New Mexico’s Organ Mountains Reward Hikers With Twice the Views

The Baylor Canyon Trail is a six-mile hike in the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. The trail goes up and over the mountain range through Baylor Pass and is the only maintained trail that goes over the Organ Range. There are trailheads both on the east side, starting at Aguirre Springs Campgrounds and on the west side, starting just off Baylor Canyon Road. We chose the eastern 2-plus-mile ascent to Baylor Pass starting at and returning to Aguiree Spring. Alternatively, you can continue on the trail which ends on the Las Cruces side of the range, for a total of 6 miles one way. A possible side excursion takes you up to the summit of Baylor Peak with an elevation of 7721 feet.

The trail starts at 5540 feet with a handful of steps followed by a clearly-defined sandy, boulder-strewn trail that follows the curves of the mountain side. (There are also markers along the way, just in case.) After a mile plus ascent, there is a slight descent before climbing to Baylor Pass at an elevation of 6430 feet.

Variety on the trail

On both sides of the trail, you see boulders, cacti, grass, flowering plants and bushes as well as various trees. There is little tree cover and the trail is narrow at times. Don’t forget the sunscreen and make a pit stop before entering the park as the restrooms are beyond the trailhead on the one-way loop. (The terrain leaves very few opportunities to step off the trail.)

All along the trail you are rewarded with amazing views. Rising above are the peaks of Rabbit Ears, the Needles and Sugarloaf Peak. Below is the Tularosa Basin and White Sands. With a total elevation change of close to 250 feet over roughly two miles, the hike is a pleasant one with occasional boulders on the trail. The trail is narrow at spots, and is flanked by sometimes prickly brush and cactus. While little is in bloom in March, there is abundant evidence of flowering plants which must be a spectacular view in season.

The trail is named for Confederate Lieutenant Colonel John Robert Baylor, head of the Texas Mounted Volunteer regiment who, with 200 troops, followed 500 Union soldiers eastward along the trail that now bears his name. He caught up with the Yankees at San Augustin Pass expecting a difficult battle. Instead, the Yanks surrendered without a fight. Though not corroborated by first-person accounts, one popular story claims the Union force had made the poor decision to fill their canteens with whiskey instead of water for their summer march across the Chihuahuan Desert and were eager to trade their freedom for water. (Records from officers on both sides do indicate that the Union army was dehydrated, but there is no mention of the whiskey in their logs.)

The view from Baylor Pass looking toward Las Cruces and White Sands

At an elevation of 6430, Baylor Pass has a magnificent view of the valleys below, with White Sands to the east and Las Cruces to the west. Other mountains in the Organ range can also be seen, such as Dona Ana.

There is a day-use fee of $5 to park at Aguirre Springs Campground. There is no attendant, simply a kiosk to deliver payment in return for your parking permit, so plan to have exact change or pay by check.