'Most dangerous park in America' reopens this summer - Tucson News Now

'Most dangerous park in America' reopens this summer

Not long ago, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was dubbed the most dangerous park in America. The monument is located south of Ajo, along the Arizona-Mexico border.

For ten years, a large portion of the park was closed after ranger Kris Eggle was shot and killed during a gun battle in the desert.

Now, the area known as "Valley of the Ajo" is set to reopen this summer after a decade of new enforcement efforts, including a fence and additional patrol agents.  But as visitors discovered on a recent scenic tour, potential dangers still exist.

18 tourists, loaded into two vans, headed into the heart of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The tour heads into Quitobaquito Springs.  It's Douglas Prouty's second visit.

"I liked it so much the first time I wanted to see it again," Prouty said.

Just ahead of the group are armed rangers, escorting the visitors through the bumpy terrain. Getting deeper into the desert, you really start to notice the natural beauty of the park. Then, you notice something else cutting through the landscape.

"As we come around the bend you'll see a portion of the pedestrian fence," the tour guide announces.

A second lower fence also spans the border -- it's a vehicle barrier. With Mexico's Highway 2 only a stone's throw away, for years, this remote desert was a choice route used by drug and human smugglers.

"We try and maintain the condition of the area as close to a natural state as we can," said Park Ranger Sardius Stalker. "And that didn't involve having high speed avenues of commerce up and down the washes."

After an hour's drive, the group arrives at the springs, and the trek on foot begins through the desert.

As the group takes in a history lesson, they're also warned not to wander off.  Four armed guards are standing nearby, just out of sight.

"We don't want to focus attention on them," explained Ranger Stalker.

Sue Walter is Chief of Interpretation at the park. She says since Kris Eggle's death in 2002, Border Patrol has upped its numbers in the area to between 400 and 500 agents.  There's also a new fence in the area.

With all of the changes, officials determined a portion of the park known as Valley of the Ajo -- that's been closed for nearly a decade -- should be reopened.

"The areas that are open in the park, we patrol heavily," Walter explained. "You'll see border patrol, there is a lot of presence here, and illegals will want to stay away from that. It's not saying you'll never see one, but they'll try to stay away."

When asked if he feels safe venturing into this area, park visitor Prouty answered, "Well, I do because I usually carry some personal protection. It's nice that (the armed guards) were there, but it's also sad that we have to have that kind of protection in our own country ."

The Valley of the Ajo was originally cleared to reopen on March 15. But that happened to be same day the pronghorn closure took effect, to protect the species. So, a new date has been set for July 16.

Copyright 2012 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved. 

 

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