On Walkabout On: The Organ Mountains’ Fillmore Canyon Trail

Basic Trail Information

  • Name: Fillmore Canyon Trail
  • Where: Organ Mountains, New Mexico
  • Distance: About 4 miles
  • Difficulty: moderate (600 feet elevation gain)
  • Time: 3 hours round-trip
  • More Info: BLM Website

Google Terrain Map of the Trail:

Narrative:

The hike up Fillmore canyon is one of many trails that enter into the beautiful Organ Mountains outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico:

The various trails in the mountains is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management that is responsible for the upkeep of the park. A handful of these trails can be accessed from the park’s visitor center.  One of these trails is the Fillmore Canyon Trail:

The trail is accessed from the La Cueva Trail and takes hikers through a canyon that was once the location of a mining camp:

I followed the sometimes rough trail up to the old Modoc Mine:

From 1849 until 1898 a number of small mining claims for silver and lead were worked here on the west side of the Organ Mountains.  However, in 1898 the Modoc Mining Company invested approximately $1 million to create the large mine site pictured below:

The site had several shafts, hoists, and a large tramway to carry ore.  The 3-story mill pictured in the 1901 image below was the main area where the trams moved ore to:

The mine was depended on water coming from a 420 foot well that was dug that provided water not only for the mining operation but the miners as well that lived in tents around the Modoc Mine site.  Timber was cut in the high elevations of the Organ Mountains by local laborers and brought to the mine by burros.  This wood was used as fuel for the mine’s wood boilers.  However, the Modoc Mine would begin to have problems when the well ran dry.  This increased costs to bring water to the site.  This combined with other issues led to the mine to go bankrupt in 1903.  In 1904 the assets were auctioned off and a new company bought the mine and operated it until 1907 when the lead and silver ran out.  In the 1920′s the remaining mine buildings where removed and sold for scrap.

However, the old mine shafts remain and have been fenced off so wayward hikers do not accidentally fall into them:

As I proceeded up the trail I also spotted this old pile of rock which can be seen in the earlier historical photo as being used as level ground to construct the mill on top of:

Eventually the trail enters into the narrow Fillmore Canyon:

Within the canyon there was still plenty of remains from the old Modoc Mine that could be seen as well:

Fillmore Canyon ends at this small waterfall which after a heavy rain is supposed to be quite a site to see:

However, when I hiked up the canyon it was just a trickle of water coming down the rocks forming this small pool:

Here is how this waterfall looks after a heavy rain storm:

On the west side of the Organ Mountains there is water but no where near as much as I saw on the east side that has a rapidly flowing creek.  Most people end the hike here at the waterfall, but for the more adventurous the trail at the end of the canyon ascends up the side of the waterfall.  The rocks here can be a bit slippery so anyone continuing up the trail needs to be careful.  Here is the view from the top of waterfall looking down into Fillmore Canyon:

Here is another view of Filmore Canyon where La Cueva rock is visible to the right and the park’s visitor center to the left:

The small stream that flows down into the canyon is just a trickle up here and it is easy to understand how this wasn’t a water source that a mine could rely on to provide large amounts of water:

From here the trail follows the creek for awhile which is covered with thick bushes and trees which made walking through here a little unpleasant:

Eventually the trail then ascends up the side of the Organ Mountains and away from the thick brush along the creek:

Away from the creek the plant life consists of a lot of yucca and cactus plants that made it difficult at times to get around without getting scratched:

Fortunately when I go hiking I always wear long sleeve pants so I didn’t get scratched too bad and just had to pull a few thorns out of my pants later on.  As I ascended further up the mountain I noticed that there was another mine higher up on the mountain:

I didn’t see a trail from where I was at leading up there and I didn’t feel like walking through all the cactus to get up there.  The trail I was following continued to the north and down the side of the mountain range.  So I decided to turn around and head back to the visitor center.  So I followed the trail back down to the creek:

From the creek I then headed back down through Fillmore Canyon and soon enough La Cueva rock was right in front of me which meant it was just a short walk back to the visitor center:

Before heading off to the visitor center I took one last look back at the beautiful Organ Mountains:

Overall hiking Fillmore Trail is a must for those visiting Dripping Springs and have a moderate fitness level.  For those with limited fitness the La Cueva and Dripping Springs Trails are much easier undertakings.  Hikers should make sure to bring water with them no matter which trail they are on, especially during the summer time where the desert temperatures commonly rise to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Picnic sites are available for those wanting to do lunch at the park.  The nice picnic area, visitor center, and multiple trails mean that an individual, group, or family could easily spend an entire day here at the park.

