Archives for posts with tag: Organ Mountains

Overview

Both Rabbit Ears from directly below

View from directly below the Rabbit Ears

An overview and driving directions were given for my first description of Rabbit Ear Plateau, so it may not be necessary to repeat all that.  I will say that it is much nicer to climb this route on a cool spring day rather than the warmer climes of summer.  This is still a strenuous trip, gaining a shade more than 3000 feet in 3 miles.  There are portions near the top of this scramble that are quite airy.

This description is being written weeks after the actual scramble, so be extra-skeptical of the reportage.

Trailhead:

After turning south on Baylor Canyon Road, the distance to the trailhead is still 3.6 miles.  I thought it useful to count the cattle gratings on Baylor Canyon Road and (if I remember right) the trailhead was immediately after the 5th cattle grating.  I also thought that I might try to take the Camry a little further up the road towards the mine, but I chickened out after about 200 feet (the road gets pretty “ledgy”).  I regretted the move entirely when driving back out on toward Baylor Canyon road. The mining road has a cattle grating at its start.  The drop on the downside of that grating is about 4 inches and it gave the undercarriage of my sedan a pretty hard whack.

Hike

The col of cacti

“Cacti Col” (click for larger image)

As before, follow the road until it ends at the mine, follow the trail above the mine until it ends at the canyon and then ascend the canyon.  Make sure you recognize the junction of canyon and trail – it was marked by cairns but if there was a storm they could all disappear.  At my previous turnaround point near 7000 feet I departed from the bottom of the stream bed and continued parallel it on the east side.  There was a pretty stiff wind coming out of the west.  That air struck the west-facing canyon mouth and funneled inward and upward, really blasting the canyon proper.  I lost a hat to that breeze.  On descent in the afternoon the wind was strong enough to knock me over on two occasions. Pretty exciting, in a way, but not recommended in a steep environment made up of hard edged rocks, thorny plants and (potentially) venomous creatures.

The way is steep and the climber treads go straight up the fall line.  No gentle switchbacks on this hike!  The eastern wall of the canyon has a gully that was as packed with cacti as any place I’ve seen (outside of a grocery shelf).  Cacti Col is my name for that spot, and it is about the greenest place on the plateau.

Sugarloaf from the plateau

View from col at the head of the canyon. Sugarloaf is the lift gray, tooth-like bump on the left.

At 7800 feet you arrive at the col between the south Rabbit Ear and the plateau.  There are views of the Aguirre Springs area, Sugarloaf, and a portion of southern Tularosa Basin.  An obvious trail at the col will launch you up towards the top of Rabbit Ears Plateau.  You quickly arrive at a steeply inclined rock face, blocked up by a couple fallen trees.  On ascent I went to the right and climbed a small face to get around the blockage.  (On descent that face seemed overly exposed so I went under and over the fallen trees.  It was easier than I had expected).  Thereafter the tread disappears and you simple climb upward by the most reasonable seeming route.  Near the summit there is a 30-foot long steep gully full of lose gravel that is a challenge.  From experience, however, I can say that it is substantially easier and less exposed than the options to your right.

South to Dripping Spring from summit

View south from summit, into the Dripping Springs area.

Above the gully the terrain begins to gentle and a number of boot beaten paths arise.  Take note of your course, because you really do want to return to the gully for descent.  The top is a boulder strewn ridge (I have no idea why it is called a plateau).  The view west reveals the trailhead and Las Cruces, the view south is toward Dripping Springs, the view west shows the Tularosa Basin and the view north gives a peek at the San Andreas Mountains.

Return the way you came.  Once back at the col, I chose descend by staying in the stream bed of the canyon. It was perfectly passable.

Recommendations

me on summit

Summit pose (Tularosa basin in the background)

There was one small rocky tank with some very green water in it.  Otherwise, the other “damp spots” I saw on my first trip to Rabbit Ears were all dry. The flies and lizards that had been abundant were now gone.  Take lots of water!

Overview

Pre-sunrise view of Organ Mts from trailhead

Arrived at the trailhead a little early, taking a short nap until it got light enough to see the trail.

The trail begins on a mining road, but above the mine the trail becomes spotty.  Navigation isn’t too difficult as it follows a water course, but it is steep in spots with some modest climbing moves. It is strenuous. Caveat: I turned around before reaching the summit, so this post only describes the lower part of the trail.

