Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

This fairly new monument, just dedicated in 2014, is chock full of natural wonders, historical sites, and is perfect for any type of outdoor activities. Located in the New Mexico Chihuahuan Desert, and possessing incredible views of the Organ Mountains, it is a truly awe inspiring place. The Desert Peaks include the Robledo Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas, and Doña Ana Mountains, characterized by desert mountains rising up sharply from the desert plains. 

It has a rich and vivid history including training sites for the Apollo Space Mission, the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave, World War II aerial targets, and thousands of Native American petroglyphs and pictographs. 

The Organ Mountains are a steep, angular mountain range with rocky spires that spike upward to an elevation of 9,000 feet.  This area includes rocky peaks, narrow canyons, and open woodlands that range from desert habitats to ponderosa pine groves in the higher elevations.  This entire area provides for great photography, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, and even wildlife viewing. 

The Potrillo Mountains are the most remote section of the Monument located a distance to the southwest from Las Cruces, and is comprised of a volcanic landscape of cinder cones, lava flows, and craters.  

Operating Hours – General Info 

The park may be visited any time of year. The busy season runs from April-October. Many of the trails are accessed from the Aquirre Springs campground or the Dripping Springs Visitor Center. The monument trails and roads a fee free to explore but use of the campground areas (overnight and day use for picnicking and such) and Dripping Springs Natural Area do require fees. 

The campground gates open at 8am and close at 7pm April-October and 5pm the remainder of the year. Entrance fees are the same as for camping (see below). Dripping Springs hours are   differ a bit by time of year than the campground with the longer hours only going March- September. Their fee is $5 per vehicle. 

The campground is located on the east side of Organ Mountains, about 10 miles off US 70, on Aquirre Springs Road. Dripping Springs is located 10 miles east of Interstate 25, use Exit 1 From there follow University Avenue/Dripping Springs Road east to the end of the road. 

Pets are allowed on leashed at the campground but no pets are allowed at Dripping Springs. 

Location Coordinates 32°19′34″N 106°33′18″W 

Things to Do 

Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing are all available at this monument. In addition, you can explore several historical and geological sites, and ride around in a ATV or other motorized vehicle on designated roadways. 

Numerous climbing routes are available on the rock pinnacles of the Organ Mountains but be aware the placement of fixed anchors is prohibited since this is a protected wilderness area. Trails available to horseback riding include the Sierra Vista Trail, Baylor Pass Trail, Bar Canyon Trail, and the Picacho Peak Trails. Mountain biking is allowed on all the dirt roads in the monument as well as some of the specifically designated trails.  All the roads and trails are also great for motorized vehicles  

A few historic and geological sites to catch while you are at the monument include Kilbourne Hole National Historic Landmark, Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave, Apollo Mission Astronaut Training Sites, the Original US/Mexico border from Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Historic World War II Aerial Targets and the Fort Mason and Historic Ranch House Ruins. 

Hiking Trails  

Intrepid travelers caravanned 22 miles of the Butterfield Stage Trail; outlaw Billy the Kid and warrior Geronimo took refuge among these hills; history was made on these lands by World War II pilots by Apollo Astronauts. Through these lands your spirit moves in good company. 

The Baylor Pass Trail is a 6 mile one way and is the only maintained trail that goes across the Organ Mountains. The east trailhead is at Aguirre Springs Campground and heads up over Baylor Pass, then down the west trailhead at Baylor Canyon Road. The pass is approx. 2.5 miles from the east trailhead. 

The Pine Tree Trail  –  is a 4.5 mile loop. The trail starts at the Aquirre Campground and rises up to the base of the Organ Needles. 

Dripping Springs Natural Area Trails –  The day use area has several trails all quite easy to traverse and less than 2 miles each one way. The Dripping Springs Trail leads from the visitor center to Van Patten’s Mountain Camp and old sanatorium. The La Cueva Trail goes from the visitor center westward to the La Cueva Rocks. This trail intersects with the Fillmore Trail which leads to Fillmore Canyon at the base of the mountains. The Crawford Trail provides a bridge between the Fillmore and Dripping Springs Trails.  

Sierra Vista Trail is a 29-mile National Recreation Trail. It runs along the western flank of the Organ Mountains and over to the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains. The trailhead starts on Dripping Springs Rd. – this trail is good for mountain biking, horseback riding as well as hiking. 

Bar Canyon Trail – is a three-mile loop scenic hike. The trails has wonderful scenic vistas of the central Organ Mountains and the southern Mesilla Valley. It is accessed from the Soledad Canyon Day Use Area. 

Desert Peaks Trails: Accessed from the Picacho Peak Recreation Area are over 15 miles of trails that are moderate to challenging for mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking. 

Campgrounds (in the park or nearby)  

The park offers one fee based campground that has superb views of the Organ Mountains curving up around the desert floor. The camp has very high day use, especially on holidays and weekends, no reservations are accepted so plan accordingly. There are places to camp around the Las Cruces area as well as other types of lodging.  Nearby White Sands Monument also had camping areas and can be a good place to stay if you want to see both monuments. Back country camping is abundant in the various areas of Desert Peaks and Potrillo, it is primitive camping and does not require a permit or fee. 

