Enjoying A Safe Trip!

A prickly teddy bear cholla in bloom
A beautifully blooming yet prickly cholla can quickly show visitors why it's not safe to get too close.

NPS Photo


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument lies in the heart of the Sonoran Desert and is home to all sorts of amazing life and inspiring beauty. This breathtaking landscape of extreme conditions and desert life is wonderous, yet can also be hazardous. Simply remembering to be aware of your surroundings, observing posted regulations, and knowing your limitations can mitigate most desert hazards. Learning the Leave No Trace principles can also help you preserve these natural areas for future generations.

Taking a bit of time to learn about what conditions may be like in the desert during a specific season or about the abundant life found here can help you enjoy a safe, fun-filled trip, while also helping to preserve the beauty and life residing in the monument.


Border Crossings

At all national parks, it is important to maintain situational awareness and take steps to ensure personal safety. The southern boundary of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is also the United States border with Mexico. Migrants and smugglers have been known to illegally cross the international border into the park.  The park has established safety precautions to help protect you and to continue preserving this national treasure. While it is unlikely that you will encounter any illegal border activity, you should be aware of what to do should that situation occur. When hiking or camping in the park, be aware of your surroundings, let friends or family know where you are hiking and when you intend to return. If you encounter suspicious activity, avoid contact, call 911 and report the encounter to law enforcement. If you encounter people in distress, be sure to place your own safety first, call 911, and report the encounter to law enforcement. 

Follow these steps for your safety:

  • Know where you are at all times, follow good safety procedures and use common sense when making decisions

  • Lock your vehicle and keep things like water, food, and valuables out of sight

  • Avoid traveling on unofficial trails

  • Do not pickup hitchhikers

  • People in distress may ask for food, water or other assistance. Place your own safety first and call 911 for trained medical response

  • Report the location of distressed people or any suspicious behavior to law enforcement.

Cell phone service may be spotty within the monument. Cell service and public Wifi is available at the Visitor Center located just west of highway 85 and just south of the campground 24 hours a day. Visit the Kris Eggle Visitor Center from 9 am to 5 pm during the day to speak with a ranger.


The desert is a land of extreme temperatures: usually above 100F in the summer, and lows of 30F-40F in winter. Having the right equipment is important for a safe trip. Visit our weather page for current conditions.

In the summertime, the heat can easily become overwhelming and dangerous. Even the healthiest individuals can experience the effects of dehydration. Always carry and drink plenty of water throughout the day - at least one gallon per person, per day. Juice and protein drinks are also good to consume. Keep extra gallons of water in the car; breaking down in the middle of summer in the desert can potentially be deadly. Drinks that dehydrate the body like caffeine and alcohol are not recommended. Eat salty snacks to rebuild the minerals and electrolytes lost when sweating and to help retain water.

Apply sunscreen even to areas that are not exposed. The sun's damaging rays can penetrate clothing. In addition to sunscreen, wear a hat, long pants, and a light-colored long-sleeved shirt. Wear closed-toe shoes with good support. Reduce your activity during the hottest part of the day. Sit and cool off in the shade whenever it is available.


Many visitor injuries in the monument result from motor vehicle accidents due to speeding and collisions. Animals crossing roads, horses, bicyclists, pedestrians and flooded washes (during the rainy seasons) are common along the roads. Border Patrol and Law Enforcement may need to pass visitors in an emergency, and there are many blind spots along the dirt roads.

Many of the roads in the monument are dirt, gravel, and sand, and tires can slide or get stuck under the right conditions. If you are planning to drive the remote roads, carry planks to help get yourself unstuck from sand and cold weather gear should the car get fully stuck. Visit the Alerts page for current road conditions or closures.

Following speed limits and keeping alert can help save your car and possibly your life! Checking the weather during the rainy seasons can help prevent visitors from getting stranded behind a fast-following wash and water damage to their vehicle. Due to the uneven nature of the terrain, the scenic drives have a 25-foot vehicle length limit to help prevent getting stuck in the washes and sandy areas.

An arm with a cholla segment stuck in it
Cholla reproduce by attaching themselves to wildlife (or humans) that brush against them and then falling in a new location to grow. While a great encounter for them, it's a painful encounter for us!

NPS Photo


Desert plants are cute, quirky plants with many unique adaptations to help them survive the intense heat and retain precious water. Many plants in the desert have spines, thorns, and sharp edges that provide shade from the scorching sun and help protect them from browsing animals trying to get moisture. Some even use their spines to as a means to reproduce, like the cholla!

What serves a purpose for the plant might present a danger to you. Wearing sturdy boots and long pants while hiking can prevent them from attaching to skin if you brush against one. A large tooth comb or a pair of pliers are an important addition to your desert first aid kit; it's easy to remove cholla cactus with these items. Once removed, the area stings for about an hour or so.

Venomous Animals

Unless habituated to humans, wildlife rarely wants to be close to people and that includes venomous animals. These creatures simply wish to be left alone and be given their space - just like us! Rarely are they aggressive, but when feeling threatened, they will take steps to protect themselves and unfortunately that can mean a sting or bite for an unaware visitor!

Wearing sturdy boots and pants, and watching where you place your feet and hands is important for the safety of both visitors and the wildlife. Many venomous animals are active during the warmer months, when temperatures are consistently stay above 90F during the day. Remember to inspect your shoes, sleeping bags and bedding before use and always carry a flashlight at night. While snake bites are rare, they usually occur below the knee or elbow.


Javelinas, skunks, coyotes, squirrels, deer, ravens, and other wildlife are all local residents of the Sonoran Desert. These wild animals are capable of foraging for their own food and water, and aren't tame like our housepets. Feeding these animals habituates them to the presence of humans, making them seem tame until a human gets a little too close for their comfort!

These are wild animals and they could pose a threat to your health and safety. Never harrass, approach, or feed wildlife. Enjoy their presence by observing and photographing them from a safe distance; 50-75 feet is recommended for their comfort. If an animal begins changing its behavior as you approach, you're too close. To prevent any animal from becoming habituated to people, all food, coolers, cooking utensils, and toiletries should be stored in the trunk of your car or covered under blankets where it cannot be seen by the animal.

Mountain Lions

Mountain lions are found within the monument and play a important role in the food web and ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert. Sightings are extremely rare; mountain lions see you long before you see them and usually leave the area long before visitors have found any traces of their presence. However, knowing how to avoid an encounter or what to do should an encounter with a mountain lion occur is always important.

Avoid hiking at dawn or dusk when they're active and avoid hiking alone when possible. Should you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; just like a house cat chasing a fast moving red dot, running may trigger the instinct to chase for the lion.

  • Make yourself as large as possible by raising your arms and holding your jacket open
  • Back away slowly
  • Shout and continue to make noise
  • Throw anything that is within reach
  • Keep children by your side and pick up small children
  • If attacked, fight back!

Last updated: March 28, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

10 Organ Pipe Drive
Ajo, AZ 85321



Contact Us