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.

Have I been abducted?!

You all know how I like to tell you about all the quirky places in the state of New Mexico?  Well, about the quirkiest place you can find is perhaps the city of Roswell.

57435692_10219405643591518_2248855377380638720_nDue to no fault of its own, really, Roswell’s claim to fame is space aliens. Yep, you heard that right.  In July of 1947, The Roswell Incident took place.  An Unidentified Flying Object, a UFO, crashed at a ranch outside of Roswell, NM (quite a ways from Roswell, actually). Or so the story goes.  58460891_10219405618470890_8143089261130809344_n

Once officials were notified, the military swooped in from Walker Air Base (the Air Force base was decommissioned in 1967), gathered up all of the evidence and the alien bodies, threatened folks to keep their mouths shut, issued a cover-up story about a weather balloon and….

Well, the mystery and stories about what really happened in Roswell have persevered. And, the city of Roswell itself has firmly grabbed hold of their alien connection and you can see it all over town. It’s a pretty spectacular example of taking the odd tidbit you’re known for and running with it.

Roswell is home to approximately 50,000 people, making it the fifth largest city in New Mexico.  And the city itself has a pretty rich history. It is the county seat of Chaves County and if you’re interested in aviation or rockets, Roswell has a lot of interesting people in its past, including Charles Lindbergh, Robert Goddard and more recently, Felix Baumgartner.  New Mexico Military Institute is in Roswell and there are lovely museums and restaurants and plenty of places to stay, but I’m here to talk about the aliens.

If you find yourself in Roswell, fuel up at Big D’s Downtown Dive and then throw yourself right into alien culture.  Aliens are literally all over the streets of this town and they will provide you with lots of fun photo taking opportunities.

19092707_10213769948902673_4456882170496300556_oThere’s perhaps no better place to start than the International UFO Museum and Research Center. Right on Main Street, the museum will provide you with a timeline of all of the action  along with UFO art, stories from abductees, and some life sized alien replicas.

This was the first time that I popped into the Research Center portion of the building. Let me just say: If you want to read all things about aliens, UFOs, and etc., this is your place.

Want to up your alien experience to the next level?  The City of Roswell hosts a UFO Festival every year in July.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

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A funky little stay in a funky little town

Truth or Consequences.

That’s the name of this funky little year-round resort town in Sierra County, New Mexico.

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Downtown Truth or Consequences

Famed for its hot springs, this town changed its original name, Hot Springs, to Truth or Consequences as part of a publicity campaign to advertise a game show.  The story goes that a popular game show, Truth or Consequences, was looking for a way to advertise its 10th year anniversary in 1949.  They decided that finding a town in America that would change its name to Truth or Consequences would be a flashy way to gain some publicity. The call went out to cities around the country and  Hot Springs, New Mexico applied and won.  In March of 1950 a special election was held to change the town’s name from Hot Springs to Truth or Consequences.  The name change passed 1294 in favor, 295 against and the host of the popular game show flew to the newly named town to broadcast an episode of the game show – on April Fools Day.  The publicity stunt worked and the name stuck.

IMG_20190226_115835898_2In 2019, Truth or Consequences is known more for Elephant Butte Lake, hot springs resorts, art galleries, and the newly arrived Spaceport America. Approximately 6,000 people still live in Truth or Consequences (we call it T or C for short) and there are a surprising number of things to enjoy in this little city with the big name.

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Private soaking tub at the Blackstone Hot Springs

There are a number of hotels in the area, but if you find yourself in T or C, you’d be wise to check out one of the many hot springs resort hotels in the area.  On this trip I stayed at the Blackstone Hot Springs lodge.  This gem of a hotel from the 1930s has been remodeled with quirky themed rooms.  I stayed with Spock in the Star Trek room  while my colleague stayed in the Jetsons room (PS: I prefer the Spanish name Los Supersónicos) and my boss in the Superman suite.

The rooms, though themed, are modern, clean and incredibly comfortable.  The property boasts a handful of hot springs tubs located in the common areas of the resort, but the best part of this hotel is that most rooms come with their own private hot springs tub.  That means you can soak to your little heart’s content, in whatever bathing attire you like, in privacy.

 

Rates are incredibly reasonable and the Blackstone has a lodge cat: Boris.

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Boris

Now I’m not sure what your thoughts are on him personally, but Ted Turner also has a resort hotel in T or C called the Sierra Grande.  While we didn’t stay here, we did eat at the restaurant which features a nice selection of New Mexico beer and wine.  The menu is varied and features everything from wild game to lighter fare.  I enjoyed a spa bowl (red quinoa, kale, sweet potatoes, chicken and a spicy peanut sauce) and a delicious slice of chocolate cake (ok, and a couple of glasses of wine – everything in moderation, right?)

