You would think that there would be no perks to being a semi-broke grad student working two jobs, but in fact, there is one in particular: since I don’t have the money to go to expensive restaurants, attractions, concerts, etc., I spend what little free time I have during the school year enjoying the simple, inexpensive attractions and places most tourists wouldn’t even hear of, let alone visit. A perfect example of this are the hiking opportunities in the Southwest. Being from Tennessee, my mind doesn’t automatically equate hiking with the desert; I tend to think of greenways, the Appalachian Mountains and poison-ivy infested wooded trails instead. But what I’m coming to learn is that the Southwest has it’s own type of trails and forms of hiking. There may not be much (or any) shade, but there are spectacular views of rugged mountains. And there is no poison ivy, but for you thrill-seekers out there, there’s always the danger of running into a rattle snake or two and all the trails seem to have warnings about the people who’ve died while hiking them.
Last week, I took my first baby step into the world of Southwest hiking with the Dripping Springs Trail. This week, I decided to start off with a different trail system on the east side of the Organ Mountains called Aguirre Springs. There are two main trails that start in this campground area: Pine Tree Trail and Baylor Pass Trail. Eventually I want to work my way up to the Baylor Pass Trail, which is 12 miles long and traverses a wide range of elevation, but I decided to start with the 4 1/2 mile Pine Tree Trail until I get used to hiking in high elevations and build up my stamina.
Before I even got to the trail, I had to drive through over a dozen switchbacks, which I suppose should have been foreshadowing. I heard about Pine Tree Trail from Fodor’s Guide to New Mexico, but there was definately no mention of it being labeled “strenuous”, as the ranger described it (I even double-checked when I got home), but I’m not the kind of person to back away from a challenge, especially when the view looks like it will be so gorgeous.
Pine Tree Tail is on the east side of the Organ Mountains, which looks totally different than the west side which I’m more familiar with. The east side looks more like the base of the Rockies, very rugged, wild and untamed and that was definately reflected in the trail. Pine Tree Trail is a giant loop, going from the base of the mountains, up ~7000ft and then back down the other side. The first and last bits are probably the most strenuous; there’s no shade at all and it’s very steep, but as you start to climb higher, there are more and more evergreens, and although you don’t start going back down until around the halfway mark, the climb isn’t as steep. It took me about 3 hours to do the whole trail, which isn’t bad at all since the recommended time is 2.5 hours. Honestly, I probably could have done it faster, but I stopped to take a staggering amount of pictures (as you will see if you continue scrolling down). The scenery is breathtaking and this is one trail I plan on doing many times in the future. My only complaint is that since I did the hike in the afternoon, I was hard to get some great shots of the mountains since the sun was in my eyes. Next time I plan on going in the morning and see if that helps.