History & Culture
National Parks and National Monuments: There is a (slight) Difference...
Entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Craig Stocks, NPS
National Parks and National Monuments are both administered by the National Park Service, and are identical in their function and purpose. Both are types of federally protected lands, and share the common goal of preserving and protecting significant natural and cultural resources.
The major difference between a national park and a national monument is the manner in which they are created. A national park is established through an Act of Congress, and the land may originate from a variety of sources, including public and private land. A national monument is established by Presidential proclamation, and this land is to be taken only from existing public (federal) ownership.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Citing authority granted to him by the Antiquities Act of 1906, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on April 13, 1937.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was created as a way to preserve a representative area of the Sonoran Desert. The new monument was part of a movement in the National Parks to protect not just scenic wonders but also the ecological wonders of the country.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the site of cultural resources that reflect long, widespread and diverse occupations by American Indian, Mexican, and European groups. The intersection of these three cultures is significant archaeologically, geographically, and internationally. Evidence of these cultures still remains today, and as you explore the monument, one cannot help but imagine what life was like living in the Sonoran Desert.
Alamo Canyon Ranch house
Craig Stocks, NPS
Organ Pipe Cactus: A Complex Human Story
To the local Native Americans, the land of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was an important cultural center. Hohokam trade routes bisect what is now the monument, and allowed for ease of movement through the Sonoran Desert as people looked to acquire resources and trade with neighboring cultures. To the O’Odham people, the fruits of saguaro and organ pipe cactus provided food during the hot Sonoran summer.
The early national monument faced many challenges, especially with local miners and ranching families. Mineral mining began in the late 19th century, and was allowed to continue up to 1976. Hiking in the monument you can easily see the mining history in old prospecting holes, tailings, and buildings.
Ranching in the monument began at the beginning of the 20th century, and also continued through the 1970’s.The effects of overgrazing are still seen today. Ranching was done mainly by different generations of the local Gray family. You can visit old ranching sites at Alamo Canyon, Bates Well, and other wells scattered across the monument.
In 1976 The United Nations designated Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as an International Biosphere Reserve, reconfirming its status as an outstanding example of the Sonoran Desert. Then in 1977, Congress declares 95% of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as a wilderness area. Come explore the complex human story that is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Did You Know?
. . . That there are arches in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument? This particular arch can be found at the Arch Canyon stop on the Ajo Mountain Drive.