There are lots of shops to explore and a surprising array of restaurants.  I’d recommend the Passion Pie Cafe for breakfast.  It’s small and crowded but the food is great.  And, if you’re up for something out of the ordinary, the Pacific Grill, which serves both Chinese and Mexican food alongside a salad bar, is surprisingly good.

T or C is also lake adjacent.  I have fond memories of camping and boating at Elephant Butte Lake.  Sadly the last several years of New Mexico’s drought have taken their toll.  Here’s hoping more water starts flowing again soon!

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Drought has devastated Elephant Butte Lake with water levels lower than they have been in years

I haven’t been yet, but Spaceport America is a stone’s throw from T or C.  New Mexico is probably a really great place for a Spaceport:

Great weather year-round – √

Lots of open space for rocket launching – √

A state with a rich history in aeronautics – √

Terrain that looks like another planet – √

In all honesty, it’s helping the local economy and building STEM innovation in New Mexico education. Check it out here: https://spaceportamerica.com/

 

Weeks on the roads of New Mexico: Updated

For those of you that have a hard time gauging the size of states, New Mexico is the 5th largest state in land mass.  The Land of Enchantment encompasses 121,365 miles.  On the flip side, New Mexico is the 36th largest state when it come to population with approximately 2 million people.  What that means is that there is lots of space in New Mexico and parts of the state are incredibly remote – I mean like nothing on the AM dial remote.

I’m the worst blog writer ever. Seriously. I never write. I thought about writing pretty much all of the summer and fall of 2018. Even jotted down some phrases, ideas, sentences that stuck out in my mind as pretty good and then…..insert crickets chirping here…nothing. I can’t even find the notes where I recorded my thoughts.

I spent most of the second half of 2018 figuring out my professional life, leaving one small company with a great group of coworkers to eventually return to the large company that I left three years ago. It has great coworkers too.

Business travel isn’t new to me and I knew there would come a year in my life where flying for work upwards of 4 times a week every week would get old (or I would get too old for it). It turns out that year was my 44th on the planet.

I’m still traveling but now I get to drive the great state of New Mexico more often than I’m on a plane. And that’s been nice. It also got me thinking that I rarely haul my nice (and expensive camera) out of the house. You know, the camera I bought myself as a treat several years ago with a promise that I’d indulge in (and improve) my photography habit.

My work territory is the state of New Mexico. The entire state. For those of you that have a hard time gauging the sizes of states, New Mexico is the 5th largest state in land mass. The Land of Enchantment encompasses 121,365 miles. On the flip side, New Mexico is the 36th largest state when it come to population with approximately 2 million people. What that means is that there is lots of space in New Mexico and parts of the state are incredibly remote – I mean like nothing on the AM dial remote.

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Southwestern New Mexico

Because our population is so small as compared to our land mass, the population in New Mexico is mostly concentrated along the Interstates. Albuquerque is by far the largest city followed by Las Cruces, Santa Fe and a handful of other cities. After that, the population drops off sharply and you’re left with a series of towns and villages.

In the fall of 2018, I visited all 89 of the school districts in the state (these are my customers). It took several weeks but I finally finished crisscrossing the state.

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Abo Ruins

The highways of New Mexico are littered with abandoned and run down homes, farms, and towns, remnants of days gone by. Scattered along the interstates, highways and state roads are also hundreds of roadside markers. Now, I know a lot of you just go blowing by those markers, but there’s some really interesting history to be found there. I highly recommend this book: Roadside New Mexico: A Guide to Historic Markers. It was recommended to me by the park ranger at the Abo Ruins (worth a stop) and it gives the extended history of all the roadside markers (past and present) in New Mexico. Talk to the park rangers at your National Parks and Monuments…they know a lot of cool stuff.

Those of you that know me well know I’m fascinated with ghost towns, abandoned buildings and the like and there are plenty to see in New Mexico. In some cases, towns were left to die after I-40 overtook Route 66. Others, like Cedarvale, were farming meccas where drought eventually came, ruined the crops and drove the population out.

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WPA School in Cedarvale

(Cedarvale was once home to the country’s largest pinto bean producer. All that’s left now are the remnants of a WPA school). Others stopped flourishing after the railroads came and went or the mines were exhausted.

What is even more amazing are the changes in these towns or the quirky ways they are keeping themselves on the map and what one can find in these little towns if you just look a little bit more deeply.

