Escapes

Q:

How Can I Get the Most Out of the Country's Newest National Monument?

NLCS New Mexico Wilderness organ mtns outside magazine outside online national park service nps

At nearly 500,000 acres, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is the largest national monument created during President Obama's time in office.     Photo: Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

A:Five wild mountain ranges. Hundreds of miles of trails. Zero crowds. That's what awaits visitors at the country's newest Naitonal Monument in New Mexico.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks consists of four separate patches of the Chihuahuan Desert surrounding Las Cruces in southern New Mexico. Encompassing a half-million acres of land, the area was granted monument status in May by President Barack Obama, an act that was motivated as much by the area's historic and geologic importance (it's home to hundreds of archeological sites and thousands of Native American petroglyphs and pictographs) as for its vast recreational opportunities. There are plenty of routes for hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers to discover. What you won’t find are many other people or much infrastructure for visitors.

For outdoor adventure, here’s where to start:

Hiking: The most appealing and popular of the national monument’s four sections is the one containing the jagged Organ Mountains, east of Las Cruces. You’ll find trailheads at Aguirre Springs Campground and Dripping Springs Natural Area.

From Aguirre Springs, you can hike the six-mile Baylor Pass Trail, which traverses part of the Organ range, or the spectacular four-mile Pine Tree Trail loop, which takes you to through juniper pines beneath the spiked pinnacles known as the Needles. At Dripping Springs, walk the nearly two-mile Dripping Springs Trail, which passes a spring-fed creek and the ruins of a 19th-century resort hotel and an early 20th-century homestead.

Mountain Biking: The monument’s blue-ribbon mountain biking trails lie in the Dona Ana Mountains section, northeast of Las Cruces. The network here consists of nearly 20 miles of technical, exposed singletrack and jeep roads that snake along the rocky mountainside.

Another top choice is the 29-mile Sierra Vista National Recreation Trail, on the western slope of the Organ Mountains. It’s known as much for its amazing, broad views of the surrounding valley floors as for its roller-coaster technical challenges. Outdoor Adventures bike shop in Las Cruces can give you more information on local rides.

Rock climbing: The towering cliffs that punctuate the national monument make for epic rock-climbing, especially in the Organ Mountains—as long as you can reach them. Almost none of the climbs are easy to access—many require a long bushwhack through rugged terrain—which means they're crowd-free.

The most famous spots are the 400-foot-high two-pitch Citadel and the 14-pitch, thousand-foot north face of Sugarloaf. Less scenic, but just as challenging and diverse (and more accessible) are the routes on the granite cliffs in Dona Ana. The top draw in this section is the broad, 500-foot Checkerboard Wall. Suggested reading: R.L. Ingraham’s definitive guide to climbing the Organ Mountains.

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