Here is information from the BLM website that should help anyone interested in further planning a visit to this wonderful park:

Visitor Center
The Dripping Springs Visitor Center offers interpretive displays of the Organ Mountains. It is located 10 miles east of Interstate 25, Exit 1, on the western edge of the Organ Mountains in the Dripping Springs Natural Area. It is open all year, except winter holidays, from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 p.m. Phone: 575.522.1219.

Fees
There is a $3 per vehicle day use fee, and a $25 reservation fee for the group picnic site.

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On Walkabout On: The Organ Mountains’ La Cueva Trail

Basic Trail Information

  • Name: La Cueva Trail
  • Where: Organ Mountains, New Mexico
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Difficulty: easy (200 feet gain in altitude)
  • Time: 1.5 hour round-trip
  • More Info: BLM Website

Google Terrain Map of the Trail:

Narrative

The Organ Mountains outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico is one of my favorite places to go hiking in the El Paso region:

The range is littered with a number of extremely scenic trails that is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management that is responsible for the upkeep of the park.  One of the simplest trails for visitors to the park to check out is the La Cueva Trail that runs from the park’s visitor center and loops around an unusual rock outcropping:

The La Cueva rock outcropping is backdropped by the rugged spires of the Organ Mountains:

The best place to start this hike is at the visitor center where a small park fee needs to paid and hikers can check out the informative displays inside that fully explains the mountains’ ecology and history:

Before starting any hike in the Organ Mountains the Bureau of Land Management makes sure that visitors are well warned about the hazards that exist at the park:

On my prior hike on Pine Tree Trail in these mountains are experienced both the dangers of rock climbing in the park and its rattlesnakes.  From the visitor center there is actually three main trails that can be hiked.  First is the easiest one the La Cueva Trail, than there is the longer but more scenic Dripping Springs Trail, and then finally the more rugged Filmore Canyon Trail.  For people that get to the park early enough in the morning all three of these trails can be hiked in one day. However, the La Cueva Trail should be perfect for those with little time or low fitness level to try one of the other hikes.  As the picture below shows the trail around the rock outcropping is very well maintained by the BLM.   If you look closely out in the distance you can see the outskirts of Las Cruces:

The trail starts out by descending from the visitor center towards the La Cueva rock outcropping:

As the trail nears the rock outcropping it approaches a ravine that needs to be crossed to access the rock:

The small ravine provides a welcome relief from the sun if it is a hot day due to the small cluster of trees that surround it.  Wisely the BLM has put up signs to advise people to stay on the trail to prevent environmental degradation:

This ravine actually does have a small stream that flows through it and it is amazing to see the amount of plant life that is able to grow in this parched desert when given just a little bit of water:

Here is the view looking across the ravine after I crossed it from the La Cueva rock outcropping:

The trail then heads to this small cave under the rock cropping known as La Cueva which is Spanish for “The Cave”:

This rock formation has a cave that for nearly 7,000 years local Apache Indian tribes used for shelter.  The top of the cave is still black with smoke from these fires. The caves most infamous resident however was not Indians, but rather a monk by the name of Giovanni Maria Agostini, know to local folks as “El Ermitano”…the Hermit.  Agostini the son of a rich Italian family who became a monk and eventually traveled around the Americas before joining a wagon train that took him to Las Cruces.  Agostini eventually decided to move into the cave at La Cueva and became known as a valuable healer in the community.  Many locals worried about the monk living alone in the isolated cave, but to ease their worries Agostini promised to light a fire every night letting people know he was okay.  In the spring of 1869 a fire failed to appear and the next morning when a local man went to check on Agostini, he found him murdered with a knife in his back.  Agostini is buried in a local cemetery and the culprit of his murder was never found.

