Want to see an icon up close? And, at the same time, some of the sweetest scenery in the Southwest?
Then you’ll want to hike the Pine Tree Trail at Aguirre Spring in Southern New Mexico.
For one thing, Aguirre Spring Campground is arguably the closest you can get to the base of the Organs, the jagged-peaked mountains that let you know you’re near Las Cruces, New Mexico’s second largest city.
For another, the Pine Tree Trail is one beautiful hike.
It affords unobstructed views of SEVERAL geographic icons, including the Sacramento Mountains and White Sands National Park, one of the world’s great natural wonders.
For me and my hiking buddy, Amber, unforgettable sights like these are what kept us going strong when we were sweating (and panting!) the most.
For travelers wanting to take memorable photos, this Aguirre Spring scenic hike is hard to beat.
How to get there?
From the U.S. 70, follow the signs to Aguirre Spring Campground. The turnoff is a few minutes drive east of San Augustin Pass, and leads you to the campground on a 4-mile road aptly named “Aguirre Spring Road.”
On the way, you’ll pass San Augustine Ranch ~ a tangible reminder of the area’s wild-west history.
Most of the land that once belonged to the ranch is now White Sands Missile Range, a military base. Yet, in its heyday, San Augustine Ranch covered 150,000 acres with several thousand heads of cattle.
And remember hearing about Pat Garrett, the sheriff famous for killing “Billy the Kid?” Well, the ranch house is where some locals held a huge barbecue to celebrate the acquittal of the man charged with killing HIM!
(Even way back then, lawmen had a hard way to go.)
Look past the sign to see the Organs’ white-domed Sugarloaf Peak just beyond ~ a hint of good things to come on your hike.
Once on Aguirre Spring Campground . . .
. . . getting started on the trail is simple.
Within minutes of having paid the entrance fee at the campsite’s entrance, Amber and I were parked and studying the map posted at the trailhead.
It urged us to “stay on the trail,” advice we considered unnecessary at the time ~ before we discovered how challenging it would be to do! (But more on that later . . . . !)
You’ll find the trail both rugged and surprising from the start.
“Surprising” because Aguirre Spring really is . . . a SPRING, that is. Seeing water bubbling over rocks in the Chihuahuan desert seems like a special event somehow.
You also see evergreens like Ponderosa and Pinyon pine for which the trail is named and other plants you don’t see often enough in the desert ~ like wildflowers.
The trail takes you by a variety of trees including gray oak and juniper, some VERY old.
White Sands Missile Range makes a terrific backdrop for all this green stuff, don’t you think?
Encounters with wildlife, both seen and unseen, are plentiful on the Aguirre Spring scenic hike known as the Pine Tree Trail.
Right from the start, we came across a pile of droppings we would later identify as bobcat scat. We heard the shrill yipping of coyotes as evening approached. Here and there we spotted insects with round black bodies half-buried in the ground.
Are they dead or dying? I wondered aloud when I first saw this.
No, Amber answered, those are stinkbugs with their butts stuck out and ready to FIRE in case we get any closer.
So I didn’t get any closer.
Not even to take a picture to show you what these “little stinkers” ~ actually a kind of beetle ~ look like, so this will have to do.
But I did get a shot of this Desert Whip Snake before it slithered away. Whip Snakes happen to be non-venomous. Venomous snakes roam the Pine Tree Trail, too, but don’t let that worry you.
Snakes, I’ve learned from my brief experience with them, leave you alone if you leave them alone. Just snap any pictures at a distance.
Right before you reach the half-way point and start back down the trail, is a clearing with huge rocks. The clearing is an ideal site to take a relatively bug-free lunch break.
Or you can do a bit of strength training using some of the rocks.
No, I wasn’t strong enough to push that boulder down the hill. But making it to the half-way point did make me feel pretty super!
And then we were on our way back down the trail.
The going was slow at the start since the trail markings ~ when we found them ~ weren’t easy to follow. But finally, after trial and error and much prayer, we got our bearings and could make out a clear path.
That’s when a stellar panorama of the Tularosa Basin with a portion of White Sands Missile Range came into view. I could see as far as the White Sands National Park. (You can see it, too: the Park is that powdery white area just right of center.)
The second half of the Pine Tree Trail also brings the north face of Sugarloaf Peak into a clear view. Made of white granite and over 8000 feet in elevation, Sugarloaf is a favorite of serious climbers.
Me? I’m thrilled just to have seen the gorgeous thing up close and to have this photo.
When you consider all the picture taking and ooh-ing and aahing involved, it’s easy to see how our Pine Tree Trail hike lasted 3 hours.
(Yes, that’s right: three, tres, trois HOURS!!! In any language, that’s a LOT of time for a 4.5-mile hike.)
You could probably complete it in half that time.
But what’s your hurry?
Considering all the curious animals, plants, and amazing scenery you can experience out there, the Pine Tree Trail at Aguirre Spring is more than worth a few hours.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Best time of year to hike? Early fall or late spring (when the wildflowers really show off!)
- Start out early in the morning or prepare to sweat (more than necessary). That’s something we didn’t do, starting out on our hike at 4 in the afternoon! Not even half-way up we were calling ourselves the “Sweat Sisters.” We had fun, but there’s an easier and dryer way to do this hike!
- In the desert, EVERYTHING can stick you. So wear long sturdy slacks with knee-socks to protect your legs from thistles and thorns. Wear hiking boots, if you’ve got them, instead of sneakers. A combination of socks, slacks, and boots will help keep annoying creatures like fire ants from climbing up your leg and stinging you like crazy when you happen to stand too long in a place they happen to be. Ummm . . . yes, that did happen to me.
- Watch where you sit and stand ~ unless you want your own fire ant story to tell.
- Watch where you step: leaving snakes alone includes not stepping on them by accident!
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