Bull Pasture

by Gage Patinella

Bull Pasture is a large basin located in the Ajo Mountain Range along the eastern border of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.[1]  The pasture sits at an elevation of 3,100 feet above sea level and overlooks the Estes Canyon.[2]  Directly to the north lies Mount Ajo, at 4,808 feet the tallest point in the Ajo Range[3].  The area’s name is derived from the fact that early ranchers would winter their livestock within the limits of the pasture.[4]  The abundant desert grass provided livestock with plenty to eat, while a natural spring and rock tanks known as tinajas provided the herds with plenty of water to drink.[5] Mexicans know the area as “Tinajas de los Toros,” and “Los Porteritos” which means, “watering tank of the bulls” and “little pastures” respectively.[6]

Bull Pasture, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

While Bull Pasture is no longer used for the grazing of cattle, it now attracts adventurous hikers.[7]  The path to the pasture and back winds four strenuous miles round trip, but most visitors find it well worth the work and describe Bull Pasture as one of the most scenic parts of the monument.[8]

The geology of Bull Pasture and the surrounding area is typical of the Ajo Mountain Range.  The results of ancient volcanic eruptions produced rhyolitic lava flows and pyroclastic welded tufts deposits.  This leads to extensive block faulting which, in turn, causes massive uplifts of rock, creating the Ajo Mountains and Bull Pasture itself.[9]

The vegetation of the pasture is similar to that of other high-elevation desert landscapes.  With the increase of elevation, the vegetation changes from a Brittlebush dominated landscape to an evergreen scrubland.[10]  Between the trees grow the  edible grasses ideal for large grazing animals such as bulls and horses.  This comparatively lush desert flora can be attributed to the fact that Bull Pasture on average receives anywhere from 10 to 12 inches of rain.[11]

Brittlebush plant

White Americans were not the first people to find Bull Pasture useful; in fact archeological evidence has suggested that the native populations of the area once extensively used the pasture.[12]  The first white Americans to extensively use the area was a duo of men known as Hubsteader and Powell who ranched in the area and wintered their cattle within Bull Pasture around the turn of the twentieth century.[13]  Other ranching families soon saw the potential of Bull Pasture and continued to graze their livestock there; however, Bull Pasture had one serious disadvantage.  Not only was it rough terrain to move cattle over, the area was too small to hold many cattle and became overcrowded very easily.[14]  At one point the Gray family attempted to pasture their horses within the basin but the animals “did not fair well,” and upon discovering this Bobby Gray took his horses elsewhere.[15]

Further Readings

Bassett, Carol Ann, and Michael Hyatt. Organ Pipe: Life on the Edge. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004.

“Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon Trail, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.” The American Southwest – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Wyoming. Slot Canyons & Travelogue. http://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/organ_pipe/bull-pasture-estes-canyon.html (accessed March 26, 2012).

“Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (U.S. National Park Service).” U.S. National Park Service – Experience Your America. http://www.nps.gov/orpi/index.htm (accessed March 26, 2012).


[1] Greene, Jerome A, Historic Research Study, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, 61.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stanley, John. “Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon Trails.” Arizona Local News-Phoenix Arizona News-Phoenix Breaking News-azcentral.com. http://www.azcentral.com/travel/hiking/articles/2006/06/15/20060615organpipe.html (accessed March 25, 2012)

[4] Greene, Jerome A, Historic Research Study, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, 61.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Bull Pasture-Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument-Sonoran Desert-Southwest Arizona” Cabeza Prieta National History Association-Ajo, Arizona. http://cabezaprieta.org/destinations/bull_pasture.php (accessed March 25, 2012)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Greene, Jerome A, Historic Research Study, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, 61.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

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