It must have been pretty tough living in the cave but with the creek nearby and enough game and plants in the surrounding mountains for food I could see how someone could live here for an extended period of time:

Here is the view from the cave that Agostini would have woke up to every day:

From the cave the trail heads to the west and loops around to the other side of the rock:

Once on the other side of the rock the trail starts ascending up towards the Organ Mountains.  Since the trail is heading east and directly towards the mountains, this is where the most impressive views of these rugged peaks can be seen:

At the top of the La Cueva Trail there is the option for those fit enough to follow the Filmore Trail into a valley tucked deep within the folds of the Organ Mountains.  For those just wanting to complete the La Cueva hike, the trail heads south back towards the visitor center in the distance:

Along this last portion of the hike there are views of the eastern most portion of the La Cueva rock outcropping:

There are also views of the less rugged southern portion of the Organ Mountains as well:

Eventually the La Cueva Trail connects to the Dripping Springs Trail that can take those interested into a valley located inside a small canyon in this southern portion of the range:

For those not interested in hiking further into the mountains, just follow the trail back to the visitor while admiring the last views of La Cueva before having to head back home for the day:

Overall it should take no more than 1.5 hours to complete the walk around La Cueva.  The trail is well maintained the entire way around the rock however it is not wheelchair accessible. Hikers should make sure to bring water with them especially during the summer time where the desert temperatures here commonly rise to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Picnic sites are available for those wanting to do lunch at the park.  The nice picnic area, visitor center, and multiple trails mean that an individual, group, or family could easily spend an entire day here at the park.  Like I said before, this is one of my favorite areas in the El Paso region and for anyone that takes the time to really experience these beautiful mountains, they will quickly understand why and the La Cueva Trail is a good place to start.

Here is information from the BLM website that should help anyone interested in further planning a visit to this wonderful park:

Visitor Center
The Dripping Springs Visitor Center offers interpretive displays of the Organ Mountains. It is located 10 miles east of Interstate 25, Exit 1, on the western edge of the Organ Mountains in the Dripping Springs Natural Area. It is open all year, except winter holidays, from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 p.m. Phone: 575.522.1219.

Fees
There is a $3 per vehicle day use fee, and a $25 reservation fee for the group picnic site.

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Picture of the Day: The Southern Organ Mountains

Picture of the Southern Organ Mountains

This is a picture of the southern reaches of New Mexico’s Organ Mountains as viewed from White Sands Missile Range.

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Picture of the Day: The Central Organ Mountains

New Mexico's Organ Mountains

This is a picture of the Central region of New Mexico’s Organ Mountains as viewed from White Sands Missile Range.

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On Walkabout On: The Organ Mountains’ Pine Tree Trail – Part 2

Prior Posting: Pine Tree Trail – Part 1

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As I continued my ascent up the Organ Mountains the scenery on this craggy peaks continued to amaze me.  All around me I was surrounded green foliage and ponderosa pines:

On the Organ Mountains

Seeing this much green is something you have to live in a city like El Paso for a while to really appreciate.  Even little things like these wildflowers I appreciated even more because of the further color it added to the mountain:

The Steep Organs

Up ahead of me I could see the high ridgeline of the Organ Mountains and thus continued to climb upward in hopes of reaching it:

Upper Reaches of the Organs

Looking down below me I could see the wash out I took to reach this high altitude:

Looking Down to the Tularosa Basin

However, the going was getting increasingly more difficult because the rocks I was climbing up was very unstable.  I could see the ridgeline’s summit just ahead of me, but I decided to turn around and head back down the mountain:

The High Peaks of the Organs

I had fallen twice on the loose rocks and after the 2nd fall I felt that turning around was the smart thing to do.  If I had a partner with me I would have continued on, but I was concerned I would fall down and hit my head or some other injury with no one to help me out if it happened.  So next time I come up here I will have to bring a hiking partner.  As turned around to head back down the mountain I saw this little squirrel who was having a much easier time going up and down these rocks than I was:

Organ Mountains Squirrel

As I walked down this wash out eventually some water became noticeable flowing down the rocks:

Small Creek On the Organ Mountains

There was enough water in fact that the washout had a lot of colorful wildflowers growing in it:

Organ Mountains Wildflowers

As I continued down the washout it continued to widen out and walking down it became much easier:

Wide Creek Bed

Looking back up the wash out I couldn’t help, but think how much easier my ascent up the mountain would have been if I had decided to use this washout from the beginning instead of trying to take the spur up to the ridgeline?  When I come back up here again I am definitely going to use this wash out to ascend the mountain with:

Steep Creek Bed

There was a portion of the washout that was a bit tricky to work my way through because lightning had struck a large ponderosa pine tree and dumped it into the washout:

Tree Hit By Lightning

After working my way through the remains of the pine tree I then came back upon Pine Tree Trail:

Pine Tree Trail

From the trail I looked back up at the high ridgeline I had tried to ascend:

