The recently designated Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is a many-splendored, only in New Mexico thing.
Established on May 21, 2014, by Presidential Proclamation, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument includes 496,330 acres.
The Monument recognizes and protects southern New Mexico’s stunning landscapes, significant geologic wonders, diverse ecological communities, and pristine Native American rock art.
The National Monument includes four distinct areas: the Organ Mountains, Desert Peaks, Potrillo Mountains, and Doña Ana Mountains.
The Organ Mountains, east of the city of Las Cruces, are characterized by steep, angular, barren rock outcroppings. They rise to nearly 9,000 feet in elevation and extend for 20 miles, running generally north and south.
On the northwest side of Las Cruces are the mountain ranges and peaks of the Robledo and Doña Ana Mountains and Sierra de las Uvas, which make up the Desert Peaks area. These desert landscapes are characterized by numerous mesas and buttes interspersed with deep canyons and arroyos.
To the southwest side of Las Cruces are the Potrillo Mountains. These mountains are a series of cinder cones with volcanic craters and basalt lava flows in an open desert landscape.
The monument’s diverse ecological communities include Upper Chihuahuan Desert grasslands and savannas, riparian corridors, sky-island pygmy forests, and even a subalpine zone in the Organ Mountains.
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks are a popular recreation area with multiple hiking trails (including four designated National Recreation Trails), a popular campground, the Kilbourne Hole Volcanic Crater National Natural Landmark, and opportunities for hunting, mountain biking, and other dispersed recreation.
The Monument has been a homeland for diverse Native American peoples, a place of exploration for 17th Century Spaniards, a hideout for one of the American West’s most notorious outlaws, and a training ground for World War II airmen and Apollo astronauts.
Abundant cultural sites dating back 10,000-12,000 years dot the landscape including evidence of Mogollon, Mimbres, and Jornada peoples.
Prolific, well-preserved rock art is one of the monument’s defining qualities. BLM estimates include up to 8,000 archaeological sites, from large pueblos to ceramic scatters. A few notable sites, like the huge outdoor exhibition at Apache Flats, comprising over 250 panels, are quite accessible.
Five hikes based out of Las Cruces through the monument’s four areas, offer a cross-section of the abundant recreational opportunities available.
Las Cruces’ convenient proximity with its numerous 5-star RV parks serve as a base camp for day trips. Another popular choice for year-round camping is Leasburg Dam State Park located 15 miles north of Las Cruces off I-15.
Valles and Broad Canyons Riparian Corridor Hike
The Valles Canyon/Broad Canyon corridor features rugged scenery, diverse vegetation, varied wildlife, and well-preserved rock art. Towering north-facing cliffs shelter willows, mesquite trees, ash, desert hawthorns, mature gray oaks, and 750-year-old grandfather junipers. The constant sense of discovery on this three-to-eight-mile open-ended hike makes it difficult to turn around and head back—and it’s just as incredible in reverse.
Soledad Canyon Hike
This hidden, 6,000-foot-elevation, 10-square-mile natural botanical garden, enclosed by intricately sculpted volcanic peaks and sheer cliffs and pinnacles, is carved into the Organ Mountains’ west slope, where the Needles give way to the gigantic caldera forming the southern part of the range. The well-maintained three-mile loop trail is only 15 minutes from Las Cruces.
Robledo Palisades Hike
The colorfully layered, 5,900-foot Robledo Mountains’ ridgeline soars 2,000 feet straight above the Río Grande. A dozen hikeable canyons penetrate this five-mile stretch of east-facing white-tuff palisades.
Kilbourne Hole Hike
Twenty-five miles of dusty roads across endless mesquite and creosote brush flats and there’s still no clue that a spectacular, otherworldly crater lies ahead, until you’re standing awestruck on Kilbourne Hole’s precipitous edge. Roughly elliptical in shape, two miles long by more than a mile across and up to 300 feet deep, it is the largest, most perfectly formed volcanic maar (volcanic crater) on earth.
Aden Crater Hike
The short, gradual walk up to the 4,300-foot-elevation rim suddenly opens out into a circular world of lush green grasses and ocotillo forests bounded by a black lava rim.
If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.