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
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
Sources other than personal experience: