City of Dust: Organ, New Mexico

Pat Garret Really Should Have Stayed the Night

Organ, New Mexico isn’t really a ghost town these days, but I’m gonna make it look like one. Sorry, good people of Organ. I’ll explain in a minute.

Organ is named for the razor-spired Organ Mountains visible to the south, which were themselves named because they look like the pipes of…an organ. After being a mining encampment from the 1840’s, the town was officially founded in 1883 as lead, copper, fluorite, zinc, gold, and silver mines were punched into the hill slopes to the northeast with ever-increasing frequency. By the turn of the century, Organ was peaking at about 1,800 residents, seven saloons, two smelters, two general stores, a two-teacher school, a Catholic church, a post office, a hotel, and a jail in a tunnel that had once been a powder magazine.


It seems strange that Organ was not called San Augustin, in honor of the San Augustin Mountains immediately to the northeast, or 7,030-foot San Augustin Peak, which literally towers over the town to the east, or even San Augustin Pass, now part of US Highway 70/82, which, if traveled eastward, will take you down onto a vast plain and the southern extent of the White Sands Missile Range. But, in 1908, long before US 70/82 was named, it was on this same stretch of road, traveling southwestward toward Las Cruces, that Pat Garrett was shot and killed some 28 years after he’d shot Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. This bit of Organ’s history has remained long after its mines, which filled with water in the 1930’s, have mostly faded from memory.


Because Organ is the closest inhabited place to White Sands Missile Range, it was revived somewhat in the mid-1940’s when work began on the atomic bomb and missile range employees moved-in. Thus, while the population is still only just over 300, there are many well-kept homes and what looks like it would be a very quaint and tasty Thai restaurant. Too bad it was closed during our visit. Philip Varney mentions Bentley’s Store and Assay Office in New Mexico’s Best Ghost Towns and notes that it had become a private residence. This is still true and, in fact, the old building looks to be very well-maintained with lots of tended greenery out front. Varney also mentions the Organ School, notable for its corner bell tower, but I couldn’t find it. I think the tower has been removed and the school probably now just blends in with its older neighbors.


So, you may ask, if there are a few hundred people living in Organ, renovating their historic homes and eating Thai food, why all these photos of derelict buildings? Well, these pictures were taken on the south side of the highway. Those are the Organ Mountains in the background of a couple. As to WHY virtually every commercial enterprise on that side of the road has been abandoned—and apparently long-abandoned—I can’t say. Perhaps people prefer to eat and shop in Las Cruces, 15 miles away. That’s really the only other city in the area, but as New Mexico’s second-largest it would offer some retail competition. Whatever the case, I find it surprising that the spectacular views of the Organ Mountains to the south, San Augustin Peak to the east and Las Cruces to the southwest haven’t had more people stopping for sandwitches. I know I’d stop for a bite.


Next time we’ll go deep into the Organ Mountains themselves and visit Dripping Springs. But first I need to figure out how to make my crummy photos more presentable. Oh, and the photo above is the only shot from the north side of the highway. In the distance are the Doña Ana Mountains and the northern edge of Las Cruces, beyond which lies the Jornada del Muerto (“Journey of Death”), a waterless, 90-mile stretch of El Camino Real. Sounds like fun, huh?

For more information on Organ, consult ghostowns.com, Wikipedia and, of course, New Mexico’s Best Ghost Towns.

13 comments

  1. The Thai restaurant closed and moved to Las Cruces around 2012/13 if I remember correctly

  2. That’s my Grandparents graves in that final picture. Traditionally we dig the graves by hand in the old Organ cemetery (I’ve helped dig a few), but a movie was being filmed in the cemetery when grandpa died and they had a back hoe rented to dig a fake grave and we’re kind enough to dig grandpa’s for us. Organ is a nice little town once you leave the highway, but the highway makes it look dumpy. Most of us wish those buildings would be torn down. One is in eternal probate, likely the owner had no will. Another was donated to a church when the owner passed and the church thinks it’s worth 250k just because it’s by the highway. I don’t know what the story is behind the old Chevron station and the building next door that was once the Sawahoo Trading Post, those have been boarded up for 20 years now. The building at the top of the hill that was once a gas station and restaurant belongs to a guy who just doesn’t care how ugly it is because he lives in a McMansion down in the valley. When I was a kid growing up in Organ in the 80’s there were 2 gas stations, 2 restaurants, 2 stores, 2 bars, and the trading post. Now all there is is a post office.

