Mountain Power

If you asked my children or siblings, they might tell you that I have a song for just about everything. Words on a street sign, an incident, a phrase, a photo, and suddenly a song pops into my head. Sometimes it is with the incorrect words, or even just the tune, but there it is, just waiting to spontaneously burst out….these days not always in key. If I don’t have a song, I might make one up on the spot. There is probably a name (or diagnosis!) for it. Perhaps they should just be called “earworms”, as that is what they often become.

Given this, flying into El Paso on the way to visit relatives automatically caused the song “El Paso” to pop up in my brain. The original was by Marty Robbins, but it is the Grateful Dead cover that has been playing repeatedly in my head. Over and over…..until we crossed into southern New Mexico, where the song abruptly changed to another Dead song, “Friend of the Devil.” The casa de la familia is in the high desert in Las Cruces. The vista out their back door is an impressive, unobstructed view of the Organ Mountains.

the back yard

While on this lifetime path, I have lived in the foothills of a few mountains, from east to west. Most have been spent around the time-worn, glacier carved, old man Catskills – verdant in spring and summer, aflame in autumn, deep blues in winter. I’ve also lived nestled on the side of the Siskiyous, facing the Cascades (supposedly the home of “Bigfoot”!), another time with a view of the San Bernadinos in the distance. Residing in a valley with a view of surrounding mountains, enjoying the play of their shadows and light, has always felt like The Right Place for me. Traveling through the different ranges, hiking them, camping in them, visiting friends who lived in them – just looking at them…..all has been the deepest of nourishing soul-food. Perhaps it is genetic. The Mountains.

light playing over the Organ Mountains

Each mountain range has its own unique power and magic. The rugged vastness of the Rockies. The great sleeping hush-puppies of the Sonoma Mountains. The cloud-like vision on the distant horizon of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Hood. The enchantment of the Sangre de Cristos. It has been a life privilege to experience the gasp-inducing awe of the Alps, the sheer cliffs of the Dolomites, the snow-capped Syrian peaks of Mount Hermon (Jabal al-shaykh), to immerse in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, the green hills of Chiang Rai, to name just a few. And so now, the Organ Mountains.

dawn over the Organs

The Organs – they are dramatic spires of ever-changing moods, which shift almost minute to minute with the light. I could not help but keep running to the back door and patio, over and over again, to see the constant transformations as the clouds and sun affected the visuals.

sunset soaking the Organs

Meanwhile, the song playing in my head (one that continued for days, depending on the location) soon became “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” – originally by Stan Jones. There are many, many covers of this – Johnny Cash /Willie Nelson and The Blues Brothers renditions being some of my favorites.

But my in-brain version actually kept flipping back to one my old, dear friend Lynne once sang as I watched her performing in a local bar way back in our youth. It’s her beautiful voice I mostly heard in my mind during hikes into the hills.

Ghost riders in the sky

waiting for the sun – moments before sunrise

I will indulge my nerdy self for a moment and mention a few things of quick note about the Organ Mountains, aka La Sierra de los Órganos. These volcanic formations are east of Las Cruces, New Mexico and are bisected by Soledad Canyon. The cool-looking granite “needles” were formed about 34 million years ago and rise up in steep elevation from the base of the Chihuahuan Desert, with the highest peak reaching at almost 9000 feet. The area was inhabited by prehistoric animals, with evidence of humans found in the caves dating back 12,000 years. There are ancient petrographs in the caves. Paleo-Indians resided there over 7000 years ago; after that came the Apache, and then the Spanish conquistadors and settlers. It is said the mountains were named in 1598 by Spanish settlers who thought the spires looked like pipe organs. I also found a theory that the name is a corruption and evolution of the word “los orejones” (the dried apricots) and was in reference to the weathered faces of the native population. Looking at these mountains, I guess you could imagine either.

According to a White House Press Release, “In the 1800s, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area was central to several battles among the Apaches, Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans, and between Union and Confederate troops. The first Civil War engagements in New Mexico were fought in the Organ Mountains when Confederate soldiers used Baylor Pass Trail to outflank Union soldiers.” President Barack Obama designated the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a national monument in 2014. Definitely a good save!

So those are the fast facts. But here is probably one of my favorite things to mention about these mountains (besides the visuals). In the movie The Wizard of Oz, the backdrop view from the window of the Wicked Witch’s castle is of the Organ Mountains. The City of Oz supposedly lies on the other side of them. I’ve been to the backside of the mountain, and while it’s not Oz, there was an iridescent rainbow cloud happening. That will suffice!

Not Oz, but pretty nice……

In the movie you can see the spires rising ominously in the background during the scene where The Wicked Witch of the West is sending out her flying monkeys to do her bidding. I kind of love that.

Now fly! Fly! FLY!”

The desert below provided some nice bird sightings. Aside from the house finches, house sparrows and white-winged doves, there were hawks and hummingbirds. I was pretty excited about a tight flock of Gambel’s Quail scurrying by (they scurry in the cutest sort of way), their forward-facing crests bobbing like exclamation marks, their squawking calls punctuating the air. There was the tweet of the Canyon Towhee and the piercing “pyew-pyew-pyew” of a Pyrrhuloxia, which is a desert cardinal. I saw a Phainopepla, a kind of flycatcher, with its bright red eye and a white flash in its outspread wings. And Great-tailed Grackles with impressively long, glossy, fanning tails. My most favorite was a brief sighting of a Roadrunner (also known as a chapparal bird or ground cuckoo).

back yard Road Runner – photo by Mike S.

I did not encounter any rattlesnakes, although there were warning signs for them out and about. There was some scat on the trails that might have been from mule deer. Unfortunately, my somewhat compromised ears did not hear the coyotes calling at night – the only coyote I saw was a dead one on the highway. We have plenty here at home, but somehow coyotes seem to go hand in hand with the images of the southwest. I was glad not to step on the tiniest of geckos on the sidewalk.

The desert floor is covered in creosote bush, yucca, barrel and prickly pear cacti, agave, ocotillo plants, sotol, and desert spoons, among others. Some dotting the hillsides look like spikey-headed characters from a Dr. Seuss book. Up into the hills there were alligator junipers, oaks and ponderosa pines. Being just on the cusp of spring, I did not experience the flush of desert floor blooms, but there were ground clumps of the tiny yellow flowers of Zapata Bladderpod, and the fluffy white remnants of Creosote seeds clinging to the bushes. There are streams and waterfalls at about 6000ft, but I did not make it up that far.

Alligator Juniper
creosote bush

This mountain. One had to wonder about such rough landscape for the inhabitants of the past to navigate. These Organs have teeth. They are moody, perhaps a little bit foreboding. There is a solid strength, something “don’t mess with me” about them. They vibrate with their own unique energy. They have a raw power.

big power

photo by Andrea S.

Yippee-I-aye (Yippee-I-aye)
Yippee-I-o (Yippee-I-o)
Ghost riders in the sky


This entry was posted in Birds, nature, Perspective, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mountain Power

  1. I very much enjoyed the photos and the story of the mountains. The reminder of the song as well

    Liked by 1 person

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