This route in the Aguirre Springs Campground begins with a gentle ascent on the Indian Hollow trail, diverts onto a scramble below the soaring walls of the Organ Needle and ends with a mellow descent on the Pine Tree Trail. It is a wonderful little hike. If you are teaching someone navigation skills and they are already comfortable with a map then this would be an excellent exercise. It is, however, a lonely route and probably too demanding for first time scramblers.
- From University Ave in Las Cruces, enter I-25 going North
- After 4.4 miles, go right at Exit 6 onto US 70 East
- After 14.5 miles, go right onto Aguirre Springs Road. (You reach the top of San Augustin Pass at 13.5 miles, very soon thereafter you see a sign on US-70 saying that Aguirre Springs turn-off is in a quarter mile).
- After 5.7 miles stop at the signed fee area. (Potable water is available at the host site, at 1.6 miles along Aguirre Springs road).
- After another 0.4 miles on Aguirre Springs Road (that is, 6.1 miles from US-70) go right for Group Sites.
- After about 300 feet, park in the parking lot for the group sites.
The trailhead is a large parking lot with several covered picnic sites for group camping. There are waste receptacles and pit toilets. There is no water at the trailhead, but as noted in the driving directions there is an offer of water at the host site on Aguirre Spring Road. Fees are currently $5.00 per day in the campground, but there are significant complications to this story based on passes, fee-free days, and other considerations. Check the website and be sure to bring the correct change.
- Starting Elevation: 5420 feet
- Ending Elevation: 6910 feet (depends on where you scramble)
- Net Gain: 1490 feet
- Distance: 6.2 miles (round trip)
- Maps: USGS Organ Peak quadrangle
The first few miles follow the same tread into Indian hollow as described in the Pine Pass route report. See that route description for full details. There are a few more observations that might be useful to scramblers. First, several people have pointed out that you do not need to go into Campsite One in order to find the trail. Instead, find a bright yellow sign suggesting that you leave the rattlesnakes alone on the uphill side of the parking lot. There is a clear tread right beside the sign. Follow this path as it rises briefly towards the Organ Mountains and then curves left (south) toward the rubbly hill. From there you will find the fence and needle’s eye mentioned in the Pine Pass report.
Following the recommendations of the Pine Pass report, hike the Indian Hollow trail (a clear path) as it contours around the rubbly foothill and then rises into Indian Hollow. After three miles you will reach a junction where a sign indicates that you should go left for Sugarloaf or go right for Pine Pass. Go right. On your approach you should be moving toward a conical hillock topped with a white rock spire that sits in the center of Indian Hollow. In less than a quarter mile past the signed junction, while ascending on the left bank of a creek, you will pass this spire. You will depart from the main trail just after passing the conical hillock.
Stroll past a small grove of oaks above you and to your left to come to a second intersection (unsigned). This junction is effectively 3-way. As described for Pine Pass, you could go uphill and away from the creek on a very faint tread. This faint departure trail is made clearer since someone left a line of rocks pointing uphill (in addition to the pink surveyors tape dangling from the oaks). You could go straight ahead on a path that initially stays along the bank but will eventually drop you into the creek bed. Or you could turn right and drop directly into the creek bed, where a scraggly juniper is marked with bright orange tape. Turn right. It is here that you leave the route described for Pine Pass. Ascend the far bank of the creek on a faint trail marked with small cairns and bright orange tape. This trail brings you past a fire ring and into a small grassy saddle uphill of the conical prominence. At this point the cairns and survey-tape disappear. The scramble begins.
Looking out from the grassy saddle, look for a whitish cliff face and aim to cross near its foot. The cliffs look quite close, but you will cross several waterways before getting near that cliff. Another scramble above Aguirre Springs Campground goes from Windy Pass to Pine Tree Trail and that traverse pushes through brutally dense brush. Fortunately the terrain in Indian Hollow is much easier to cross. There is no formal trail but you will often find useful stretches of game trail. Look for stands of ponderosa pines because the terrain beneath the pines can be wide open. Burned bark is obvious in many places, so a recent fire may have much to do with the ease of movement here.
Once you have contoured around this first cliff band, look ahead to find a high rib that blocks views north into the Sotol Creek drainage. Once again, it appears to be quite close by, but the navigation issues are far from resolved. There are two more drainages to traverse and there is a smaller rib to contour around before climbing to the top of this high rib. Running between the small rib and the high rib is an arroyo with canyon aspirations. If you try to descend into this arroyo you may find yourself being deflected away by the steep walls of the waterway. It is possible to cross, but it takes some effort. Once you get onto the high ridge and look back you will see that the top of the small rib is nicely forested. Although it is an untested route, it might be easier if you climb to the top of the small rib and stay out of the arroyo completely.
The top of the high ridge is marked by a squarish, almost crenellated rock above a bump that is crowned with a single pine. An open saddle below the bump offers a convenient crossing point. There are broad views out to the Sacramento Mountains, White Sands National Monument and the Tularosa Basin. If you were hoping to join up with Pine Tree Trail at this point then prepare yourself for a small disappointment. You are about to enter the headwaters of Sotol Creek, but the trail is still a ways off. Ominously, the brush factor starts to pick up here as well. Progress slows as you hunt for game trails to take you around the densest thickets and abundant thorn bushes. This is a good place to begin edging downhill as the descending arm of the Pine Tree Trail is a bit below you.
Traverse one more steep-banked water way. It is relatively easy to enter, but you might have to descend about 300 feet before finding a good exit point. On the next height of land note the striking profile of Baylor Peak to the north. In contrast to the hard-edged profile of the Organ Spires, Baylor usually looks a little bland. The view here reveals a surprising amount of gain between Baylor Pass and Baylor Summit. Push through the last 100 yards of downed logs, thorns and scrub oak until you come to the Pine Tree Trail. In comparison to what you’ve been on the tread looks like a super-highway. Follow the Trail downhill. If you are alert, you could divert off of the trail and follow Sotol Creek back to the Group Camping Area. I followed the trail all the way back to the Pine Tree Trail trailhead and then followed Aguirre Springs Road back to the car.
Summery conditions, coupled with springtime winds, are returning to the Organ Mountains. As it turns out, this is a pretty good hike for that kind of day. The lower reaches of Indian Hollow seems to be out of the wind (although you could hear it roaring through the passes above). The pine forests that take up much of the traverse are cool. Bring lots of water, there was no running water at all on this date.
As with any scramble there are going to be stretches in which you don’t exactly know where you are. This is especially provocative when you think you’re nearing the Pine Tree Trail and have to allow for the possibility that you’ve stayed too high and might be traversing above the Trail. Many hikers, especially new hikers, find this level of uncertainty upsetting. Know your fellow hiker’s risk tolerance before setting off!
Just past the sign for Sugarloaf/Pine Pass I found a rattler beside the trail. It did not seem particularly anxious to share the trail, but gave no trouble other than to warn of its presence. It was terrifically camouflaged, none of the photos I took give a good view of the animal. It had no bands on it’s dark tail, so I assume it was a black tailed rattlesnake.
The National Drought Monitor shows a bit less than 2% of the state is currently “abnormally dry”, the entire remainder is shown as under moderate drought or worse. This looks like a bad year for campfire lovers.
Southern New Mexico Explorer has some great photos, particularly of Sugarloaf and autumn foliage on the few aspen that can be found in Indian Hollow. He also mentions that he found a boot-beaten tread on his traverse, which is something I never encountered.
The Jornada Hiking and Outdoor Club in Las Cruces has done this hike. Their writeup includes a recommendation for gaiters (almost an essential for scrambling here) and a link to a GPS track that is markedly different from the one shown in the map above. There is a big bow in the track of the scramble/traverse – they may have found another way to avoid the mini-canyon below the high ridge.