The Organ Mountains are a short ridge of mountains oriented north to south, located within the northern Chihuahuan Desert. They separate the Rio Grande valley in the west from the Tularosa Basin and White Sands National Monument in the east. They lie due east of the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and dominate its landscape. The mountains obtained their name because of their shape -- the narrow peaks reminded American settlers of a pipe organ.

The Organs are a southern spur of the Rocky Mountains, and were formed by a combination of uplift and volcanism in the region. The Rio Grande rift valley was volcanically active about 35 million years ago, and the Organs were part of a large stratovolcano in a chain called the Datil-Mogollon Volcanic Field. As the volcanoes eroded and collapsed, the Organs were thrust upwards as a fault block -- a large section of rock pushed upwards as the surrounding plates shifted along the Rio Grande fault line. This movement (which still continues today) has pushed the peaks of the Organs to over 9000 feet (2700 meters). They are part of a line of mountains with the Franklins to their south, and the San Andres to their north.

Most of the Organs are either in private hands, or part of three parks: Aguirre Springs State Park on the east side, Dripping Springs Natural Area on the west, and Baylor Pass National Recreation Trail spanning both. Aguirre Springs has a large campground, with an amazing view of the White Sands basin and beautiful sunrises. It also contains several trails, including one to the top of Organ Peak -- a difficult climb, but the peak provides a panoramic view of the Rio Grande valley to the west and White Sands to the east. The entrance to Aguirre is about two miles east of San Augustin Pass on Highway 70. I recommend a visit, though keep an eye on the weather -- the area is prone to afternoon thunderstorms in the summertime, and the trails can easily flood.

Baylor Canyon (named for the Confederate Lieutenant Colonel John Baylor) is another good hike, though I've only gone part of the way up the west side. The Baylor Canyon area has a few old mines, though most lie on private property, and are in disrepair and dangerous. It is also home to a healthy rattlesnake population, so watch where you step. You can reach the Baylor Canyon area from Baylor Canyon Road off of Highway 70.

Dripping Springs has some more nice hiking areas, as well as the ruins of an old resort-turned-tuberculosis sanitarium, in business from the 1870's to the 1940's. Dripping Springs also has the La Cueva ("The cave") rock formation nearby, a good place for bouldering, and for being haunted by the ghost of the murdered hermit, Justiniani. You can get there by taking University Avenue in Las Cruces all the way east past Tortugas (or "A-Mountain"), and follow the dirt road at the sign.

If you live outside the immediate area, the Organs can be reached via Interstates 10 and 25 from points north, south, and west, or via Highway 70 from points east.

Sources other than personal experience:

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