The Dripping Springs Natural Area is a popular recreational area in the recently established Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. It's located east of Las Cruces, New Mexico in the western foothills of the Organ Mountains.
In addition to the natural beauty, there are historical structures and hiking trails. The goal today was to visit all the points of interest and hike all of the trails. Mission accomplished.
I wanted to hike in the Dripping Springs Natural Area in the afternoon for the best lighting for photography. Linda wasn't up for four to five miles of hiking two days in a row - see Pine Tree Loop Trail from yesterday - so she was going to drop me off.
The Organ Mountains are beautiful, but ever more so in the afternoon and the closer you get. We stopped at the pull-off on the way into the Dripping Springs Natural Area for a photo.
Getting closer, we could better see the Needles section for which the mountains are named.
"The Organ Mountains are so-named because the granite "needles" that form their uppermost peaks look a bit like a pipe organ."
To be honest, I'm still not sure I get it - the name that is.
But they are spectacular and I kept snapping photos through the windshield when Linda slowed down to cross cattle guards.
She dropped me off at the Visitor Center around 1:00 with a plan to pick me up at 5:00.
I had done a little research and knew there were four relatively short hiking trails, but didn't get a sense of how they connected until I went inside and looked at the map.
For the purpose of this post, I made my own crude map which may help follow along.
Here is the key to the map below:
As you can see, there are a variety of ways to hike here. You can do individual trails out and back or a combination of trails. You can start from the Visitor Center or from the La Cueva Picnic Area where the Fillmore Canyon Trail begins.
My route went as follows:
Total mileage: 5.5 miles
I also did a side trip up into the rocks at the Fillmore Canyon Trail/La Cueva Trail intersection, but that didn't add any significant mileage, just more aerobic exercise as it was a steeper climb than I thought.
Let's start the photographic tour.
Visitor Center to Crawford Trail - 0.5 miles
It wasn't really clear to me where the Dripping Springs Trail started, but I determined it was a gravel road off a gravel parking lot to the right of the Visitor Center. There is a big sign with an arrow at the entrance to the parking lot, but nothing at the actual trailhead, and I was expecting a narrow walking trail, not an actual gravel road.
That view of the mountains in front of you is the best thing about that first half mile to the intersection with the Crawford Trail.
Note that dogs are not allowed in the Dripping Springs area, so you can't take them past that sign.
Trail Intersection to Dripping Springs - 1 mile
The next mile to Dripping Springs is out in the open on that coarse gravel road. Even with hiking boots, the gravel/rocks hurt my feet.
Heat wasn't an issue today, but I suspect it gets really hot out there at other times of the year. There are a few junipers along the trail with benches or rocks underneath to rest in the shade if necessary.
I took the opportunity to get a couple of bird photos. On the left below is a Green-tailed Towhee, and on the right is a Dark-eyed Junco.
The trail turned here as I got closer to the end.
The buildings here were constructed in the late 1800s and were support structures - livery, mercantile, chicken coop, etc. - to service the former lodge a quarter mile farther at the end of the trail - Van Patten's Mountain Camp.
Continuing into the box canyon, there was an intersection with a path leading left to the former camp/hotel. At this intersection is a picnic table and pit toilet with trash cans.
I continued straight toward Dripping Springs and then later returned on the other path. In retrospect, going to the Mountain Camp first helps explain the impoundment of the springs and the existence of the Sanatorium structures which were built after the camp.
Continuing on, there was another intersection.
Van Patten's Mountain Camp (aka Dripping Springs Resort), the Sanatorium, and the springs are all located in the same area, so let's start with the remnants of the camp.
Major Eugene Van Patten, a former Confederate officer, built a two-story, 14-room hotel in this canyon in the late 1800s. It was served by stagecoach which would bring guests the 17 miles from Las Cruces. It's certainly a lovely setting.
In 1905, according to the informational signpost, Van Patten built a second structure with 18 more rooms. But in the years after, he ran into financial difficulties and sold the resort to Dr. Nathan Boyd around 1910.
Dr. Boyd constructed more buildings up the hill above the springs, to serve as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.
The sanatorium and resort changed hands a few more times and were operated intermittently in the early 1900s until they were abandoned.
The springs themselves, at least on this day, were dripping, but they aren't much to look at.
