The Pine Tree Trail at Aguirre Springs
I’d read somewhere that the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico resemble the Tetons, but since the Tetons are the Tetons, after all – the sheer cliffs instantly recognizable – I found it hard to believe anything could rival them. So I initially dismissed this claim. Besides, I’d never even heard of the Organ Mountains before this trip so how great could they be, really? Apparently pretty great.
Not long after leaving White Sands National Monument (a nearby attraction equally beautiful but totally different) to Las Cruces, I got my first glimpse of the Organ Mountains. As our car got closer and closer to the jagged and rocky mountains, I couldn’t take my eyes off of them and the lightning storm above only amplified their effect. The Organ Mountains were definitely smaller than the Tetons – both in height and heft – but I was nonetheless impressed.
It was too late that evening to hike so we stayed the night in Las Cruces and the following morning made our way back around the mountains. Instead of choosing a hike with access on the western side of the Organs (which is actually closer to Las Cruces), I picked out a trail that looked like it would give us a closer view of the rockiest part of the mountains which were my favorite part.
Pine Tree Trail
The hike I chose was the Pine Tree Trail in the Aguirre Springs Recreation area and the access road opened at 8am (which I actually thought was kinda late since it was late Spring and about to get quite hot).
As we drove along the quiet two-lane road admiring the view of the mountains, I felt the car suddenly jerk to the left and come to an abrupt stop. A huge cow had lunged in front of us and stood about two feet from our front bumper.
It stared at us wide-eyed, we stared back. After a few moments, it overcame its shock (and we ours) and it darted a few feet in one direction, a few feet in the opposite direction all while shooting us questioning looks as if to ask which route would be the safest for her to go. We waited patiently for her to make up her mind and then finally she scuttled off the road.
Now officially awake and alert to other creatures along the road (we saw a real-life roadrunner which I thought was really cool), we reached the fee box, paid our $5 and parked in the nearly empty lot that was dedicated to those who wanted to either hike or eat at the nearby picnic table.
Even though it was mid-May and the high temperature was going to be in the upper 80s, it was morning and still cool. We grabbed our water bottles and began the 4.5-mile loop hike in a counter-clockwise direction.
The first half of the hike we steadily gained elevation (for a total of about 1000 feet) and as we twisted our way through a few more densely-forested areas, most of the time we had a great view of the mountains. Parts of which were indeed reminiscent of the Tetons, but others of which also reminded me of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, and a smaller (and partially toppled) version of Half Dome in Yosemite. Kinda cool.
For about three-quarters of the hike, we had the trail to ourselves apart from the lizards, cottontail bunny, ants and beetles. Then towards the end of the hike we not only met with other hikers, but also with an unexpected “friend.”
When I hike, I tend to move pretty quickly and sometimes I forget to pay close attention to my surroundings (unless I’m in bear country – AKA Alaska – in which case I’m as timid and slow as I’ll ever be). But luckily my eyes detected movement on the ground below and I froze. There on the path in front of me was a rattlesnake.
I feel like I may’ve heard the distinguishable “TCCHHHHH!!” sound, and probably made a little noise of my own, but it all happened so quickly I don’t really remember.
What’s funny to me is that the first thing I remember thinking was not, “HOLY SHIT THAT’S A RATTLESNAKE!” but “Huh, it’s smaller than I thought it would be.”
I knew there was a possibility (now, certainty) we could encounter a rattler (or worse, a mountain lion of which we saw plenty of scat to let us know they were there – likely watching us closely the whole time). And for whatever reason, I had imagined a thick, long and very obvious snake clearly visible on the path from a great distance. But no, this one was maybe 3 feet in length and had hardly any girth at all. Maybe a few inches at its widest? Kinda small-ish.
Maybe I should’ve felt more scared, but I actually thought it was pretty cool seeing a rattlesnake in the wild (since it was at a safe enough distance). Plus, I figured he was just as scared as I was and as long as we mutually respected each other’s space, all would be good.
I stood still and waited to see what he would do. He didn’t appear to want to be there any more than I wanted him there so he soon slithered off the trail into the bushes, disappearing behind a rock so we could safely pass.
We continued on and finished the hike in just under a couple of hours. This trail was a great introduction to hiking in New Mexico (my first in the state) and I loved the views we got of the Organ Mountains.
More Pine Tree Trail Information
On the Bureau of Land Management’s website:
Other Hiking Websites: