Created and now threatened by executive order, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument surrounding Las Cruces is a mix of recreational opportunities offering a little bit of something for just about anybody who enjoys the outdoors.
Covering nearly a half-million acres of rugged mountains overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, it boasts hiking trails, archaeological sites, pyroclastic flows, pioneer sites and climbing routes. The area features desert floors, pine-covered highlands, blooming flowers and natural springs.
Horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, backpacking and landscape photography are available throughout the monument (organmountains.org).
“One of the most popular elements of the monument is the Organ Mountains,” said Carrie Hamblen, CEO and president of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. “When people think of Las Cruces, it’s the Organ Mountains and the green chile that comes to mind.
“The mountains turn a particular color of purple that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen because of elements in them,” she said.
Climbers can navigate the vertical cliffs and challenging lines, particularly those that scale the Organ Needle, which stretches to 8,990 feet – the highest point in the monument, she said.
The Dripping Springs Natural Area on the west side of the Organs is a desert oasis attracting both wildlife and plant life in abundance.
It also serves as the La Cueva Trailhead, where a short, one-mile hike takes visitors to a rock shelter whose original occupants date back 5,000 years. It was occupied through the mid-20th century by the Hermit, a local of some lore who spent his later years in the hills.
Of more significance, about 100,000 artifacts were recovered the area in the 1970s by University of Texas at El Paso scientists.
Prehistoric ruins abound throughout the monument. There are 243 known archaeological sites and an estimated 5,000 or more sites waiting to be uncovered.
In the Las Uvas section of the monument, thousands of petroglyphs were left by Native tribes, Hamblen said.
“We had 11 Native tribes in the community and area, and they were all in support of the monument,” she said. “This is their ancestral land. You can see the different vessels they created in the different rocks surrounded by petroglyphs.”
The Kilbourne Hole is a huge volcanic depression presenting such a foreign landscape that NASA used it to test the rover used in the lunar landings, Hamblen said.
The Kilbourne Hole, which was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1975, is a crater in a desert basin between the Potrillo Mountains and the Rio Grande, said Deborah Stevens, BLM public affairs specialist.
It’s “roughly elliptical in shape and is known as a maar – a pit or depression caused by a volcanic explosion with little material emitted except volcanic gas,” she said. “The crater is between 24,000 and 100,000 years old and measures 1.7 miles long by well over a mile across and is hundreds of feet deep.”
The area is rife with interesting mineralogical oddities.
“The crusts of the Kilbourne Hole volcanic bombs – objects blown from the volcanic vent – are black or brown and in a near-plastic state,” Stevens said. “When broken open, these bombs often reveal a brilliant yellow and green interior or olivine glass granules.”
The nearby Aden Lava Flow, which is part of a wilderness study area of more than 25,000 acres, is further testament to the area’s violent, volcanic past.
The area includes pressure ridges, lava tubes and steep-walled depressions up to 100 feet wide, Stevens said.
“The lava vent tubes and crevices provide cover and den sites for wildlife. Bats are numerous, and the rock pocket mouse and black-tailed rattlesnake are found on the black lava’s unique wildlife habitat. Grass and shrubs also grow on the flow, including many cacti and yucca.”