Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Mexico: Hike to Dripping Springs, Organ Mountains

Approach to Dripping Springs Canyon
On the afternoon of our last day in Las Cruces, we took the one-mile walk to Dripping Springs on the western flank of the lava-derived (southern) portion of the Organ Mountains (see previous post for more about the geology of the region).

The Chihuahuan desert is very dry, and these dependable springs have been known for centuries.  Just down slope of the actual springs, archeologists excavated the floor of a rock shelter (La Cueva, The Cave) that contained evidence that the canyon containing the springs has been occupied by people for millennia.

Between the end of the 19th century and the 1930's, the Dripping Springs canyon was the site of mountain resorts and a sanatorium.  When the first, wood-framed resort failed, it was turned into a tuberculosis sanatorium.  Eventually, that site was abandoned, but a new, larger resort with stone buildings was built further up the canyon.  The remains of the wood-framed and stone buildings are scattered throughout, as are two silted-up reservoirs that were built to contain and store the water from the springs.

A coup used to house chickens for the resort

Remains of the sanatorium
The stone hotel at the mountain camp
When we visited, the spring flow was unimpressive - either the springs are very modest affairs, or they flow more generously in other times of the year.  In fact, it was difficult to see the water dripping out of the canyon above.  Nevertheless, it obviously provided enough water to operate the resorts successfully.
The Dripping Springs (bottom center)
The canyon and the springs were saved by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which bought the property and then sold it to the Bureau of Land Management for a protected natural area.  Because of the presence of the water, the canyon supports rare and endangered plants, prompting TNC's interest.  The hike up to the springs from the visitor center was a relatively easy one-mile uphill trek on a gravel road that had previously been used to service the resorts.
View westward toward Las Cruces and the Rio Grande valley

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