The Mountains of New Mexico
Tortugas Mountain • City of Las Cruces
• Doña Ana Mountains
• Doña Ana County

Tortugas Mountain

On the hike, the buildings first appear

Summit tower and shrines

One of the shrines

A fancier one

The observatory

Tower and part of another shrine

The third shrine

Close-up of the second shrine

The Organ Mountains to the east

Way in back, centered, is Magdalena Peak. Closer in, slightly to the left, is Picacho Mountain. I'd climb both tomorrow.

Date: December 25, 2023 • Elevation: 4,931 feet • Prominence: 571 feet • Distance: 1.6 miles • Time: 59 minutes • Gain: 631 feet • Conditions: Sunny and mild

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Tortugas Mountain lies slightly east of Las Cruces (outside the city limits), about two miles east of Interstate-25. It's a low expansive mound of a peak, with an "A" geoglyph near its top in reference to the New Mexico State University Aggies, the campus being nearby. The university also owns a small observatory on the summit, and there are a couple communications towers as well. However, the summit area is most notable for its handful of Catholic shrines. Every December, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival occurs, which includes a pilgrimmage hike to the summit where congregants can pay their respects.

I had arisen very early today and driven for four hours to Sunland Park, down by El Paso, where I hiked Sierra de Cristo Rey. That peak features a 40-foot statue of Jesus at its summit and a number of shrines along the path to the top, and is one of the more famous pilgrimmage hikes in the country. From El Paso, I drove north into Las Cruces, got onto Interstate-25, took the University Avenua exit and went east toward Tortugas Mountain, which is plainly visible the entire way.

I pulled into a dirt parking lot near the main trailhead northwest of the summit. The lot was crowded, and I was one of about a dozen cars there. From the trailhead, it's easy to see the trail start immediately upslope, angling right, although this close in, the summit is hidden. I was already dressed from my last hike so I was moving quickly. I started my hike at 1:05 p.m., the day sunny and clear, temperature about 50°.

The peak is capped by limestone and it was evident early on. The trail is obvious — maybe a little too obvious due to overuse — so following it wasn't a problem. It was pitched moderately steeply, and in some places where the limestone layers poked through, the trail braided as people would find their own ways through the jumbly rock. There was lots of rubble in spots.

The trail just makes one long straight shot to the top. About halfway up, it crests a rise and the summit towers are now visible. There were plenty of people out today. I caught up to one man with his two young sons on the way up. People coming down were passing me. But it did not feel crowded.

I was at the top in less than a half hour. I'll admit I was unaware of the shrines and the historical significance of the mountain beforehand. There were about twenty people up top, but the summit area is very broad so people could spread out easily. I came upon the first shrine and studied it, then walked to the second "redder" shrine, this one more elaborate with the statues and votive candles in its apse. I then took a look at the observatory building. Then, I saw some people sitting on a brick wall and walked that way, and sure enough, another shrine.

I was enjoying the shrines. I knew Cristo Rey would have shrines, but I did not know that about this peak, so to hike two peaks with shrines on them in a row, on Christmas Day no less, was amusing and fitting. I spent about ten minutes on top. I also got some nifty images of the surrounding mountain ranges, including the Organ Mountains to the east.

I hiked down the same way and was back to my car at 2:04, a 59-minute hike. More people had shown up at the trailhead parking lot. Can't blame them, being such a pretty day and I am sure a few deliberately came here because it was Christmas Day.

I had a hotel arranged but had to wait until 3 p.m., so I got back onto the main road and headed east. The road is now named Dripping Springs Road and it aims for the Organ Mountains, about ten miles away. In 2001, I climbed Organ Needle, and this was my first time back anywhere close to the range since then.

It's funny what nearly 23 years of time will do. I recall driving Dripping Springs Road and meeting the others there early that morning. I recall the road being mostly dirt road with no development. Now, Dripping Springs Road passes through a spread-out subdivision of very nice homes. I am sure those weren't there in 2001. I was able to drive to just before a gate in the road, so I pulled into a side road and snapped a few photos. On my 2001 climb, I had a lousy camera and took just a couple photos, and I regret not taking more.

I also looked up at the rocky crest of the Organ Mountains and having the same feeling as I did in 2001, which was "where is the highpoint and how does anyone get up the damn thing?". Obviously, people get up it all the time. I did in 2001, but from below, it looks like nothing but vertical cliffs. I was glad I didn't have to worry about that again. That was a fun climb, but a one-and-done one for me.

Driving back into town, I decided to have a look at a nearby bump, Peak 4815. It looked short and would kill time before going to my hotel. I had no other plans, so why not, I thought. I got there easily enough, and drove through a residential area and up a dirt road to the unofficial trailhead, a pullout below the top. It looked like the kind of hike that would take just a half hour.

When I got there, two guys in a red Jeep had taken a position slightly up the track ahead of me. They had just got there and were moving things around. Then pow pow pow, one shot after another. They were shooting, which normally is okay with me, but these jokers were shooting one after another, and they were aiming high! I could see dust plumes where the bullets hit the slope up by the top! It was a rifle, that much I could tell. It had that "rifle" sound to it, much too sharp to be a mere pistol.

Admittedly, this peak was not that important to me, but this pissed me off. These guys were careless and foolish. Obviously, I would not hike this peak now. I left the area and decided to go over to my hotel and get settled in. But yeah, I was peeved. I ended up hiking it the next day anyway, partly to get back at those two pinheads, not that they cared anyway.

Once at the hotel, I showered and took a nap. It had been a long day and a fun one. I thoroughly enjoyed hiking both peaks and experiencing the spiritual side of things. Tortugas Mountain was a fast and easy hike, and one I would recommend if in Las Cruces. It's easy to get to and to hike. I am sure it's a huge fiesta when the actual Festival is going on.

(c) 2023 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.