2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 07 lush growth at entry to canyonOverview

This is a mixed trip report.  The first part describes a modest trail hike that starts on the mesa leading up from Mesilla Valley to the Organ Mountains, rises to Baylor Pass, then descends towards the Tularosa Basin on the east side of the range. It is a pleasant walk on good trails, and as such one of the best training hikes that I know of in the Las Cruces area.  The second half is a scramble from Baylor Pass up to Baylor Peak.  It follows climber’s treads that are steeper and often difficult to discern. It’s more of a challenge, but a good one for anyone looking to hone navigational skills.

This trip report will probably show up on WordPress out of sequence – my hike occurred in mid February but I’ve postponed writing it up until late April. It isn’t obvious to me how to make things appear on WordPress in order of occurrence rather than order of record.

As always, use a little extra skepticism with reports and maps that have been drawn up long after the fact!

Driving Directions

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 02 trailhead sign

A well-signed trailhead on Baylor Canyon Road

  • Take I-25 to Exit #6.
  • Follow signs on exit ramp to US 70 East.  (Note: if you are starting in Las Cruces then just follow Main Street towards the north-east, it turns into US 70 after crossing I-25). You should be heading towards the spires of the Organ Mountains.
  • After 10.3 miles take the NASA Rd exit, which immediately merges onto Nasa Rd going east.
  • After 0.2 miles, turn right onto Baylor Canyon Road, heading due south.
  • Follow Baylor Canyon Rd for 1.9 miles and turn left into the signed Baylor Pass trailhead.

Trailhead

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 33 back at trailhead

Camry in it’s native environment (well tended parking lots), with Baylor Peak and Baylor Pass behind.

The trailhead is a manicured gravel parking area just off of Baylor Canyon Road, and well signed.

There are no amenities at the trailhead.

A bright yellow sign warns hikers to leave the rattlesnakes alone.  It seems like good advice.

Data

  • Hike to Aguirre Springs: 5.5 miles one way
  • Hike from Pass to Baylor Summit: 1.2 miles one way
  • Trailhead: 4880 feet
  • Baylor Pass: 6380 feet
  • Baylor Peak: 7650 feet
  • USGS 7.5 minute map: Organ, NM
  • Gain from trailhead to peak: 2770 feet

(Note: don’t order the USGS map labeled Organ Peak! That is the map for the region just to the south).

Hike

The trail leaps straight towards the mountains out of the trailhead parking lot. The opening that is Baylor Pass is very evident above your head.  The ascent across the mesa is very moderate and remains moderate in the canyon on this nicely engineered path.  Reportedly, this is the only maintained trail that goes across the Organ Mountains. Some of the gullies retain a hint of green, but most of the canyon reflected severe drought conditions this year.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 32 good view of Baylor Pk, but washed out

Sere landscape leading up to Baylor Summit (bump furthest to the left)

As you ascend take a look at the series of rises and benches that constitutes Baylor Peak on the north (left) side of the pass. Each bench looks an awful lot like a summit from below, so be warned about keeping expectations under control.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 12 distant view of Rabbit Ears coming down back side of pass

Rabbit Ears from just below Baylor Pass.

After 2.5 miles you come to the pass and this trip’s first views of Tularosa Basin.  To the right (south) are the mountains above Aguirre Spring, including the Rabbit Ears and the tooth-like projection of Sugarloaf. To the left you might be able to see a corner of White Sands National monument.  Have a snack and a drink of water, there is a considerable length of descent below you.

Down you go! The trail traverses beneath the Rabbit Ears and then begins throwing in a few switchbacks as it works towards the Basin floor – although it never gets completely to the floor. Periodically it crosses some steep and remarkably deep gullies that in very wet conditions might pose a hazard. No matter! Down you go until the grade begins to mellow and you reach the Aguirre Springs Road at a covered corral.  The trail is popular and on descent I was passed by several groups of lycra-clad distance runners. Those folks are in good shape.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 16 Aguirre Springs now 5 bucks

New(ish) fees for Aguirre Springs.

At the road you can turn right and follow the pavement to the pay station meant for day-users but not hikers. For those who are considering a drive to Aguirre Springs, note that the fee has risen to $5.00.  (The fee is listed as $3.00 in some older guides). Pit toilets are available. There did not seem to be any water, which seemed a bit surprising.

Return on the same route. At Baylor Pass, ask yourself if you are up for another mile or more of fairly steep ascent. If so, then follow the very clear path until is fades away about 300 feet further along. From that point contour up and a little to your left, looking for a steep swale with a prominent rock outcropping arising well above your head.  A fairly good tread begins again above the outcrop. The terrain is wide open and all rising boot paths and game trails are going to bring you higher. Eventually you will hit a long ridge that is the last of the benches. The summit is perhaps 150 feet higher but that terrain is a bit steeper and more brush-clogged than the terrain adjacent to Baylor Pass. Have a look and some water.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 27 view of Dona Ana Mts from Baylor summit

Dona Ana Mountains in the middle distance.

I thought it worth bush whacking up that narrow ridge. The view down to the east is vertiginous. The Dona Ana Mountains, Robledo Mountains, Picacho Peak and Tortugas Mountain are all in sharp relief. To the north are the San Andreas peaks and if the weather is good you might even see Sierra Blanca gleam in the distance.  The best views are to the south, however.  The perspectives on the Rabbit Ears and Sugarloaf are very unusual. There were numerous birds taking advantage of the thermals to climb high overhead.

 

Recommendations

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 28 me on summit

From Baylor Peak. The Rabbit Ears are to the right of me and Sugarloaf gleams in the background to the left of me.

I hiked this in February under the mildest of conditions. I was terrifically happy to have a full gallon of water with me, especially given the lack of water at Aguirre. The descent from Baylor was complicated by piles of plate-sized shards of rock, very flat, that tended to skitter out under foot. The hiking pole was very handy for keeping balanced.  The fly population was unusually intense. It may be that there is not other water source for these insects on the entire mountain other than hikers. Next time my pack will contain some fly spray.

This trail offers a very good way to introduced an uncertain hiker to the joys of the New Mexico high country. And as mentioned, it’s an accessible place for getting in a few miles on a training weekend.

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