Hiking Dripping Springs Trail in the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument

There’s a trail outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico that I’ve long wanted to hike. In the past, it’s either been too hot or my work schedule didn’t allow me the time to tackle the trail, but last month I had a free day and I decided it was high time to see what this Dripping Springs Trail was all about.

Dripping Springs Trail is located just outside of the city of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico in the Organ Mountains. This area of the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks was established as a National Monument in 2014 and is now under the oversight of the Bureau of Land Management. Just over 496,000 acres, this area has several trails and points of interest- both geologic and historic.

If you’ve never experienced the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico, they’re something to see. The jagged peaks protrude from the ground and while beautiful, they are also menacing. From the base of the mountains I wondered if I’d be able to hike into the sharp-edged mountainside. The warning sign visible at the head of the trail didn’t do much to bolster my confidence.

There are several trails in the area, but you’ll find the trail head for the Dripping Springs Trail just off to the left of the visitor center as you exit the building.  Heed the warning signs – stay on the trail and only hike where you’re physically able. Bring plenty of water as New Mexico can be subject to intense sun and high temperatures.  The best time of day to enjoy the trails is early morning.

The trail is a gravel one.  In some spots, I found the gravel to be almost too deep.  If you have physical limitations or have ankles that tend to roll, like mine, I’d recommend a pair of sturdy trail shoes.  Some people may feel more comfortable in hiking boots and you will see plenty of hikers with poles to help navigate the terrain.

The trail itself is an approximately 3-mile long loop and I’d categorize it as a moderate trail.  There is some gain in elevation as you wind your way up to the remains of the dripping springs.  If you’re from out of state, don’t expect a gushing waterfall; this is the desert after all.

The scenery in this part of the state is quite spectacular.  The trail exposes several views of the City of Las Cruces as well as of the Organ Mountains.  The trail is well known and you will almost certainly run into other hikers.  Hiking earlier in the day will be your best bet for cooler temperatures and fewer people on the trail.

The scenery is lovely and for me, that’s reason enough to hike. Though the sun was up, the mountains block the heavy glare in the early morning and there are some shady places to stop and sit along the trail.

I was pleasantly surprised as I made my way up, that there are historic sites that still remain on trail.  The path is clearly marked in most places and the Bureau of Land Management has added signage directing hikers to sights along the way.

The remnants of the Van Patten Mountain Camp, the Dripping Springs Reservoir and the Boyd Sanitarium are visible as you make your way up the Dripping Springs Trail.

The Van Patten Mountain Camp, built in the late 1800s by Eugene Van Patten, was a resort nestled into the Organ Mountains that provided elite guests respite from the heat and city life in the valley.

Remains of the Van Patten Hotel

Van Patten, a former Confederate soldier, settled with his wife in the area around 1872 and went on to build this notable escape out of native rock in a lovely setting.  The first guests were sure to have arrived by stagecoach (then later by automobile) and were said to have enjoyed delicious food and entertainment during their stay.

Remnants of the Van Patten resort

You can see the remains of many buildings, the livery buildings a bit lower down on the trail, the hotel and the dripping springs reservoir (for which the trail is named). The hotel, in its heyday, was said to be two stories with 14 rooms, a dining hall, and entertainment facilities including a bandstand.

The hotel hosted many notable guests in southern New Mexico, including Pat Garrett and Pancho Villa, until 1915, when Van Patten came into financial difficulties.  The hotel was sold and began a new life.































In 1917, Van Patten declared bankruptcy and sold the property and its buildings to Nathan Boyd. Boyd, a doctor, made his home with his wife on an adjacent plot of land to the Van Patten camp. The old Van Patten resort was converted into a tuberculosis sanitarium to treat patients suffering from the disease, including Boyd’s own wife.

The wooden buildings, added by Boyd, seem to date to the 1910s.  You can still see the caretaker’s cottage and the old dining hall.  Boyd, too, ran into financial problems when he was involved in a court case in the 1920s.  The case depleted his finances and he was forced to sell the property to Dr. TC Sexton of Las Cruces.  The old resort continued to operate on and off as a tuberculosis sanitarium until the 1940s  when it fell into abandonment. (The Bureau of Land Management took control of the site in 1988).

As with many abandoned buildings, there are lots of tales of the Boyd Sanitarium being haunted.   I personally didn’t run into any ghosts while exploring the trail and buildings, but a young buck and I nearly scared each other to death when I tread close to where he was bedded down.

Visitors can look upon and even read about the buildings that are found on the trail, but please note that for safety and preservation reasons, you may not enter any of the buildings or climb on the old reservoir.








To access the Dripping Springs Trail and surrounding area, take the University exit off of I-25 in Las Cruces and head toward the mountains. The road will dead-end at the monument. There is a $5.00 day use fee that can be paid inside the visitor’s center. If you are a National Parks Pass holder, you may use your pass in lieu of the fee. Restrooms are also located on-site.


Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Weekends are for hiking.

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Ah, weekends.  Weekends are for being outdoors and for hiking (unless it’s too hot, then I’m all for watching crap tv).  Last Saturday, we finally had a break in our string of triple-digit heat, so a run up to a monument I hadn’t yet visited was in order.

19399785_10213869218704356_7295497229630357940_nKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is about 45 minutes north of Albuquerque outside of the Pueblo of Cochiti. The monument, well known in New Mexico, is so close that I never could figure out why it took me so long to get here. Get your Parks Passes ready…you’ll use them here as well as this monument is operated by the Bureau of Land Management.  (Really people, these passes pay for themselves if you make an effort to get out at all!)