Aguirre Spring Campground – Open all Year 

The Aguirre Spring Campground is the only high-country campground in the Las Cruces/El Paso/Juarez region. The campground includes 57 family sites and two group sites. The campground, nestled at the base of awesome cliffs and has great views 

The Aguirre Spring Campground is located on the east side of Organ Mountains, about 10 miles off US 70. The last 4 miles is steep grade to get up to the campground. The campground is part of BLM managed system and fees are very reasonable. Day Use will cost you $5 per vehicle and overnight camping is $7 per campsite. There are no RV hookups and it can be a tight fit getting an RV into the campground. The site provides water (but only at the campground host site, which is about four miles from the campground), trash cans, vault toilet(s), cooking grill, fire pit. 

The campground has two national recreation trails that start right in the campground. Both trails Baylor Pass and Pine Needle provide spectacular views of the Organ Mountains and the Tularosa Basin. The Baylor Pass Trail is open to hiking and horseback riding, Pine Tree Trail is open to hiking only. 

Las Cruces KOA – Open all Year  

Prime location for setting up camp with a full view of the surrounding mountains and Mesilla Valley. Located just off Highway 10 it is easy to access and provides good location for visiting the monument and other hiking areas as well.  There are cabins, tent sites and pull thru RV sites.  The RV sites have max length restriction of 80 feet. There is an up charge for a site with a view but it is well worth the extra cost. The fees are in line with most KOA facilities.  

The campground offers wi-fi, restrooms, laundry, dog walk area, cable TV and a pool.   

Alamogordo / White Sands KOA – Open all Year 

About an hour from the Organs this campground, located quite close to the White Sands monument has RV and tent camping, as well as one small cabin. There are both back in and pull through sites at the campground and they can handle RV’s up to 60’ long. 

Amenities include laundry facility, dog park, pool, wi-fi, horse shoe pits, restrooms, and a dump station for RVs. Tent sites have plenty of shade with water at all sites and electric at some. RV sites are available with 20, 30 or 50 amps. Rates here are typical of KOA establishments. 

The town itself has a small zoo and a toy train depot and museum. There are several attractions nearby, in addition to the close proximity to White Sands Monument. 

Food & Gas  

Las Cruces offers plenty of places for food and gas but the monument itself doesn’t have any goods or services other than what the campground offers.  Best bet is to plan to picnic at the monument and bring what you need. Alternatively, stopping at one of the restaurants after your day at the monument offers a great way to unwind. 

Best Time to Visit  

April to October. The weather can vary greatly but in general summers are quite hot, with July and August bringing afternoon rains most days. Early spring brings with it the traditional winds that last for most of April. Later spring and later fall the temperatures cool down during the day. Winter is a good time to visit to beat crowds so if you don’t mind the cold it can be a great time to visit. 

Scenic Drives  

Beginning in Las Cruces and following route 70 east will take you along a wonderful drive into the steep and rugged terrain of the Organ Mountains area. In springtime you will be rewarded with flowering cactus and other spring desert blooms along the roadways. The views of the Organ mountains are quite spectacular no matter the season, often displaying marvelous snow-capped peaks. 

Near the small town of Organ, you will find the Organ Recreation area on Baylor Canyon road. Here you can stop to hike several trails and see Dripping Springs with its famous weeping rocks that turn to waterfalls in rainy season. 

Continuing on Route 70 will increase elevation and allow you to see vistas of the mountains and the Tularosa Basin displaying the beauty of the desert. Sometimes to the northeast you will glimpse the white sand dunes off into the distance. You will also be likely to see African Antelope as you continue along route 70, these were brought to the Basin area for conservation. 

Have you been to Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument? Did I leave any must-dos or must-see sights off the list? Let me know in the comments below. 

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We Are The Parks

We all have the responsibility to help protect and preserve this important legacy. Here are five things you can do to minimize your impact and help protect the parks for future generations:  
  • Follow the Rules.  A new story about bad behavior in our national parks comes out almost every day. With people regularly doing things like walking on geothermal features, getting far too close to wildlife, illegally using drones, and vandalizing priceless natural and cultural treasures, NPS resources are stretched. We can all help the NPS and protect valuable natural resources by following established rules.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles. With visitation to NPS sites at an all-time high, it is even more important for all of us to be good stewards of the places we visit. An easy way to reduce your personal impact in learning about and practicing Leave No Trace principles.
  • Petition & Vote.  In addition to supporting petitions and sending letters to your congresspeople. Consider the preservation, protection, and adequate funding of public lands when voting for local, state and federal officials consider. If these things are a priority for you as well, check in with your local and national conservation organizations to see how politicians in your community view the protection of public lands before you cast your votes.
  • Get Involved.  There are many ways to volunteer including artists-in-residence and citizen science programs.
  • Support.  Consider making a donation to the National Park Foundation. The NPF is the official charitable partner to the National Park System.
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