Directions

  • Take I-25 to Exit #6.
  • Follow signs on exit ramp to US 70 East.  (Note: if you are starting in Las Cruces then just follow Main Street towards the north-east, it turns into US 70 after crossing I-25).
  • Follow US 70 for 10.3 miles (16.6 km) and take the NASA Rd exit.
  • Almost immediately (o.2 miles, or 300 meters) turn right onto Baylor Canyon Road, heading due south.
  • Follow Baylor Canyon Rd for 3.6 miles (5.8 km) to the trailhead.  There is a cattle guard in the road immediately before the trailhead.  The trailhead is just a wide dirt parking area on the left side of the road.  The trail begins on a mining road that heads uphill to the east.  There is no sign naming this road, but there is a very small sign (reading vertically) saying that you are on public lands in a wildlife study area.

Trailhead

Co-ordinates:

N  32° 21.948'
W 106° 36.865'
Trailhead parking on side of Baylor Canyon Rd.

Just past the cattle guard (pictured) and the car is a road going uphill to the left. That road is the trail.

The photo shows the trailhead and the cattle guard on Baylor Canyon Rd.  The mining road goes uphill (east) and has a cattle guard at the start.  The mining road is in pretty tough shape.  Greg Magee in his guidebook “Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area” recommends that you leave your vehicle close to Baylor Rd.  That is certainly true of the family sedan.  A high clearance vehicle could easily go a little further (there is a turn-off about a half mile up the road).  However, it then gets very rough.  I came across two young fellows trying to extract a very high clearance Ford truck from a bit of driving difficulty.  They seemed to think that it would not be a problem, but most folks would not want to deal with the issue.  I walked the road.

Data

According to Google Maps, the elevation gain is 3000 feet (910 meters) and a rough sketch of the trail using Map My Run indicates about 3.5 miles (5.9 km) from the trailhead to the summit.

Hike

Text: lots of hard work gone by the boards!

Caption: ruin about a mile from the trailhead

Follow the mining road past a ruin (an old bunk house, perhaps?).  In about one and a half miles (2.4 km) the road forks, go left.  Shortly thereafter the road ends at a wash that is filled with tailings from the mining operation.  There are several mine openings a short distance uphill, but to follow the trail go directly across the tailings to find the trail.  Here, it is an actual footpath and not a road.  The trail climbs out of the wash and turns uphill for about 100 yards (90 meters).  It goes close to several very deep shafts.  Falling in would truly wreck your day.  Caution is advised.  There are several mining trails so watch for the hiking trail to turn sharply left and start a rising traverse north to the canyon.  When you enter the canyon, look around so you will know where to leave the canyon on return!

Once in the canyon, follow the water course and watch for cairns to help guide the way.  Where several water courses come together, the trail generally stays close to the right hand wall of the canyon (looking uphill).

view to southern ridge of canyon

It is remarkable how dense and green the vegetation is at 6000 feet. Unlike the floor of the Chihuahua desert, there is no space between plants.

This has been a tough year for rain, although in the last two weeks several thunderstorms have marched through. Still, it was surprising to see how green things remained in this “sky island“.  Unlike the floor of the Chihuahua Desert, the vegetation here is pretty dense and bushwhacking through it is hard and sometimes bloody work. Generally, do not expect to find water on the route.

Having said that, there were water seeps at several points along the trail.  Most of these seeps were just enough to keep the sand moist.  Those spots were dense with flies, black-winged moths and tiny lizards.  There was one stretch of rock carrying a water “tank”. It was very, very green water. The yucca-mesquite-creosote bush vegetation at the trailhead gave way to different vegetation as the altitude changed.  There was an elongated, tubular cactus that became very common.  For what it is worth, do not try to use this kind of cactus as a belay.  It hurts.

Just below the turn-around point.

View to summit. The rock wall on the left is from the hillock of rock

There is a large hillock of rock in the middle of the canyon as you get to about 7000 feet.  I stayed to the right and it was perfectly hikable.  There was no-one else on the trail and, aside from cairns, hardly any evidence that people had been up there at all. Feeling a little past my comfort point (and having forgotten to pack any lunch) I turned around at about 7200 feet.  According to Magee, the trail continues climbing to a col, which was visible from the hillock.  Then, you can turn right and follow a ridge up to the summit shown in the photo.  Next time!

Recommendations:

It was a poor decision on my part to try this trail as a solo hike.  It would have been far more fun with a couple of friends.  It might also be a little more temperate later in the year.  The car was doing a pretty good blast-oven  impersonation by the time I got back to the trailhead.   Five quarts of water was perfectly sufficient.

Descending from the mine, Organ Mts in background

What’s with the checkered shirt?  It is almost the only long-sleeve, button down, cotton shirt in my closet.  I like the collar, since it can be turned up to protect the neck from sunburn, and also having sleeves that can be rolled up when it is shady in the morning and rolled down when it is blazing at noon.