Monday, January 17, 2011

New Mexico: Hike to Baylor Pass, Organ Mountains

Our fifth trip to New Mexico.  If everything works out (a big "if," of course), we'll almost certainly retire there.  The question is: where?  This trip to the south-central part of the fourth largest state in the union confirmed our love for wide open spaces and the Chihuahuan desert.  We can think of far worse places to land than Las Cruces, for example, the second-largest metropolis in the state.

Our first hike during this New Mexican trip took us to the Baylor Pass Trail in the Organ Mountains about 20 miles east of Las Cruces.  As a mountain range, the Organs are relatively small.  They don't even show up on my Rand McNally road atlas of New Mexico.  Nevertheless, they are dramatic because they are so craggy.  Though I beg to differ, I read several comparisons to Wyoming's Grand Tetons in Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce promotional material.
Chihuahuan desert vegetation along the trail
The mountain range has two origins.  The northern half - the dramatic, craggy half - is the eroded remnant of a batholith.  Magma pooled under the earth's surface but never broke through, cooling and solidifying underground.  The southern end of the mountains is the remnant of magma that did breach the earth's surface in a typical volcanic eruption.  The suture between the two is plain and stark:  the northern batholith is light pink-gray granite, while the southern is dark brown lava.
View southward along the eastern flank of the lava-derived portion of the Organ Mountains
The Organs are also one of the numerous "sky islands" that dot the southwest all along the Mexican border.  Unlike oceanic islands surrounded by water, the sky island mountain ranges are separated from one another by desert "seas," making them hotbeds for speciation and endemism.
Snow along the trail from a storm one week earlier.  The divided peaks are called the Rabbit Ears.
We chose to walk the Baylor Pass National Recreation Trail.  The 6-mile trail traverses the mountains, crossing at Baylor Pass.  The approach from the east reaches the pass in 2 miles, while the approach from the west requires a 4-mile hike to reach the pass.  We selected the shorter hike, climbing about 900 feet from the trailhead to the pass and then returning on the same route.  With leisurely breaks for birdwatching, photography, and lunch, the trek took us about four hours.   Temperatures were in low 50s - perfect for hiking, especially when the sun is out.  I even got a bit of a sunburn!
View eastward from Baylor Pass over the Tularosa Basin

Along the trail


Gail said...


Great pictures of a wonderful hike in a most beautiful [lace. wow :-) and you look wonderful too
Love to you

Jain said...

The pictures are stunning. Knowing that a photo can never really capture the spirit of a place, it must have been incredible to see!

Scott said...

Thank you, Gail. (How could I argue with anyone who says that I look wonderful?) The hike to Baylor Pass was beautiful, but I'm a sucker for the desert and the mountains, so it fulfilled both needs in one hike.

Scott said...

Jain, you clearly appreciate the "spirit" of the Organ Mountains. The desert vegetation, the absolute and complete silence, and the sunshine all came together to work their special magic.

One thing that is not obvious in the images that I chose was the fact that the sky was crisscrossed by countless expanding jet contrails--I mean, literally dozens of them at a time. As a result, the sky was not as pure, unadulterated blue as it would have been without jet travel...a shame.

Jain said...

Yes, contrails make me sad, too. I remember the day I moved out of Ohio, back in '01. I counted 13 trails in one view that day. I moved to the U.P. and never saw more than one at a time, and that was rare. Humbug on blue sky pollution!

Scott said...

You're right, Jain, about the contrails. According to a "Nova" program on PBS, the earth's skies were remarkably clear on the days following the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 because all flights had been grounded and contrails disappeared. It makes you wonder about what we see when we look up on a daily basis.