The Organ Mountains are located in southern New Mexico, east of Las Cruces, north of El Paso (Texas) and west of the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR, or "wismer" as is sometimes called by the locals). The range is so named for its multitude of spire-like needles and summits, resembling organ pipes from a distance; the effect is especially impressive as one drives into Las Cruces from Interstate-10 to the west.
The highpoint of the range is called Organ Needle. Its elevation is often cited as 8,990+ feet, but older sources, including Herbert Ungnade's Mountains of New Mexico
, give the summit figure as 9,012 feet. Newer topographical maps utterly confuse the picture, and without someone literally pointing out the summit to you from below, you would be hard pressed to identify it among the many dozens of nearby points that line the ridge.
The peak is popular for hikers and climbers for it is the highpoint of the range, a highly prominent peak and the highpoint of Dona Ana County. The standard route is a mix of use trails, bushwhacking, route finding and a short but exposed class 3/4 scramble crux just below the summit. With over 4,000 feet of gain in about 4 miles, and with the attendant challenges, most hikers require a good day to make the round trip. A rope belay might be needed for the crux if you feel uncomfortable otherwise. The rewards are amazing views of the deserts into Mexico, and the amazing White Sands to the northeast. Gigantic Sierra Blanca
stands tall way off to the northeast, as do countless other peaks withjin New Mexico, Texas and Old Mexico.
The Organ Mountains (by John Kirk)
[img:25906:aligncenter:medium:The "Yellow Rocks" are a useful waypoint on the route]
My directions may seem a bit spotty because I was part of a large team, and generally followed the others, many of them locals who knew the route. Nevertheless, this should be enough to at least get you in the right zip code:
With the USGS "Organ Peak" quadrangle in hand, identify Modoc Mine to the west of the peak and find a jeep track and some double-dashed roads leading west. Your goal is to get your vehicle as close to Modoc Mine as possible. From Las Cruces leave I-25 at University Avenue and follow it east where it should become dirt and turn into Dripping Springs Road. This is a major dirt hardpack road. Follow it east then turn north onto another major hardpack road called Baylor Canyon Road. The road to Modoc Mine is rough and is 4-wheel drive for the last bit. Most of us parked early and hiked up the remainder of the road - giving us about 4,100 feet of gain to the summit. One hardy driver coaxed his jeep about a half-mile and 400 feet up. Use your judgment. A sharp switchback cut into a small ridge will likely stop all vehicles. You'll know it when you see it.
None, but part of the route crosses into a Military Reservation (White Sands MR, I think). We saw no restrictive signs nor fencing. Most of the hike is on public land. We had no trouble whatsoever.
When To Climb
Late spring and fall when there is no snow and when the temperatures aren't so hot. Snow can collect in the hidden notch (Dark Canyon Saddle) just south of the peak, even if you can't see it from below. On the other hand, major snow events this far south are not common. If it snows, wait a few days and you should be okay.
I didn't see any developed sites in the immediate area. It looks like car-camping and primitive camping is allowed as much of the land is public. Las Cruces has lots of cheap, basic lodging options.
An Excellent Photo Resource
Mouser Williams has agreed to allow me to link to his photograph 'essay' of his climb (April 2006) of Organ Needle. Many outstanding shots, including a few with route/gps tracks on them so you have an idea where to go. Thanks Mouser!
Mouser's Organ Needle Photographs
Visit also www.cohp.org
Further useful information can be found at the county highpointers website:
Dona Ana County, New Mexico