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Sun Rises on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

national parks, organ pipe cactus, sonoran desert
(Image credit: National Park Service.)

Forget what you think you know about deserts. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is much more than just sand and rocks.

Located in the Sonoran Desert, this national monument is an International Biosphere Reserve. It hosts a huge collection of plants and wildlife that have adapted to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight and scant rainfall of this region of Arizona.

The park is very green. Over 330,000 acres of green, living desert are open for visitors to explore. But most people come to see the cacti. There are 28 different species of cacti in the monument, ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion. These cacti can be quite flashy in spring and summer, with blooming flowers on display day and night.

The national monument's namesake cactus has several tall stems growing from a single trunk. The stems can grow up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) tall. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the only place in the United States to see large stands of organ pipe cacti.

Of course, the park is more than just prickly cacti. Lesser long-nosed bats, an endangered species, flock to Organ Pipe Cactus. They are the primary pollinator of the cactus. Every summer a colony of 20,000 pregnant female bats flies here to feast on the pollen, nectar and fruit of the cacti.

This story was provided by OurAmazingPlanet, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.