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On Walkabout On: The Organ Mountains’ La Cueva Trail

Basic Trail Information

  • Name: La Cueva Trail
  • Where: Organ Mountains, New Mexico
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Difficulty: easy (200 feet gain in altitude)
  • Time: 1.5 hour round-trip
  • More Info: BLM Website

Google Terrain Map of the Trail:

Narrative

The Organ Mountains outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico is one of my favorite places to go hiking in the El Paso region:

The range is littered with a number of extremely scenic trails that is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management that is responsible for the upkeep of the park.  One of the simplest trails for visitors to the park to check out is the La Cueva Trail that runs from the park’s visitor center and loops around an unusual rock outcropping:

The La Cueva rock outcropping is backdropped by the rugged spires of the Organ Mountains:

The best place to start this hike is at the visitor center where a small park fee needs to paid and hikers can check out the informative displays inside that fully explains the mountains’ ecology and history:

Before starting any hike in the Organ Mountains the Bureau of Land Management makes sure that visitors are well warned about the hazards that exist at the park:

On my prior hike on Pine Tree Trail in these mountains are experienced both the dangers of rock climbing in the park and its rattlesnakes.  From the visitor center there is actually three main trails that can be hiked.  First is the easiest one the La Cueva Trail, than there is the longer but more scenic Dripping Springs Trail, and then finally the more rugged Filmore Canyon Trail.  For people that get to the park early enough in the morning all three of these trails can be hiked in one day. However, the La Cueva Trail should be perfect for those with little time or low fitness level to try one of the other hikes.  As the picture below shows the trail around the rock outcropping is very well maintained by the BLM.   If you look closely out in the distance you can see the outskirts of Las Cruces:

The trail starts out by descending from the visitor center towards the La Cueva rock outcropping:

As the trail nears the rock outcropping it approaches a ravine that needs to be crossed to access the rock:

The small ravine provides a welcome relief from the sun if it is a hot day due to the small cluster of trees that surround it.  Wisely the BLM has put up signs to advise people to stay on the trail to prevent environmental degradation:

This ravine actually does have a small stream that flows through it and it is amazing to see the amount of plant life that is able to grow in this parched desert when given just a little bit of water:

Here is the view looking across the ravine after I crossed it from the La Cueva rock outcropping:

The trail then heads to this small cave under the rock cropping known as La Cueva which is Spanish for “The Cave”:

This rock formation has a cave that for nearly 7,000 years local Apache Indian tribes used for shelter.  The top of the cave is still black with smoke from these fires. The caves most infamous resident however was not Indians, but rather a monk by the name of Giovanni Maria Agostini, know to local folks as “El Ermitano”…the Hermit.  Agostini the son of a rich Italian family who became a monk and eventually traveled around the Americas before joining a wagon train that took him to Las Cruces.  Agostini eventually decided to move into the cave at La Cueva and became known as a valuable healer in the community.  Many locals worried about the monk living alone in the isolated cave, but to ease their worries Agostini promised to light a fire every night letting people know he was okay.  In the spring of 1869 a fire failed to appear and the next morning when a local man went to check on Agostini, he found him murdered with a knife in his back.  Agostini is buried in a local cemetery and the culprit of his murder was never found.

It must have been pretty tough living in the cave but with the creek nearby and enough game and plants in the surrounding mountains for food I could see how someone could live here for an extended period of time:

Here is the view from the cave that Agostini would have woke up to every day:

From the cave the trail heads to the west and loops around to the other side of the rock:

Once on the other side of the rock the trail starts ascending up towards the Organ Mountains.  Since the trail is heading east and directly towards the mountains, this is where the most impressive views of these rugged peaks can be seen:

At the top of the La Cueva Trail there is the option for those fit enough to follow the Filmore Trail into a valley tucked deep within the folds of the Organ Mountains.  For those just wanting to complete the La Cueva hike, the trail heads south back towards the visitor center in the distance:

Along this last portion of the hike there are views of the eastern most portion of the La Cueva rock outcropping:

There are also views of the less rugged southern portion of the Organ Mountains as well:

Eventually the La Cueva Trail connects to the Dripping Springs Trail that can take those interested into a valley located inside a small canyon in this southern portion of the range:

For those not interested in hiking further into the mountains, just follow the trail back to the visitor while admiring the last views of La Cueva before having to head back home for the day:

Overall it should take no more than 1.5 hours to complete the walk around La Cueva.  The trail is well maintained the entire way around the rock however it is not wheelchair accessible. Hikers should make sure to bring water with them especially during the summer time where the desert temperatures here commonly rise to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Picnic sites are available for those wanting to do lunch at the park.  The nice picnic area, visitor center, and multiple trails mean that an individual, group, or family could easily spend an entire day here at the park.  Like I said before, this is one of my favorite areas in the El Paso region and for anyone that takes the time to really experience these beautiful mountains, they will quickly understand why and the La Cueva Trail is a good place to start.

Here is information from the BLM website that should help anyone interested in further planning a visit to this wonderful park:

Visitor Center
The Dripping Springs Visitor Center offers interpretive displays of the Organ Mountains. It is located 10 miles east of Interstate 25, Exit 1, on the western edge of the Organ Mountains in the Dripping Springs Natural Area. It is open all year, except winter holidays, from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 p.m. Phone: 575.522.1219.

Fees
There is a $3 per vehicle day use fee, and a $25 reservation fee for the group picnic site.

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