Let’s take the Village of of Mosquero. Mosquero, in Harding County, lies way, way, way out in the middle of….well, nothing. Depending on which census you look at, there are somewhere between 90 and 120 residents in this little village. Sitting so far off the beaten path, not much would bring your average traveler to Mosquero, but it’s a quaint little village where the residents have transformed the sides of almost all of their buildings on the main street into beautiful murals. I’m voting Mosquero the friendliest town in all of New Mexico. I think every resident of the village waved to me as I was exploring the streets and several stopped to chat with me, asking where I was from and could they help me find something – or someone.

In fact, I am starting to miss the friendliness and politeness that is present in most small towns and that sometimes feels largely absent in our bigger cities. I guess you get used the absence of niceties when you live in a larger city (and Albuquerque isn’t really that big…it’s the biggest small town you’ll ever encounter). I mean, sure, you have a handful of people in cities that are friendly and polite, but it just seems that in the smaller towns you see niceness on display in larger and more frequent ways. More kids hold school doors open for me in small towns. More kids call me ma’am in the smaller towns. (Note to small town kids: I don’t really love being called ma’am. I get it’s polite, but could we shoot for “miss” instead?) Maybe as cities grow and grow, we lose the desire to be nicer because we don’t really know our neighbors any more…

The whole point of going down that rabbit hole is to tell you that heading off the beaten path to a small town or village sometimes really pays off. And, perhaps I’m just less vigilant than some of my acquaintances, but I’ve seen some really incredible stuff in parts of my state that other people tend to avoid. “You could get killed out there.” “I never go way out there.” “That’s a weird town.” I think these are all just ways to say that the people in this town aren’t exactly like me and therefore I’m going to react with fear.

Now, I’m not advocating that you go out and behave like an idiot or intentionally put yourself in a situation that looks/smells/seems/feels dangerous, but I am saying: maybe don’t judge a book by its cover.

In addition to the friendliest village ever (Hey Mosquero, hey!), I might have missed all the following if I hadn’t ventured out a bit:

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Shiprock

Shiprock and the graffiti art of the Navajo Nation. A lot of people I know are hesitant to visit Shiprock and/or the far Northwestern part of our state. Don’t be! If you do you will miss out on one of the world’s most interesting geologic sights and some incredible art. Shiprock is the erosional remnant of a volcano and it’s incredible. (As a side note, one of my customers told me that New Mexico has more volcanoes than anywhere else in the country. Thank goodness they’re all not actively spewing lava.) You can visit and photograph Shiprock a million times and get a stunning and totally different looking picture each time. If you’re brave and you have a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle, you can drive out to the Shiprock. (Don’t go climbing it. It’s a sacred site to the Navajo people.)
My other favorite thing in Shiprock (the town) is the incredible graffiti art left on some the buildings in town. I got out of my car on this past trip and really spent some time taking a good look. There’s a lot of talent on these walls.

Art is scattered around the state in some of the most unlikely places you can think of: the painted highway barriers on the Mescalero Apache land, a stilt walker in Albuquerqe, a sculpture of St. Michael that looks almost like animation in Pecos, the Basket Array in Grants, the cowboy sculpture in Jal, murals in Mosquero and Corona and on the walls of Ft. Selden, the painted burros in Carrizozo.

Also scattered across the state, merely a stone’s throw from wherever you are….old churches. Mostly Catholic (occasionally another denomination sneaks in) the old churches here in New Mexico are some of my favorite things to photograph. Many have been in use for centuries and lots of them make you feel like you’re somewhere deep in Central or South America. Whether you’re Catholic or not, religious at all or not, these little churches are always worth stopping for.

And, if you’re like me and you geek out over abandoned buildings of any kind, we’ve got those too, including several grist mills. The one in Cleveland, NM has been turned into a pretty great museum.

This year I visited two interesting (and funky) ghost towns…well, semi ghost towns. Both Loma Parda and Mogollon have a handful of eccentric, year-round residents. If you want to see the really good stuff, make friends with the locals, trust me. It turns out that the main streets in these abandoned towns are just the surface of what’s actually out there to see.

Loma Parda has a pretty seedy history. Located not too terribly far from Fort Union, it was the place that military officers most often found the men that had deserted the fort and they found them drinking and spending time in the company of “women with loose morals.” Today you can wander the streets with a herd of bison.

Mogollon is a placed I’d long wanted to visit. The road to get here is perhaps the scariest, one lane, mountain climbing roads I’ve ever driven. Watch out for the UPS driver flying up the road from the opposite direction. Mogollon was a mining town and much remains…see if you can pick out the actual abandoned buildings from those built for movie sets. The Silver Creek Inn is being worked on and you can actually stay in Mogollon in the summer months. (If anyone has stayed, let me know!)

Don’t be afraid to take the dirt road and venture out a little bit. You almost always find something worth seeing, someone worth talking to and some food worth eating.