The Rugged Organ Mountains

As I followed the trail I entered into a section of lush forest:

Putting the Pine Into Pine Tree Trail

However, even in this lush forest there was still reminders that I was in fact in the middle of a vast desert such as this yucca plant:

Yucca Plant

I also saw some more of the nice wildflowers that are sprinkled throughout these mountains:

Purple Wildflowers

As I continued down the trail I entered a clearing that provided some great views of the mountains.  Here was the view looking back towards the ridgeline I had tried to ascend:

The Forested Organ Mountains

Here is a view of “The Needles” that towered above me:

Highest Peaks of the Organ Mountains

Here is the view looking back towards “The Rabbit Ears”:

Rabbit Ears In the Distance

Here is the view looking up to the northern reaches of the mountains and San Augustin Pass:

Northern Organ Mountains

Finally here is the view looking down into the Tularosa Basin:

View from Pine Tree Trail

The trail then entered back into another section of lush forest:

Forested Pine Tree Trail

The trail once again came to another clearing with this one representing the halfway point of the trail as well as being the location of a primitive campground:

Primitive Camp On Pine Tree Trail

The trail map I had wasn’t kidding though about calling this a primitive campsite because all there was, was a clearing with a circle of stones for a camp fire.  The campsite had a great view though of the surrounding mountains:

Crags of the Organ Mountains

Here was the view looking south towards the always impressive Sugarloaf Peak:

The Imposing Sugarloaf Peak

From the campsite the trail again enters into the lush forest:

Through the Woods of the Pine Tree Trail

As the trail exited the forest I found out why the campsite was in a great location because of this major water source located nearby:

Organ Mountains Creek

I used one of my empty water bottles to try some of this fresh water and it was quite cool and refreshing to drink:

Flowing Organ Mountain Creek Water

Here was the view looking back up the creek towards the mountains:

Organ Mountains Creek

From the creek the trail then begins its long descent down the mountain.  As I descended down the mountain I looked back and had quite a panoramic view of the mighty peaks of the Organ Mountains:

The Stunning Organ Mountains

As I further descended down the mountain I eventually entered back into the dryer desert terrain from where I started the hike:

Large Hill In the Organ Mountains

As I walked down the trail I ended up getting quite a surprise when this giant rattlesnake coiled up in front of me and prepared to strike:

Angry Rattler

I immediately jumped back in surprise at this highly agitated snake.  So I worked my way through the brush on the opposite side of the trail careful not to step on any more snakes that may be hanging around this area:

Big Mean Rattlesnake

I have hiked all over the desert southwest and I have seen very few snakes because in general the snakes are smart enough to stay away from highly trafficked areas.  However, this trail was following the only major water source in the area and thus attracts small critters that these snakes prey on:

Organ Mountains Creek

About 20 minutes after seeing the snake I was back at the trailhead parking lot where I started the hike:

Aguirre Springs Campground

All in all I had a great day despite not quite making it to the top of the mountains.  If in the Las Cruces area I highly recommend checking out this hike because it is the best walk you can take in the Organ Mountains due to the lush forests that are so rare in this part of the country plus the sweeping views from the summit of the trail.  So definitely check it out, but just watch for snakes.

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On Walkabout On: The Organ Mountains’ Pine Tree Trail

Southern New Mexico’s Organ Mountains are well known for their ruggedness, which has caused many of the mountains’ peaks to be inaccessible due to steep rock faces these mountains are famous for:

Rabbit Ears 2

However, there are a few trails that allow hikers to access the upper reaches of these mountains.   One of these trails is Pine Tree Trail, which begins at the Aguirre Springs Campground on the east side of the mountains:

Start of the Pine Tree Trail

The Aguirre Springs Campground is accessed off of Highway 70 that runs between Las Cruces and Alamogordo right below the east side of San Augustin Pass.  Aguirre Springs is a large campground with nice facilities available for camping and for picnics.  However, I was here to do some hiking and Pine Tree Trail is one of the best if not the best hike to take in the Organ Mountains.

