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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument by Jill Richards

Explore Organ Pipe's Backcountry by Bike

By: Jake Poinier

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December 3, 2018

The national monument’s rugged roads carry bikepackers through the ‘most beautiful portion of the Sonoran Desert’.

About the author

Jake Poinier

Jake Poinier

Jake Poinier is a veteran freelance writer, editor, and author whose work has appeared in USAToday, Blue Water Sailing, and Golf Illustrated, among numerous other publications. When he's not at his desk writing for corporate clients and editing books, he can probably be found hiking or fishing along the Mogollon Rim, skiing in the White Mountains, or sailing just about anywhere.

Yes, bikepacking. It's not a typo. It's a thing. Think backpacking meets bike touring—where you cover miles of trail on your mountain bike and then camp out under the stars.

Bikepacking is one of the nation's fastest-growing outdoor activities (for proof, just check out the displays in the cycling section of your local REI store), and an excellent place for a first foray into the sport is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, meaning it's internationally recognized as a precious ecosystem that supports the study of sustainability. It's also the only place in the U.S. where organ-pipe cactus grows wild.

The rugged but wide roads that weave throughout the park lend themselves to a bikepacking trip. The most popular ride in the park is Ajo Mountain Drive, a 21-mile, mostly gravel road.

"Arguably the most beautiful portion of the Sonoran Desert can be found on the Ajo Mountain Drive," says Arizona Outback Adventures (now REI Co-op Adventure Centers) guide Brian Jump. "And, with few visitors, you can have this beautiful stretch of dirt and paved road almost all to yourself."

Another popular ride is Puerto Blanco Drive, a 37-mile stretch that reopened in 2014. In addition to providing access to the Pinkley Peak Picnic Area, Red Tanks trailhead, Senita Basin and Quitobaquito Springs, there are stops along the way that provide fantastic views as well as information about the culture and ecology of the monument.

Grab an entrance permit and backcountry camping permit at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and then start pedaling. Be aware that bikes aren't permitted on hiking trails or after dark, and ride defensively because you'll share the road with drivers who may be preoccupied with the scenery.

WHY GO: Desert beauty, dark skies; it's a natural for bikepacking.

BEST SEASON: November through March

NEAREST AMENITIES: Ajo, about 15 miles north

PRO TIP: On a rest day, hike the Estes Canyon trail; it's a 3-mile round trip.

SPLURGE-WORTHY GEAR: A Thudbuster seat post will save your butt from the sometimes washboard and rutted roads.

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