This report describes a short but surprisingly strenuous scramble in the Organ Mountains that reaches the summit of a spire called South Rabbit Ear. You depart the trailhead on an old mining road, traverse below the Organs on a well established trail, and then ascend into Rabbit Ear Canyon in the canyon bed. On ascent, I left the canyon bed and climbed up the steep gully that descends from the col between Middle Rabbit Ear and South Rabbit Ear. The gully was heavily vegetated and offered no obvious tread – an unpleasant and painfully slow brand of hiking. Movement becomes easier in the narrow cleft between Middle Rabbit Ear and South Rabbit Ear. The route from the col to the summit has stretches of class 3 climbing so you will want to be somewhat comfortable on rock. This writeup offers some suggestions on how to find a game trail that traverses from the base of the South Rabbit Ear summit block across to the canyon bed. The game trail gives you an easier path above the worst of the brush.
- In Las Cruces, take Exit 6 from I-25 onto US 70 East (towards Alamogordo)
- After 10.2 miles take the exit for NASA Road/Baylor Canyon. There isn’t much distance to the next right hand turn so get into the right hand lane as quickly as traffic permits.
- After 0.2 miles, go right onto Baylor Canyon Drive
- After 3.6 miles find the trailhead and park the car off to the side of the road.
Baylor Canyon Drive continues, straight as an arrow, right past the unmarked trailhead. Watch your odometer! The trailhead is just past a cattle guard, I think it is the 5th cattle guard you cross on Baylor Canyon Drive, but I’m not 100% certain. Look for the following trailhead clues. First, there should be a mining road heading up towards the mountains on the left side of the road, just past the cattle guard. Second, the mining road has a cattle guard of it’s own near its intersection with Baylor Canyon Drive. Finally, on the opposite side of the road is another dirt road (in rough condition) heading down the mesa towards Las Cruces.
If you have a high clearance vehicle you can drive a ways on the mining road and save yourself some dull road side hiking. On this trip I opted to park beside Baylor Canyon Drive.
- Starting elevation: 4950 feet
- Ending Elevation: 8130 feet
- Net Gain: 3180 feet
- Distance: 3 miles one way.
- Map: USGS Organ Peak
Ascend the mining road. In 0.9 miles you pass a stone ruin and in 1.4 miles you come to a Y in road. Stay left. At 1.5 miles the road ends in long pile of tailings. The mine is above the road to your right if you wish to explore. Head directly over the tailings from the road to pick up the summit trail.
At 1.6 miles you will come to a trail junction marked by a cairn. Go left, traversing the front of the Organ Mountains and rising somewhat towards the mouth of Rabbit Ear Canyon. At 1.9 miles enter canyon bed. Be sure to note this spot so you get correct exit on return.
From the canyon mouth the bed initially rises to the east. Soon the North Rabbit Ear spire comes into view. At about 2.0 miles from the trailhead the canyon turns sharply south and begins rising more steeply. Both the North and the Middle Rabbit Ears are in sight. You will see a prominent “bump” of rock in the middle of the canyon (rising about 100 feet above the canyon bed). Keep to the right of the bump. At about 2.6 miles you will pass the upper end of the bump at about 7000 feet of elevation. At this point you should be able to see all three of the spires that make up the Rabbit Ears (see photo at top of the post).
At 7200 feet, about 2.7 miles from the trailhead, you will find a gully formed by water draining from all three Rabbit Ears. After scouting around for a while I headed up this gully. I do not recommend this approach. The yucca, cholla cactus, and thorn bushes were pretty dense, so I ascended to a rib immediately above the gully and continued thrashing upward. Between the vegetation and the steep gravel surface my progress upward was awfully slow. Looking up and to my left I could see the entrance to the slot between the Middle Rabbit Ear and the South Rabbit Ear. A prominent boulder at the base of the South Rabbit Ear stood out by virtue of its dense covering of green lichen. This “Green Gateway” rock – about 2.8 miles from the trailhead – was my target. Once there, I looked back and saw a tread/deer-path that traverses from high in the canyon to the base of South Rabbit Ear. On the return trip I followed that tread and it was much easier.
Follow the slot between the steep and smooth walls of Middle and South Rabbit Ears, allowing yourself to wonder how anything in terrain like this might be construed as class 3. At the top of the col you get narrow views of the Tularosa Basin and, directly below you, a look at the Aguirre Springs Campground. If you look back the way you came you can see over the west wall of Rabbit Ear Canyon to Mesilla Valley. Go back about 20 feet to get to the start of the climb up the summit block. This is hands-on-the-rock terrain and remains so for the short distance to the summit at 3.0 miles. There are only two or three places where the moves are not obvious. For example, as you rise out of the col, about 80 feet up, there is a point where you have to stretch to get over a deep crack in the rock. On ascent the move is straightforward, but pay attention to where the handholds are. On the descent the task of crossing this crack is a bit more taxing.
From the summit you have tremendous views all around. The Middle Rabbit Ear is quite imposing. Past it you can see north into a portion of White Sands National Monument. To the east lies the enormous swath of the Tularosa basin and the Sacramento Mountains. Directly south lies the lower and upper Organ Needles. West, there is the Mesilla Valley. Other climbers have erected a summit cairn, but I did not see a summit register.
Descend on the same route. At the Green Gateway you can avoid the worst bushes by traversing the line where the rock of the summit block gives way to shrubs. At the lowest point on the summit block, pick up the previously mentioned game trail as it contours towards a small rise of smooth rock that stands slightly higher than the surrounding vegetation (about 150 feet away). From that rock, descend in open sandy terrain about 20 to 30 feet and pick up the trail as it continues to traverse high in the canyon. In another 300 feet the trail reaches a prominent white boulder (with a concave face )that is shaded by a juniper tree. At this point you’ve crossed above all the vexatious vegetation and are placed above the open terrain of the canyon bed.
For future travel, note that this key location in the canyon bed is marked by a large pine tree immediately downhill of (and protected by) a tongue of granite. See the top picture to the right. This pine appears to be quite close to the upper end of the canyon – the col between South Rabbit Ear and the Rabbit Ear Plateau. If you have climbed to this spot then look to your left – there should be a wide slab of unvegetated granite that ends against a low granite wall. (Lower picture on right). This wall peters out above your head, ending with that juniper shaded boulder. If you find this boulder you’ve found a route to the Green Gateway.
Follow the canyon bed back towards the trail from the mine. As you get into the space between the west canyon wall and the “bump” of rock I tried going to the left (close to the canyon wall). It was not a successful experiment. Stay near the bump.
I took only three liters of water to hike for a day in the June sunshine. That was a mistake. I’d take two more liters in future travel. It might be an even better idea to reserve the hike for the cooler months.
Hiking back down that mining road is something of a chore. Someone with a high clearance vehicle could chop off a half-mile or so of the descent. For soft-suspended cars, such as the mighty Camry, I don’t recommend going up the mining road at all. It quickly becomes a boulder strewn assault on your oil pan.
This is not a hike for your acrophobic friends. Nor is it a good place to bring first time hikers. Take this scramble with well conditioned hiking companions who have some experience with rock climbs. The views are outstanding.