Organ Mountains Desert Peaks NM

Above and Right: Two of the spectacular views from the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks landscape. Photos courtesy BLM.

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks NM

Organ Mountains - Desert Peaks National Monument

When President Obama proclaimed on May 21, 2014, through the Antiquities Act, that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area in New Mexico would become a National Monument, it was no small deal. In fact, it was a big deal. Let's say 496,000 acres big. And now the large tract of land, including the Organ Mountains, Desert Peaks, Potrillo Mountains, and Dona Ana Mountains, all managed by the Bureau of Land Management and already a popular area for hiking and recreation in the southwest, is bound to be an even bigger one. Unlike some of the recent additions to National Monument status that focused on smaller historic places and lands, this one has the potential to drawing a large amount of visitors to the desert.

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Organ Mountains Desert Peaks

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks Then

And there's a bunch of history here, including wild west hideouts for Billy the Kid and Geronimo, 22 miles of the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail, a training ground for Apollo astronauts, the home for Native American tribes, and other cultural sights from 10,000 years ago, including fossils and paleontological remains in one corner of the park or another. If you're lucky enough to be in the area during the summer season, there's also guided hikes, star gazing nights, and educational programs at the visitor center. And if you like the more rugged hike or climb, there's lots of untouched areas for primitive backpacking and camping within the confines of the park, too.

In the 1870's, Colonel Eugen Van Patten built the Dripping Springs Resort after his tenure in the Confederate army during the Civil War and service during the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Originally know as Van Patten's Mountain Camp, it had 16 rooms, a dining hall, and a concert venue, playing host to such folks as Pancho Villa. After Van Patten's tenure, the resort would become a sanitarium and remain in use until the 1940's. It's remnants can be seen today.

Want more history. How about a rock shelter from 5,000 B.C. that the University of Texas El Paso has found 100,000 artifacts in. In the 18th and 19th centuries that same shelter became home to the Apache's and "the hermit" El Ermitano.

Photo above: Large boulders from centuries ago at Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. Courtesy BLM/Bob Wicks. Below: Another view of the vistas at the monument. Courtesy BLM/Lisa Phillips.

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks Now

But what's there now, you ask and is it worth trekking up from Carlsbad Caverns or other western parks? Well, there's those mountains peaks, some rising to 9,000 feet, and a whole lot of geological and Indian culture history. Those mountains come with the opportunity to hike and climb, with already established trails, plus camping, star gazing, and a whole lot more, all surrounding the Las Cruces, New Mexico area.

This is a new national monument, only a couple years old, so don't expect all of the resources at some of those that have been around awhile. The Resource Management Plan only got off the ground in 2016, and plans are still evolving, so when and if you go, you'll experience something new, in a sense, and land and history that's old. Might be a good combination.

Plenty of hiking trails and places to recreate:

Baylor Pass Trail (hiking/equestrian) - Located near Aguirre Springs Campground. 6 miles long.
Pine Tree Trail (hiking) - Located near Aguirre Springs Campground. 4 miles long.
Sierra Vista Trail (hiking/equestrian/mountain biking) - Located in Organ Mountains. 29 miles long.
La Cueva Trail (hiking) - Located near Dripping Springs Recreation Area.
Dripping Springs Trail (hiking) - Located near Dripping Springs Recreation Area.
Filmore Canyon Trail (hiking) - Located near La Cueva.
Crawford Trail (hiking) - Located near Dripping Springs Recreation Area.
Bar Canyon (hiking) - Located nearest to Las Cruces at the Soledad Canyon Day Use Area. 3 mile hike.

There are also 15 miles of trails in the Desert Peaks area near the Picacho Peak Recreation Area. Picacho Peak is 4,959 feet high. It's a 1.5 mile hike up to the top, but there's a great look into the valley from there once you get to the pinnacle. No restrooms or water are available at the Picacho Peak Recreation Area, so bring agua with you.

Beyond the areas to hike, bike, or horseback ride in, there's the Kilbourne Hole. It's a crater from 24-100,000 years ago that was caused by a volcanic explosion. It's located between the Petrillo Mountain area and the Rio Grande in the Dona Ana region. There are no facilities at the Kilbourne Hole site.

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Organ Mountains Desert Peaks

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Check out the Dripping Springs Visitor Center, which is located 10 miles east of Las Cruces. There are interpretive displays, a picnic area, and a great place to find out where you want to go throughout the National Monument. The visitor center is open year round, except winter holidays. During certain times of the year, there are guided hikes and other educational programs.

2. Get outside and go. No matter what this means to you, whether it's sitting in your car and marveling at the landscape, taking hiking boots to a trail and seeing all the wildlife and vegetation on flat or rising ground, or hanging from a rock as you climb up, this monument has lots of places to see desert things. Be wary of your surroundings, be careful, bring plenty or water, and enjoy.

3. Ask at the Visitor Center where the man-made structures are, or at least the remnants, and go on a scavenger hunt. Be careful and respectful, these are artifacts of the past, but really cool to look at.

Photo above: Cacti and scrub on the plains of the national monument. Courtesy Bureau of Land Management/Bob Wicks.

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