B,L,D
Sonoran Desert Conference Center

Activity note: Getting in/out of passenger vans; driving about 10 miles to trailhead, approximately 1/2 hour riding time roundtrip. Hiking about 3 miles, approximately 2.5 hours; relatively level terrain, some opportunities for rock scrambling to a ridgeline with sweeping views.

Breakfast: At SDCC.

Morning: After loading the vans and beginning our transfer, we’ll stop at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center to view an introductory video to the area. We’ll then continue with a short drive to the Crater Range, where we will begin a unique hiking experience among rugged, pygmy-like mountain peaks. As we walk, we’ll discuss and keep our eyes peeled for ancient cultural features such as petroglyphs, wildlife sightings and tracks, intriguing geological phenomena, and perhaps seasonal wildflowers.

Lunch: Sack lunches along the trail.

Afternoon: We’ll return to the conference center in the early afternoon after our hike. The remainder of the afternoon will be free for independent exploration. Our Group Leader will pass out brochures that outline activities in the Historic District of Ajo. You may wish to take some time to explore the Ajo Plaza and galleries, or take the shuttle to the Historical Museum, where docents will be available to answer questions. Alternatively, you may just want to relax and put your feet up for a well-deserved rest.

Dinner: At the SDCC, we will have an inspirational meal to experience locally sourced food, with many of the ingredients coming from the on-site garden at the conference center. Be prepared to stretch your culinary boundaries and try something new with fresh, contemporary fare.

Evening: Gathering in the meeting room with a local expert, we’ll settle in for an informative presentation relating to Ajo and the surrounding area. Potential topics include local arts, native cultures, or other topics of interest.

DAY
6
Organ Pipe Cactus NM – Estes Canyon, Bull Pasture Hike
Ajo, AZ
B,L,D
Sonoran Desert Conference Center

Activity note: Getting in/out of passenger vans; driving about 40 miles to trailhead, approximately 2.5 hours riding time roundtrip with a stop. Hiking up to 5 miles roundtrip, approximately 4 hours; well-established rocky trail, multiple switchbacks, approximately 900-foot elevation change, some off-trail walking.

Breakfast: At SDCC.

Morning: Setting out from the conference center, we’ll stop briefly at the Visitor Center for permits on the scenic Ajo Mountain Drive along the way to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. After a photo stop at the Arch Overlook, we will arrive at the Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture trailhead for our hike. As we head up the trail, we will have our first opportunity to come face to face with an Organ Pipe Cactus and discuss its relationship to this rugged portion of the Sonoran Desert.

Lunch: Sack lunches along the trail.

Afternoon: We’ll return to Ajo in the mid-afternoon and take some time to freshen up before a pre-dinner get-together in the SDCC courtyard, where we will sit around a campfire.

Dinner: At SDCC, we will enjoy a delicious celebratory farewell dinner. Share favorite experiences and enjoy camaraderie with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

DAY
7
Transfer to Tucson, Program Concludes
Tucson. AZ
B

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 7:45 a.m. for transfer to Tucson; expected arrival time at the airport by about 11:00 a.m. Getting in/out of passenger vans; driving about 135 miles from Ajo to Tucson, approximately 3 hours riding time.

Breakfast: At SDCC.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we’ll transfer for drop-offs at the airport in Tucson, followed by the starting hotel. This concludes our program. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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