    1. Made me a lil home sick. Growing up in Organ is now just a shock to anyone who I tell, or better yet show. We had fun, run the roads and owned the sand the ran down the mountain after a summer rain.

  3. There is 1 going concern business in ORGAN. MY BROTHER ( Mr. L. Grant Rogers) owns and operates the ORGAN General store.
    I too grew up in ORGAN IN THE 60S AND 70S. IT is a crying shame what has happened to THE ORGAN MOUNTAIN LODGE/ACES PLACE/SOWAHU TRADING POST/FISHERS GARAGE/ETC.

    1. I didn’t know Grant had a brother! Nice to meet you! I used to buy bubble gum from him when I was a little kid in the late 70’s. Good man. He isn’t getting around so well lately, but he is still at the flea market most weekends. I’ve always said if I won the lottery I would buy up all the old buildings and give them away to someone who would do something with them. I would buy the school house and fix it myself, but the old guy that owns it wants all the gold in fort Knox for it. He is to old to fix it up, and by the time he kicks the bucket I will be too!

  4. I’m thought i commented on this site before but maybe it was another. I met there Bruce as well. I lived in Organ in the early 70’s when a two week vacation became a four year adventure. It’s hard to look at the photo of the Organ Mountain Lodge now as I bartended there and remember the rich cross section of personalities and professions all drinking together. The patio with it’s Chinaberry trees providing shade for the bands and events we held there. The staff and family members lived in the old motel units. John and Justine Gilkey ran it after taking ownership from George Chandler. The old gas station was Lenny Fisher’s, a friendly guy who loved to share his opinion. The little flat topped house was Tidwell’s. An old welder who lived by himself, loved his brew and was an honor to call friend. The Chevron station and trading post were owned by the Pobars who would call the police about the noise from the Lodge a half hour before the music even began. I have communicated with Grant on and off over the years. He has helped more folks down on their luck than is hard to imagine. I helped him do his trash collections for the aluminum cans for a spell and worked his flea market table a few times. Grant is probably the town historian at this point. Mike
    Merrick is another old timer who helped a lot of folks, including me, when times were tough. I hold both these guys in high esteem. Organ was like an outpost where you could feel insulated from the rest of the world for awhile before they butchered the desert and the world got even smaller with the computer age. Amen…

  5. I was sent to work at the radar station installing a fire sprinkler system in 1969 we stayed in the vacant motel half a block from the pool hall/ grocery across from the post office. We used to buy fresh milk from Perry at the gas station what a different time the owner of the bar wouldn’t sell me a beer said the state patrol stopped in occasionally and couldn’t take a chance lol. Use to hear the Mexicans running behind the motel at night to elude the Border Patrol I’m sure it’s changed. Memories aren’t they great.

  6. I know Grant and Mike.
    Both great guys and helps me out many times when I was living in Organ.
    I was stationed at WSMR and Mike rented me a trailer. Grant operated a store and sold the best dang cheeseburgers! He also married me over my harley inside his store. I miss those times of riding up and down 70/82 with teh fellas from the Army base and stopping at Aces for 25 cent beers and freee chips and salsa. Then the Lodge, what can you say. It’s all history now. I lived in the old school house for a while, was buying it from Pete and then found out it was haunted. Strange events led us to leave, the baby kept getting pinched at night and weird events with nise, picture off the walls and no lights working.
    Even has solar water heat and a sauna in that place.
    Smitty, Fat pat, preacher, rat pat, rudy to name a few.
    What ever happened to thumper at teh lodge?
    What a great place to be alive in the 80’s, wish I could buy the old chevron and fix it up and operate it. Sorry to hear Grants not getting along well, Jan, his old GF is blind in one eye and can’t see much out of the other, shes barely able to move around either and mean as a bob cat!

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