Outside Las Cruces, New Mexico, my mom and I went on a walk in the Organ Mountains—named because of the resemblance of the granite needles to the gleaming pipes of an organ.
We walked toward this jagged skyline under ethereal light that only appears in the desert: one half of the sky dark and heavy with clouds, the other half golden. The dry air carried a hint of rain as we crunched over the illuminated trail, passing a partly shadowed landscape filled with dry yellow grasses, the occasional deep green juniper, and the sharp spears of narrowleaf yucca, known commonly as Spanish Bayonet.
Eventually we came to some crumpled wood-sided buildings. These were the livery and mercantile of Confederate Colonel Eugene van Patten’s Mountain Camp, sometimes referred to as Dripping Springs Resort, that was here in the late 1800s. Reportedly this was a vacation spot for visitors who would ride a stagecoach 17 miles from Las Cruces into the heart of the mountains. The hotel had 2 stories, 14 rooms, a dining hall, and a gazebo for a bandstand. A barn housed chickens and cows and a vegetable garden was maintained to provide fresh produce for guest’s meals. Nearby, a brick reservoir was built to collect the water that dribbled through the stone in order to quench the thirst of the visitors.
After van Patten’s confederate career he was a US Marshal for Western Texas, during which time Billy the Kid reportedly surrendered his rifle to him, and he was a Captain in the New Mexico Territorial Militia during the Apache wars, when he may have crossed paths with Geronimo. Later in life he married Benita Madrid Vargas, a half Piro Indian and half-Spanish woman, and settled in Las Cruces to run this lovely resort in the mountains.