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Spires, Snakes and a Mystery in the Organ Mountains

These mountains are a parade of summits east of Las Cruces. They consist of an amazing number of spires and pinnacles which lie on the 20 mile/32 km ridge between San Augustin Pass at the north end of the range and the southern Rattlesnake Ridge east of the village of Mesquite. On old maps, these mountains are named “La Sierra de la Soledad” (Mountains of Solitude), and they are that even now despite the nearness of Las Cruces.

The Organs provide a variety of rock needles, towers, walls, and buttresses. Climbing in the Organs can be challenging while maneuvering to avoid the ever-present cactus, thorn-bush, and rattlesnakes. Loose rock hazard is present on most routes except in the Rabbit Ears which have excellent solid rock.

Summits in this range rise almost 5,000’/1524 m from the valley floor. They have considerable brush cover on their slopes and in the gullies up to the summits. White thorn, cholla, and yucca line the dim trails, and the loose rocks provide cover for rattlesnakes. US Hwy 70 crosses the Organ Mountains at San Augustin Pass and gives access to the northern section of the mountains where most of the mining activity was centered. In 1849, lead and silver were first discovered in these mountains. Mining started in 1854 in spite of frequent Apache raids, and reached boom proportions during 1881-1906. The village of Organ, just west of the pass, was the largest mining camp near the old Torpedo Mine which produced copper in 1907. Altogether, the Organ District yielded copper, lead, silver, gold, and zinc ores worth over $2.5 million. Most mining activities diminished by 1912 but a few continue to the present day.

Treasure hunters look for the Lost Padre Mine here and in the Franklin Mountains. One legend says that a vein of silver was first found by a Spanish soldier in the late 1700s. The soldier then became ill, but revealed the location of the mine to Father LaRue in Durango, Mexico. Father LaRue, a Jesuit priest, moved his supporters to the Mesilla area where an extensive search was made for the mine in the nearby Organ Mountains. A rich vein of silver and quartz was found near San Augustin Pass, and for several years the padre and his followers worked the mine, making crude bars of gold and silver amounting to a great fortune. A representative of the Spanish Crown appeared and tried to have the mine turned over to authorities for its operation. Father LaRue refused and when the representative left, the mine entrance was erased.

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