Organ Mountains

Bare stone pinnacles rise a mile above the Rio Grande

The Organ Mountains – bare stone pinnacles that rise a mile above the Rio Grande and the desert scrublands to the west and the Tularosa Basin and White Sands to the east – emerged from earth’s molten interior to form perhaps the most botanically diverse ecosystem of any mountain range in New Mexico. The range received its name, purportedly from the early Spanish, because its towers of stone recall the pipes of the great organs of the cathedrals of Spain.

Organ in Madrid’s La Almudena cathedral

With varied environmental niches and rainfall patterns, the Organs host nearly one thousand species of plants; dozens of species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians; and a multitude of arthropods (those creatures with exoskeletons, segmented bodies and jointed legs). In the lower elevations, you will find many plants of the desert. Midway up, you will encounter oaks, junipers and acacias. At the higher elevations, you will discover ponderosa pines, oaks, junipers and mountain mahogany. Along the way, you may find some 30 species of ferns and several plants peculiar to the Organs.

La Cueva, which has ceilings blackened from the smoke of prehistoric campfires.

These mountains also hold wide-ranging chapters in the tapestry of our human story, from the primitive to the technologically advanced, the serene to the violent, the ordinary to the famous, the everyday to the mystical, drudgery to dreams. The characters of the Organ Mountain venue ranged from spear-carrying hunters to rocket scientists, Native American shamans and a 19th century European holy man to 20th century medical professionals, serenity-seeking vacationers to murderers and war-makers, ordinary people to the rich and internationally famous, hard-riding cowboys to big-time ranchers, hard-rock miners to treasure seekers and dreamers.

Exploring the mountains, you can follow trails that lead you upward, from the desert plant community into the ponderosa pines. You can climb towering bare rock peaks, some of them first ascended, for fun, by Germany’s World War II rocket scientists, who had come to our country with the renowned Werner von Braun at the end of the great conflict to help develop American missile weaponry and space technology. You can explore mountain alcoves with roofs blackened by prehistoric campfire smoke and entrances once marked by prehistoric shamanistic imagery. You may find remnants of lithic tools and weapons, ceramic fragments and bedrock mortars that recall bygone peoples. You might hike part of the tortuous trail that Confederate Lieutenant Colonel John Robert Baylor and his troops followed to capture a Union force fleeing desperately eastward from Fort Fillmore, near the Rio Grande, during the Civil War.

Organ Mountains, ruins of a resort in a secluded canyon, near Dripping Springs, on the west side.  Reportedly, it was visited by Pat Garrett and Pancho Villa.You can find historic ruins that speak, variously, to sanctuary, healing, punishingly hard work, and isolation. You can visit the remains of an isolated resort where famed lawman Pat Garrett and legendary Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa sought retreat. You can explore the vestiges of mining operations, where hard-working men once found gold, silver, iron and other minerals. Occasionally, you may come upon a small excavation where one or two individuals, equipped with pickaxes and shovels, sought their personal fortunes in rocky strata. With exceptionally good luck, you may just discover the fabled Lost Padre Mine and its mother lode of gold.

Organ Mountains, the view from a window in the ruin of a ranch house

On the west side of the Organs, you can look across the Rio Grande and the Mesilla Valley into the desert scrub lands. To the east, you can look across the Tularosa Basin and the White Sands Proving Ground, where much of America’s modern rocket technology took root.

In the eastern foothills, you can pitch a tent on a site in designated camp grounds, and you can spend a deeply black evening engulfed by profound silence, feeling the desert air grow cool around you, and looking up through crystalline skies at dazzling stars and a brilliant moon.

Organ Mountains | Desert Peaks | Portrillo Mountains | Overview



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