Even before I even started on my hike, just the view from the trailhead was spectacular.  Here is the view looking towards the most northern reaches of the Organ Mountains:

Northern Organ Mountains Peak

Here is the view of the Organ Mountains famous Rabbit Ears that have fascinated visitors to these mountains for centuries:

The Majestic Rabbit Ears

Finally here is the view that was right in front me of the heart of the Organ Mountains, known as the Needles where Pine Tree Trail takes hikers deep into:

The Needles of the Organ Mountains

This hike is a 4 mile round trip hike, but it does have various side routes that can be taken to push even further into the mountains.  It is on these side routes that many hikers and climbers over the years have been killed and the Bureau of Land Management, which owns these mountains makes sure to let hikers know about this fact:

Organ Mountains Danger Sign

I plan on hiking the complete Pine Tree Trail depicted below in red, but also was going to attempt to get to the top Organ Mountains ridgeline by taking the spur from the trail depicted in yellow below:

pine tree trail map

I started up the trail and it immediately begins to gain a bit of altitude. The trail begins at 5,700 feet of altitude and the very upper reaches of the trail rises to 6,880 feet.  This gain in altitude of course provides great views throughout the hike.

Here was the view of the Tularosa Basin below the mountains that I was able to see shortly after starting the hike:

View From the Pine Tree Trail

You can read more about the Tularosa Basin here.

As can be seen in the above photographs, from the trailhead the vegetation around the trail consists of mostly shrubs and pinon pine trees.  However, this would soon change as I climbed further up the mountain.  At the intersection of the loop trail I ran into this sign that showed the trail route:

Pine Tree Trail Map

This map was not very informative other than to point out where I was at on the trail.  I thought maybe there would be more signs like this along the trail to chart my progress on this loop hike, but this would end up being the only trail sign I saw all day.  This kind of made this first trail map sign pretty worthless.

As I passed the sign the trail was in pretty good condition and surrounded by the small bushes and pinon trees at these lower altitudes:

The Organ Mountain's Pine Tree Trail

All along the trail during the day I saw various flowers that were out in bloom for these warm summer months:

Purple Flowers In the Organ Mountains

Organ Mountains Yellow Flowers

There was plenty of these small cactus along the trail sprouting new blooming flowers as well:

Beautiful Cactus Flowers

There was much more though of this cactus though that had no redeeming value by having beautiful flower blooms like the other cactus:

Organ Mountain Cactus

There was also of course plenty of yucca plants scattered along the lower altitudes of the mountains as well:

Organ Mountain Yucca

When I wasn’t gazing down to look at all the wildflowers, I was looking up gazing at the incredible craggy peaks that loomed ahead of me:

Majestic Organ Mountains

One of the crags Sugarloaf Peak hovered off to the south of me and is quite and impressive sight to see throughout the hike:

Sugarloaf Peak In the Organ Mountains

The for most of the way the trail up the mountain was following the stream bed:

Rugged Organ Mountains

While I was hiking up the trail I was surprised to see that even in the month of June, there was still a patch of snow that could be seen in the crevices of the Needles:

Distant Organ Mountain Mine

The trail eventually broke away from the creek bed for a while during the ascent up the mountain:

On the Pine Tree Trail

The trail was in pretty good shape for most the way, but it was getting rougher and rougher the higher up the mountain I went:

Rugged Pine Tree Trail

Eventually the trail got rougher combined with thicker vegetation, which made the going much tougher:

Rugged Organ Mountains Trail

I eventually broke off the trail to try and tried to climb up a spur to the top of the ridgeline of the Organs.  Once I broke off the trail the going became very tough due to the thickness of the brush:

Thick Trees In the Organ Mountains

I eventually broke through the brush to a nice clearing that provided some nice views of the Tularosa Basin:

View Looking Towards White Sands

Looking up from the clearing I could see that going up to the ridgeline of these mountains was going to be difficult:

Organ Mountains 1

From the ridgeline I eventually dropped into a creek bed in an attempt to escape the thick brush for awhile in order to speed up my ascent:

Cactus & Tree In the Organ Mountains

This high up, this creek bed actually had some water dripping down it:

Dripping Water at the Organ Mountains

I was also high enough now in altitude that large ponderosa pine trees were appearing:

View from Organ Mountains

While I was taking the picture above, I noticed this large lizard scurry by me on the rock ledge:

Organ Mountains Lizard

I continued up the creek bed and it to became overgrown with brush and the ascent once again became very difficult:

Organ Mountains Trees

I started to move a bit horizontally on the mountain trying to find an easier path up because the terrain was becoming just to difficult to ascend:

Distant Sugarloaf Peak

Even moving horizontally was tough quite tough because of the terrain:

High Up On the Organ Mountains

I came to another clearing where I took a rest and ate my lunch while enjoying the sweeping views over the White Sands Missile Range:

White Sands Missile Range

After finishing my lunch I decided to continue my ascent up another path I thought would be easier than the way I was going before:

Peaks of the Organ Mountains

So up the mountain I went.

Next Posting: The Organ Mountains’ Pine Tree Trail – Part 2

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On Walkabout On: The Road to the Organ Mountains

Just a short distance from the summit of San Augustin Pass, which crosses New Mexico’s Organ Mountains, is the turn off to the Aguirre Springs Campground.  The drive to the campground is quite scenic considering the sweeping views of the Organ Mountains that are offered:

Sweeping View of the Organ Mountains

Behind me is San Augustin Peak, which right below it passes US 70 where the summit of San Augustin Pass is located:

San Augustine Peak

Looking down into the desert valley below the famous White Sands Missile Range can be seen:

San Augustin Pass 8

As I continued to drive down the road the “Rabbit Ears” of the Organ Mountains became more visible:

Rabbit Ears 5

Here is a closer look at these “Rabbit Ears”:

Rabbit Ears 4

Another prominent terrain feature is Sugarloaf Peak:

Sugar Loaf Peak In the Distance

Here is a closer look at the Sugarloaf:

The Majestic Sugar Loaf Peak

However, Sugarloaf Peak cannot compare with how strikingly beautiful “Rabbit Ears” are:

Rabbit Ears 2

Here is the main ridgeline of the Organ Mountains known as “The Needles”:

The Rugged Organ Mountains

The highest peak of these mountains, Organ Needle reaches a maximum altitude of 8,980 feet (2,737 meters).

The Pine Tree Trail that I planned on hiking leads into the heart of The Needles.  The road eventually came to the campground and the start of the trail up into the mountains.  Here was the view of the “Rabbit Ears” as viewed from the campground:

Rabbit Ears 1

That is a pretty nice sight for campers to wake up in the morning I’m sure.  Anyway if the drive up to these mountains was this scenic I couldn’t wait to see what kind of sights I was going to experience once I hiked into these rugged mountains.

Next Posting: The Hike Up Pine Tree Trail

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On Walkabout Across: San Augustin Pass, New Mexico

The Organ Mountains to the east of Las Cruces, New Mexico are extremely rugged, which makes traveling across the mountains historically very difficult.  In fact there is only one road across the these mountains, which has been the preferred route across these mountains for centuries.  Today US route 70 connects Las Cruces to Alamogordo, New Mexico, but for centuries this route was used by Native Americans, and then the Spanish, Mexicans, and finally Americans to cross these rugged mountains.

san augustine pass

This route has been known since the days of the Spanish conquistadors as San Augustin Pass:

San Augustine Pass 7

Interestingly enough is that on the slopes of this pass is where the famous lawman Pat Garrett was shot and killed.

The summit of this pass reaches to 5,700 feet and offers sweeping views of the Tularosa Basin, White Sands Missile Range, and of course the Organ Mountains:

San Augustine Pass 5

The viewpoint fortunately has a nice sign that shows the names of the various peaks plus the history of the Organ Mountains:

San Augustine Pass 6

To north is San Augustine Peak that rises impressively over the pass:

San Augustin Pass 1

Looking down into the Tularosa Basin I could also see from the summit of the pass the famous White Sands Missile Range:

San Augustine Pass 8

In honor of the history of White Sands Missile Range a large Nike Hercules Missile is setup on display at the summit of San Augustin Pass:

San Augustine Pass 4

San Augustin Pass 3

San Augustin Pass does provide some nice views, but to get some even better views of the Organ Mountains I highly recommend driving down the Aguirre Springs Campground Road.  The road provides spectacular, unobstructed views of these amazing mountains.

Next Posting: The Road to the Organ Mountains

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On Walkabout On: The Organ Mountain’s Dripping Springs Trail – Part 2

Prior Posting: Dripping Springs Trail – Part 1
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As my wife and I continued down the Dripping Springs Trail in New Mexico’s Organ Mountains, the high rocky peaks of this great mountain range towered over us as we approached them:

The trail entered into a scenic valley at the base of the rocky peaks where the trail’s namesake, the Dripping Springs could be seen:

The spring was living up to its name because all it was doing was dripping.  You can see in the picture that at the base of the spring a retaining wall was built to collect water.  This wall was built in 1892 by Eugen Van Patten to provide water for his nearby Dripping Springs Hotel.  After all these years his wall is still standing though it has since been filled with sediment and no longer holds any water:

