Last weekend I went to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Las Cruces, NM to run the Baylor Canyon and Pine Tree trails with several of my running friends. The Baylor Canyon National Recreation Trail is six miles one way, takes hikers through a saddle in the Organ Mountains with 1000’ of elevation gain and descends to the other side. We started from the western slopes of the range and ran to the Aguirre Springs Campground near White Sands Missile Range on the other side. The Organs get their name from the jagged pinnacles that jut up from the peaks that look like the pipes of an organ.
The four mile long Pine Tree loop trail is located at the campground and gains another 1000’ offering hikers up close views of the Organ Needles and Rabbit Ears rock formations. We started our run at 7:15 on a very chilly morning although there was little to no wind. After a gradual uphill through a grassy prairie we began our ascent through a boulder strewn canyon. The huge Volkswagen sized rocks were smooth and rounded from eons of wind and rain.
Pretty soon we were at an overlook with fine views of “A Mountain”, for the “A” on the side; also known as Tortugas Mountain which means tortoise because that’s what it looks like. The mountain has been used for mining, communications towers, scientific studies and native spiritual ceremonies. Just in case you are interested, there will be a free 24 Hour “A” Mt Challenge race on April 1st (No foolin’). Here runners will repeatedly circumambulate (yes, it’s a word) the mountain on a four mile trail, logging as many miles as possible in a 24 hour period. Whew!
Anyway, from our perch, we could also see the Robledo Mountains, home of the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. This entire area is rich with public lands just waiting to be explored, so what are you waiting for?
|The Robledo Mountains|
Before long we experienced a little snow on the trail, but nothing to worry about so far. In about three miles we reached the pass where we could see the White Sands MR below. After taking in the vista we made the descent to the campground passing by several partially frozen creeks and springs trickling over water polished slabs of rock. When we reached the campground at the bottom we were afforded spectacular views of the snowy Organ Pipes and Rabbit Ears.
The next leg, the Pine Tree Trail, was tough because of the steep grade and deep snow that was lingering in the tree shaded mountainside. On several occasions I lost the trail when it took a sharp turn to the left or right. Luckily other hikers had already broken the trail so the snow was packed down and not icy. We came to one of the largest Alligator juniper trees I have ever seen so we stopped to take a few selfies, or “runfies" if you will, beside the behemoth tree. They get their name from the bark that resembles the skin of an alligator's back. The berries are edible, according to Edible Baja Arizona, and Zuni children used the resin from the wood as chewing gum.
One friend kept going and got ahead while another was stopping for pictures behind me. All of a sudden, I found myself all alone in this snowy mountainous wilderness and then lost the trail completely when I arrived at a creek. I thought I was lost, my surroundings reminding me of the Academy nominated movie, The Revenant —the snow covered pine trees, eerie silence and towering mountain face. In the movie the guy is injured in a bear attack and left for dead by his buddies where he has to fight for his survival to reach safety again. Certainly my buddies wouldn't leave me out here to be consumed by a carnivore.
At any rate, I turned back to make sure my friend hadn’t taken a different route, but found him in a few minutes. We trudged through the snow back to the creek where we found a way across and continued our circuit. Reaching a rocky outcrop, we stopped for a short break to enjoy the view and pose for some more photos. All that badass mountain training would completely go to waste if we couldn’t post it on Facebook, right?
|Angelica, Miguel and Greg|
|Mark, look at that form.|
The rest of the trail was mostly downhill, so I was hoping to make up some time. My goal was to complete the entire run in five hours, but it took us such a long time to do the Pine Tree loop that I was beginning to wonder. Eventually we made it back to the campground though and then started the difficult grind back up to the pass.
They set a pretty good pace going back up even though I stopped to take a lot of pictures. On the way down, we saw many hikers and dog walkers coming up the mountain. The weather was fine most of the way, but by the time we made it back to our cars, the sun had gone below the clouds and the wind picked up making it quite chilly. Despite the snow, we had a great run in the Organs even though several runners took falls coming down the slick trails. Nothing serious, just a few bloody knees —a souvenir and reminder of the good times that were had on the mountain, right Tommy?
After everyone returned, I asked, “Who’s ready for a burrito from a gas station?” Well, I just got a bunch of blank stares so had to explain. Santa Fe Grill makes excellent burritos to order at the Pic Quik convenience stores throughout Las Cruces. Anything hot with Hatch green chili tastes better especially after a 16 mile run in the mountains. If you happen to be in this area, definitely check out the Baylor Canyon and Pine Tree trails. The Eastside gate at the campground ($5.00) doesn’t open until 8:00am, but the Westside trailhead is not gated. Don’t forget to get your burrito from a gas station (Sonoma Ranch Rd) when you are done; it completes the entire experience.
See you on the trail.