The Organ Pipe Cactus

I like going to new places.

Of course, there are favourite spots from previous trips that are impossible to drive past, places I could visit again and again like Joshua Tree National Park. But as much as possible I like to discover new things, blaze new trails, and explore places previous unexplored (at least by me).

And it’s even better if those places are quiet wilderness locations away from the crowds of people.

One of my favourite new discoveries from this snow bird season is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona, the only place in the USA where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows.

The cactus gets its name from the many slender, narrow stems which rise vertically and resemble a pipe organ. A very, very big pipe organ! They can be 16 feet high and as much as 12 feet wide and live to be 150 years old.

There is a lot to see in the park and so I spent my days driving around, exploring, scouting locations, and finding perfect specimens to photograph during the good light. But one can only look at so many photos of a cactus, so I decided to pick out four of my favourites and share them all in today’s post.

The first photo I actually made in mid-afternoon. But as you can see, the shade was already creeping up the valley so the light was quite soft and golden even at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell
Please click on any of the images to view larger versions.

One evening, just before the sunset, I found one of the craziest Organ Pipes I saw in the park! I liked how the golden rays fell on the Organ Pipe, lit up the red rock in the mountain in the background, and made the leaves on the Ocotillo glow orange.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell

Later the same evening when the twilight skies turned pink and purple, I found a young one with a nice clean design that I could isolate from other cacti and shrubs by using a low angle perspective.

Organ Pipe Cactus at twilight by Anne McKinnell

And of course, I just had to create one with a sunburst because I love sunbursts so much. The desert sun has been a theme for me this winter since we’ve had incredibly good weather. I think I could do a whole book of sunburst photos after this trip! This one I made at sunrise in the campground inside the park.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell

It was worth paying to stay at the campground in the park to be there for sunrise since there are lots of great photo opportunities right in the campground. Here is a photo of the RVs at sunrise, just in case you are considering staying at this unique campground.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Campground by Anne McKinnell

I made all of these photos with my Sony NEX6.

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  1. says

    Anne, these are tough subjects but you made them most extraordinary by waiting for the perfect light conditions.
    I can almost hear a crackling campfire and the wailing sounds of a harmonica in the background from times long past.
    Good work.

    • says

      Hi Kris, I love the desert! I never really thought I would because I love the ocean so much, but in winter the desert is fabulous. Thanks for your visit and comments.

  2. says

    Hi Anne,

    I like that you are actually making a living doing what you love in a highly competitive field. Congratulations!

    I also have an NEX-6 and just returned an A7 because, frankly, I couldn’t see much difference (aside from high ISO performance) from the NEX-6 (both with kit lenses), so I am sticking with my existing camera. I have the 10-18 Sony but would like a better zoom than the 16-50 kit lens. What do you like?


    William in Long Beach CA

    • says

      Hi William, thanks for your comments! I hated the 16-40 power zoom kit lens and exchanged it for the 18-55 lens that comes with the NEX7. It’s a great lens. I also like the 55-210 telephoto.

  3. Jennifer Cox says

    Hi Anne,

    Love the photo’s.

    I also have a NEX-6 and wondered if you could give any suggestions/advice regarding a suitable tripod for landscape work with this camera.

    I want to keep to a lightweight kit, but I’m worried that I’ll either get something far too robust, or at the other extreme something too flimsy. I don’t have any local shops where I can see more than a couple of options, so can only go by online reviews etc. Any help would be appreciated.

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