Here is how Dripping Springs looks when there is enough rain to make the waterfall flow:

I hope I get to see the waterfall flow like that one day.  Anyway just a short walk further up the trail is the ruins of the old resort that once operated here:

The Dripping Springs Resort was built in 1870′s by Eugene Van Patten:

Van Patten first came out west from New York in the late 1850′s when John Butterfield invited him to come work for his company the Butterfield Stage Line.  When the Civil War broke out Van Patten joined the Confederacy as a Colonel and fought in the Battle of Glorieta Pass near Santa Fe. In 1872 Van Patten returned to Las Cruces bought the land at the base of the mountain and began constructing a 14 room resort.  The resort was constructed at an altitude of 6,000 feet, which was 2,000 feet higher than Las Cruces.  Van Patten was married to a local Piro Indian girl and employed a number of boys from this tribe to work at the hotel.  The boys brought water every day from Dripping Springs for the hotel guests to use.


Reservoir above the resort that also collected water for the guests to use.

The boys also put on Indian dancing shows at night for the guests.  Initially Van Patten had much success with his resort and in 1906 he expanded the hotel to include another 18 more rooms.  Over the years a number of famous people stayed at the resort such as Pat Garret and Pancho Villa.


As I passed this outhouse I couldn’t help, but wonder whether Pancho Villa ever took a crap here?

According to this posting on the El Paso Community College website, Eugene Van Patten was a very well respected member of the Las Cruces community while operating the resort:

At one time, Van Patten owned most of the land on which Las Cruces was built. In an interview, World War II veteran Santiago Brito, 92, nephew of Van Patten’s daughter Emilia, said that Van Patten purchased the land and later sold parcels at low prices to friends and family.

According to a 1949 Las Cruces newspaper article by Joe Priestly, Van Patten gave a large tract of land he had obtained from the federal government to the Pueblo Indians now living in the village of Tortugas located a few miles south of Las Cruces. Brito agreed that Van Patten was always very kind and generous to the local Indians, and Van Patten himself was married to a Piro Indian.

Van Patten provided funds for the first Catholic Church in Las Cruces as well as for Loretto Academy , founded in 1870, many years before the school of the same name was established in El Paso. In 1885, he was elected sheriff and later became a U. S. marshal for New Mexico, Arizona and West Texas.

However, by 1917 Van Patten experienced financial difficulties and sold the resort to a Dr. Nathan Boyd who homestead on a piece of land near the resort.  Dr. Boyd studied medicine at Stanford University before moving to Australia to practice medicine there.  Even here in the remote desert of New Mexico an American connection to Australia can be found.


Dr. Boyd’s homestead at Dripping Springs.

In Australia Dr. Boyd married the daughter of a wealthy Australian engineering company.  He and his wife moved to Las Cruces in the 1890′s to promote the building of a dam on the Rio Grande River by his father-in-law’s company.  He bought a parcel of land next to Van Patten’s resort to construct a homestead on while he worked on the dam project.  However, soon after construction of the dam began the company was stopped from proceeding due to complaints filed by local ranchers who’s land would have been inundated by the dam.  After Boyd used up his finances paying lawyers to fight the government to get the dam built, the government went ahead and built the Elephant Butte dam themselves in 1916.  To make matters worse Boyd’s wife came down with tuberculosis.  He decided to the dry air in Las Cruces would be good for his wife and decided to stay and convert the resort into a sanitorium for other sufferers of tuberculosis.


As I got higher up on the rocks I got a better view of the area to include being able to see the trail that leads up into this scenic valley.

Like Van Patten before him, Dr. Boyd suffered further financial difficulties and sold the property in 1922.  The property changed hands a few more times before being bought by a wealthy rancher A.B. Cox in the 1950′s.  The Cox family turned the land into a succesful cattle ranch property, but due to the number of unique species on the property, the government was able to convince the Cox family to sell the land to the Nature Conservancy which eventually sold the land to the Bureau of Land Management in 1988.  Ever since then the land has remained open for the public to enjoy.

With views like this it is great that the public can now enjoy this land like the many resort guests did a hundred years ago:

To access Dripping Springs from Las Cruces just exit I-10 on University Avenue and then follow University Avenue toward the Organ Mountains to reach the recreation area.  A trip to the mountains is definitely one of the top day trips in Las Cruces.