A rock impoundment was built and the springs were a water source for the resort and the sanatorium.
Van Patten's Mountain Camp is the end of the trail, and there is a small picnic area there in a shady area under some oak trees.
Dripping Springs to Trail Intersection - 1 mile
After resting a bit, I headed back toward the Visitor Center.
I enjoyed the scenery of the Dripping Springs Trail, and if you like history, you'll probably like the ruins and the story behind them. But I certainly wouldn't make the long walk if you are expecting the springs to be a highlight.
After the mile hike back to the Crawford Trail intersection, ....
Crawford Trail to Fillmore Canyon Trail - 0.9 miles
I took the Crawford Trail which is more or less a connector trail through the desert foothills.
Don't get me wrong, the landscapes are quite scenic.
Beside the bench in the photo above is an unmarked trail going up into the canyon. Just know that this trail is not a designated trail and it's not on the map.
Continuing on the fully exposed trail, I did some birdwatching and took this photo looking out toward Las Cruces.
It seemed like a long half-mile to get to my next sign which indicated it was a mile back to the Visitor Center if I back-tracked or two miles if finishing the loop.
If you use a combination of all four trails but don't go to Dripping Springs and don't venture up into Fillmore Canyon, you can do a three-mile loop from the Visitor Center.
Moving on and crossing the ridge to the left in the photo above, the "Needles" came into view offering different colors of the mountains.
Eventually, I arrived at the Fillmore Canyon Trail and the hiker gate and path leading into the small canyon.
Here there were a couple more informational signposts conveying information about the Modoc Mine, a silver and lead mining operation which existed here from the mid-1800s until just after the turn of the century.
Fillmore Canyon Trail Into Canyon And Back - 0.6 miles
After reading about the mine, I went through the gate and continued on the narrow path toward the canyon.
In addition to the scenery, the birding was excellent on this section of trail. Here are a couple of shots of Black-throated Sparrows.
And here is a female Black-chinned Sparrow. We haven't seen many of those; actually, we may have seen them, but this is the first one we've been able to identify.
The trail turned and became a narrower path ....
that proceeded into a pretty, somewhat hidden canyon.
There was a dripping spring that was a bit more attractive than this area's namesake I saw earlier, and it looks like there could be a wonderful little waterfall after rains or as snow melts in the mountains.
Birds were everywhere - juncos, sparrows, towhees, Pyrrhuloxia, and more. Linda would have enjoyed just sitting in the sun observing.
I spent quite a bit of time there, before heading back out.
Fillmore Canyon Trail to La Cueva Trail - 0.5 miles
Back on the main trail, I spoke with these young fellows sitting on a boulder. They were enjoying the views on this fine afternoon.
I continued on around the Fillmore Canyon Trail toward the La Cueva area taking time to look behind me.
The trail went behind the large sandstone rocks that are prominent on the drive in.
On the other side where the Fillmore Canyon Trail intersected with the La Cueva Trail, there were paths leading up into the rocks.
I couldn't resist, so I scrambled up into the rocks that reminded me of our time in the Arches/Canyonlands area of Utah.
Wow, that was a lot steeper than it looked.
I only went as far as I could safely go without doing any serious climbing, but that was far enough as there was a nice viewpoint.
La Cueva Trail to Visitor Center - 1 mile
Back at the bottom, I continued along the sandstone walls toward the cave for which the La Cueva Trail is named.
The cave at the bottom of this huge rock isn't much. There are a couple of informational signs discussing the historical significance, but I'm not sure it's worth the walk.
However, the scenic views from the trail are quite worth it.
I sat on a bench on the trail just taking it all in and appreciating the natural beauty.
After several minutes, I completed my afternoon hike at the Visitor Center just as Linda pulled into the parking lot to pick me up. I was out there for about three and half hours, and I took over 200 photos.
Though I liked the Pine Tree Loop Trail from yesterday better, it's certainly hard to complain about over five miles of mountain views here in the Dripping Springs Natural Area.
On our way out, we stopped to take one more photo of the Organ Mountains as the setting sun cast long shadows.
I had low expectations today, but the views on the drive in were enough to change my mindset.
It's an impressively beautiful area. I hope this post is helpful to anyone considering visiting the Dripping Springs Natural Area. Thanks for tagging along.