The aptly named Tent Rocks Monument gets its name 19248086_10213869220024389_1696953187713309397_nfrom the cone- (or tent-) shaped rocks formed here by volcanic eruptions that happened 6-7 million years ago.  (I have a hard time wrapping my brain around just how long ago that was… exactly).  There are lots of interesting rock formations to see here.Pay your fee or hand over your interagency pass, then make the short drive up the road to the parking lot for the first trailhead.  Parking is plentiful, but will fill up as the day goes on. I suggest an early arrival, not only for parking, but also to beat the heat.  (No swanky indoor restrooms, but there are several port-a-potties and outhouses).

19420402_10213869219704381_6885571503379838962_nUpon arriving at the first trailhead, you have two loops to choose from.  (If you’re moderately active, you can easily do both trails in half a day).  The Cave Loop sets you steadily uphill until you reach….a cave!  According to the sign, the cave was made by humans at some point.  Not a lot of information, but it was amusing to watch the many middle aged people who thought they could climb up into the cave  (they couldn’t and you shouldn’t).  There is a decent amount of incline headed up to the cave and one path is much worse than the other in that respect.  If you’re avoiding steep incline, opt for the more popular trailhead rather than the return route.

We spend most of our time hiking the second trailhead into the slot canyon here.  If19429640_10213869218424349_423079624541916997_n you’ve been to Antelope Canyon in Arizona, you’re familiar with a slot canyon.  Slot canyons are deep and not very wide.  An area where wind and water have rushed through sandstone and/or limestone, slot canyons feature a lot of interesting, erosion-formed rock formations and some challenging (in a good way!) hiking.

The Slot Canyon trailhead increases about 630 feet in elevation in about a mile and a half.  Not wheelchair accessible, this trail is narrow and is complicated by a sandy hiking surface, narrow passages (you may have to wait for hikers coming from the other direction before you can pass), and several rocks – of varying sizes – that’ll you need to billy goat climb over (coming down over these rocks is always somehow more difficult to me).  The views are stunning.  I wanted to stop and look at things from every angle. Plan to spend a couple of hours here and make sure you’ve got a hat and some water; while our hiking day was fairly cool, it can get very hot and sunny here.

19429892_10213869220264395_3465022848691106998_nAfter hiking here, you can opt to drive about 4 more miles up an unpaved road to arrive at a second spot that features a memorial park and overlook.  There is a short trail here as well, but it isn’t long (and we didn’t hike it).  The overlook is worth stopping for as you get a great view of the surrounding geography.  On a clear day, you can see for a very long way.  We’re currently battling 10 forest fires in our state (if you can summon up rain, please send some our way!)  The view was a bit hazy, but still impressive.




You might get hungry after all this hiking.  We neglected to bring a lunch and I was tempted to swipe a sandwich and some chips away from a family having a picnic nearby. Nothing to eat on-site here, so pack your lunch or plan to drive a bit further on to the Town of Cochiti Lake to find sustenance.

El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments

I think most of us are this way: we look at the unusual and beautiful things in our home states as places just to take family visiting from out of town.

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I think most of us are like this:  We forget about the really amazing sights in our own state…simply because they are in the place where we live our day to day lives.  The interesting and beautiful become places you take visiting family from out of town.  I’m trying to be better about visiting the places I overlook simply because they’ve always been there.

Recently, with best friend in tow, I set out to visit two (that’s right TWO) national monuments here in New Mexico.  About 90 miles from Albuquerque lies the National Monument of El Malpais.  I’ve hiked here before and was happy to return.  It’s a bit dry this spring, but despite the lack of green there are some gorgeous vistas to view in El Malpais.  This is another one of those places where all levels of hikers can find a trail to their liking.  There are lava caves (get your caving permit at the Visitor Center), lava trenches, and trails that scale the sides of a volcanic caldera. If you geek out on lava, this is an unusual place where you can see two separate kinds of lava flows in one area.


El Malpais

We took the 3.8 mile trek to the top of the caldera and that trail comes complete with some butt-busting incline toward the top of the trail.  The parks service has inserted some wooden “stairs” that lead you to the top of the caldera.  (You will definitely feel the need to stretch when you’re done!)

From El Malpais, make the easy 20 mile drive over to El Morro.  Now, I’m not gonna lie, I always thought El Morro was just a big rock.  That maybe explains why I hadn’t been there until now.  There are really big rocks, yes, but the really big rocks contain some really interesting New Mexico history.

El Morrow

See, El Morro for years was the only place for miles around to get clean drinking water, so people stopped along this sandstone bluff to get water, to camp….and to carve their names into the rock.  It seems that humans have never been able to resist carving their initials into inanimate objects.

The water at El Morro

We took the Inscription Trail that runs right along the bluff.  Here you get a good look at the  more than 2,000 signatures and Petroglyphs.  The carvings encompass a rich history of ancestral Puebloans, Spanish, and American travelers.  The Army, wagon trains, the railroad, and even the first Colonial Governor of New Mexico chiseled their names here.  Some of these fellas were incredibly handy with a chisel.  Check out the photo of Mr. Long’s signature.  How in the hell did he do THAT with a chisel?!


National Parks and National Monuments are in every state. Look around you to see what you’ve been overlooking.  And, while you’re at it, get you a National Parks Pass.  At $85/year, mine has paid for itself several times over.  If you’re a Senior, you can get your pass for $10 for a lifetime.  That’s a bargain!

Now, if hiking gets you hungry, do yourself a favor and stop at the 66 Pit Stop just outside of Albuquerque for a Laguna Burger.  This gas station (yep, it’s a gas station) serves up green chile cheeseburgers and other yummies.  The burgers are award winning and they are delicious.  For all of you out of towners not used to our New Mexican chile (and it’s chile not chili), you might order yours on the side…it’s got a kick!

Laguna Burger