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.
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.
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.