“This is an extremely steep climb with a short Class 3 scramble up to the highest point in Doña Ana County.”
— Rachel Jagielski
Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
The BLM does not maintain or patrol this trail. Though it is legal to use, this trail is extremely challenging and the BLM recommends using a guide service when accessing this trail. This trail is not to be taken lightly as it is extremely steep, challenging, and dangerous to run on your own.
The gate to Dripping Springs Natural Area is open 7 am to sunset April through September and 8 am to sunset October through March.
The trail starts from a junction with Filmore Canyon Trail
. To reach the start of the trail via the shortest route, begin at the La Cueva
picnic area and follow La Cueva Trail
to the junction with Filmore Canyon Trail
. Take a left to head north on Filmore Canyon Trail
; after a little less than a mile you'll reach the junction with Organ Needle Trail.
Running on Organ Needle Trail, shortly before you enter the canyon itself, there will be a section of grey rock to climb to your left; at the top there is a sign designating the Modoc Mill Site. From here, move west (towards town) to the edge of the little hilltop, then north (right) to find a trail. Follow this trail NE for a mile or so. The trail is braided, but fairly well-worn and marked with cairns. About a mile from the Modoc Mill site, you'll pass closely by a large yellow rock formation; the trail from here gets progressively steeper.
Keep heading NE, and the trail follows along the base of the north face of what is called the Grey Eminence (a large mass of grey rock). The trail meanders mainly up among juniper trees and at one point crosses a narrow scree slope. Coming out at the top of the Grey Eminence, you enter Juniper Saddle, a welcome respite and a good viewpoint. The trail then continues up the extremely steep slope you see to the NE.
Follow the trail that leads towards the slope, which then climbs along the base of the SW-facing wall and eventually comes to a large area of bare rock by a seasonal waterfall. Follow this up, entering a brushy gully, and keep an eye out for cairns and ribbons that will guide you to the left; do not follow this gully too high up or you'll enter the wrong canyon at the top. Now headed more north than before, look for a large juiper tree in another waterway that marks your next turn (remember this well on your way down!). Go right, and follow the gully up into Dark Canyon.
The climb through this canyon ends right on the ridge of the Organs, and you'll be able to see WSMR and Sugarloaf Peak ahead of you. Descend about 50 vertical feet, following the trail to the north (left), and you'll come to a point where a large rock and a small tree impede your way. Go over or around this, then head to the left (west), climbing up the gully. You'll know you are at the right place when you see to the right at the top of the gully the iconic 6" wide diagonal seam in the rock face that you'll need to climb next. As of Fall 2017, a previous climber has left a rope to assist your climb (but be wary of any gear left behind-never rely too fully on gear you don't know the history of). At the top of the crack, cut left again to find the trail. Keep climbing, and soon you'll be atop the highest point in Doña Ana County!
Flora & Fauna
The animals most likely to be seen are squrrels, quail, and other small mammals and birds. Deer and mountain lions also live in the area.
Scrub brush, ocotillo, yucca, and a variety of other cactus and prickly bushes abound; higher up there are more trees, grasses, and wildflowers. Expect to be scratched by stinging nettles as well, especially in Dark Canyon.