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On Walkabout On: The Organ Mountain’s Dripping Springs Trail – Part 1

Basic Trail Information

  • Name: Dripping Springs Trail
  • Where: Organ Mountains, New Mexico
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Difficulty: easy (400 feet gain in altitude)
  • Time: 2 hour round-trip
  • More Info: BLM Website

Google Terrain Map of the Trail:

Narrative:

Just north of my present home in El Paso, Texas and just across the state line is the scenic college town of Las Cruces, New Mexico:

There are plenty of things to see and do in Las Cruces, but the one thing site that over shadows all others in this town is without a doubt the Organ Mountains:

The Organ Mountains, so called because they look like a church organ, tower over the city to the east and are a sight that new visitors to the city are always in awe of.  Well these mountains were a place where my wife and I decided to go a take a hike at recently.  Las Cruces is only about a 45 minute drive from where we live and the drive down Dripping Springs Road to the mountains from Las Cruces is about another 15 minute drive:

Here is a Google Maps image of this spectacular and rugged mountain range:


View Larger Map

The Organ Mountains is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and they keep a visitor center open at the base of the mountains at the end of the Dripping Springs Road:

The visitor center is actually quite well done and has a number of displays depicting the areas history, wildlife, and plant life that is well worth checking out.  Even from the parking lot of the visitor center, there is a spectacular view of the surrounding Rio Grande river valley:

I just find it amazing how much water flows down this river in the middle of a desert.  Even more amazing is how little of this water is left once the Rio Grande reaches the border between the US and Mexico.

The visitor center is also the hub for a number of trails that lead off into the surrounding park land.  One short trail from the visitor center leads over to a rock formation known as La Cueva:

This rock formation has a cave that for nearly 7,000 years local Apache Indian tribes used for shelter.  The top of the cave is still black with smoke from these fires. The caves most infamous resident however was not Indians, but rather a monk by the name of Giovanni Maria Agostini, know to local folks as “El Ermitano”…the Hermit.  Agostini the son of a rich Italian family who became a monk and eventually traveled around the Americas before joining a wagon train that took him to Las Cruces.  Agostini eventually decided to move into the cave at La Cueva and became known as a valuable healer in the community.  Many locals worried about the monk living alone in the isolated cave, but to ease their worries Agostini promised to light a fire every night letting people know he was okay.  In the spring of 1869 a fire failed to appear and the next morning when a local man went to check on Agostini, he found him murdered with a knife in his back.  Agostini is buried in a local cemetery and the culprit of his murder was never found.

On this visit to the Organ Mountains my wife and I planned to hike the Dripping Springs Trail where at the end of the trail the remains of an old sanitorium and mountain resort still remain.  The entire length of the hike would be about 4 miles which makes for a pleasant day hike.  Here is the start of the Trail:

The start of the trail also had a sign warning hikers about the dangers of hiking in the park:

My wife and I had no intention of rock climbing during this trip and were going to simply follow the trail thus avoiding any potential dangerous situations on the high rocks.  Here is a Google Earth image of the Dripping Springs Trail we planned to follow:

Along the way on the trail my wife and I continuously saw these little lizard running off into the bush as we neared them on the trail:

Better having these guys running around us than rattlesnakes, that’s for sure.  Anyway continued down the trail and were impressed not only by the high rocky peaks of the mountains, but the variety of Chihuahuan Desert, plant life that surrounded us:

The yucca plants all had these high stems sticking out of them in order to spread their seeds around:

These yucca trees actually reminded me of how the fern trees in Australia reproduce. The lower reaches of the Organ Mountains even had some large trees:

Further up the mountain at higher altitudes Ponderosa Pine trees can actually be found.  Of course since this is a desert there was some giant sized cactus, but not as much as you would think.  The desert plant life was quite colorful at times.  In the below photo if you look closely, you can see the bird hanging out in the shade:

Anyway as the trail continued on closer and closer to the rocky peaks of the mountain we walked across a very lush grassland that actually served as grazing land for the Cox Ranch before the government acquired the land:

As we neared the mountains we both could not keep our eyes off the massive rocky peaks ahead of us:

Before the trail enters into a rocky valley where the trail ends, there is an old stable that used to house the horses that were used to bring visitors up to the now abandoned resort at the end of the trail:

There are no more horses here now a days to see, but the view of the surrounding Rio Grande basin is still as good as it was back then:

From here the trail ascended into the interior of a rocky valley where one of the first resorts in New Mexican history was established.

Next Posting: Dripping Springs Trail – Part 2

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