San Augustin Pass is a gap in the Organ Mountains, San Augustin Mountains and San Andres in Dona Ana County east of Las Cruces. San Augustin Pass lies an elevation of approximately 5,600 feet above sea level and was originally traversed by New Mexico State Route 3. US Route 70 would be realigned over San Augustin Pass during 1934 when it was extended to Los Angeles, California. During 1963 US Route 82 would be extended through San Augustin Pass to Las Cruces. Since the early the early 1990s signage of US Route 82 has been withdrawn to Alamogordo. San Augustin Pass and US Route 70 are largely known for the numerous closures due to test firings originating from the White Sands Missile Range.
Part 1; the history of highway designations over San Augustin Pass
San Augustin Pass traditionally has been the easiest from the Rio Grande in Las Cruces east to the Tularosa Basin. The terrain conditions at San Augustin Pass allowed for an easy crossing in the gap between the Organ Mountains, San Augustin Mountains and San Andres Mountains.
During the American Civil War numerous mineral claims were staked in the vicinity of San Augustin Pass. Metals such as gold, silver, copper, lead, iron and zinc were found by various miners. During 1883 the community of Organ would be founded at the western flank of San Augustin Pass following a Federal land grant to the Organ Mining Corportation. Organ would peak during 1885 with a population reaching approximately 1,500 people.
Organ City can be seen along the stage road west of San Augustin Pass on the 1891 United States Geological Survey map of Las Cruces.
West of Organ City a stage road can be seen heading southwest to Las Cruces largely south of modern US Route 70. A second road is seen heading more directly west to Dona Ana.
New Mexico State Route 3 is shown to originate at New Mexico State Route 1 and New Mexico State Route 4 in Las Cruces on the 1920 National Map Company New Mexico edition. New Mexico State Route 3 is shown climbing east of Las Cruces via Main Street through San Augustin Pass via Organ. Beyond San Augustin Pass, New Mexico State Route 3 is shown to pass through Alamogordo where it continued north through La Luz and Tularosa. New Mexico State Route 34 is shown originating at New Mexico State Route 3 in San Augustin Pass near the community of Kent.
San Augustin Pass is shown to not have been part of any major Auto Trail on the 1924 Rand McNally Auto Trails Map of New Mexico.
The US Route System was formally created by the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) on November 11, 1926. Las Cruces was served by US Route 80 and US Route 85 whereas Alamogordo was served by US Route 366. None of the original US Routes in New Mexico followed New Mexico State Route 3 through the Tularosa Basin and San Augustin Pass.
The 1931 Clason's Map of New Mexico displays New Mexico State Route 34 as having been eliminated east of San Augustin Pass. US Route 366 through Alamogordo would be replaced during December 1931 when US Route 70 was realigned to El Paso, Texas. By the early 1930s mining around San Augustin Pass would end when operations became unprofitable due to flooding.
A letter from the AASHO Executive Secretary to the New Mexico State Highway Engineer dated March 6, 1934, acknowledged a desire by the state to realign US Route 70 from Alamogordo towards Las Cruces via San Augustin. The rerouting of US Route 70 to Las Cruces was part of a larger extension which proposed to extend it to Los Angeles, California. The extension of US Route 70 to Los Angeles was ultimately approved by the AASHO Executive Committee.
US Route 70 can be seen multiplexed with New Mexico State Route 3 on the 1937 Gousha Map of New Mexico. West of Las Cruces, US Route 70 can be seen multiplexing US Route 80 towards Deming.
The 1941 United States Geological Survey map of Las Cruces reveals US Route 70 followed Main Street into downtown Las Cruces. US Route 70 intersected US Route 80 at Picacho Avenue and multiplexed it west out of the city towards Deming.
US Route 70 east of Las Cruces is shown following the same general grade of the modern freeway east to Organ on the 1941 United States Geological Survey Map of Organ Peak. East of Organ, US Route 70 is shown following what appears now on modern maps as "Old US Highway 70 Road" which largely lies north of the modern expressway. US Route 70 is shown crossing San Augustin Pass and intersecting Aguirre Springs Road as it descended into Tularosa Basin. The importance of San Augustin Pass would be amplified in 1941 when the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range was commissioned.
On April 5, 1960, the state highway departments of New Mexico and Texas submitted an application to the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) to extended US Route 82 from Lubbock, Texas west to Las Cruces, New Mexico. The submitted extension of US Route 82 would cross the Sacramento Mountains via New Mexico State Route 83 and US Route 70 from Alamogordo westward. The initial application to extend US Route 82 was rejected by AASHO on November 26, 1960.
A letter from the Texas Highway Department dated December 21, 1961, reveals the initial application to extend US Route 82 to Las Cruces was rejected due to two substandard sections of New Mexico State Route 83. The letter notes the offending segments of New Mexico State Route 83 had recently been improved.
On April 8, 1963, the state highway departments of New Mexico and Texas submitted another application to AASHO to extend US Route 82 from Lubbock to Las Cruces. AASHO approved the application on June 19, 1963, which officially made San Augustin Pass a component of US Route 82. US Route 82 multiplexed US Route 70 over San Augustin Pass into Las Cruces. US Route 82 terminated at US Route 80/US Route 180 at the intersection of Main Street and Picacho Avenue.
US Route 82 can be seen multiplexing US Route 70 along Main Street to a terminus at US Route 80/US Route 180 on the 1978 United States Geological Survey Map of New Mexico.
Eastbound US Route 70 next passes an exit for Mesa Grande Drive.
During 1990 the New Mexico Department of Transportation opted to no longer sign numerous multiplexed highways. US Route 82 signage from Las Cruces to the beginning of the Cloudcroft Highway was pulled from field service. This action effectively made the eastbound signed origin of US Route 82 begin at the start of the Cloudcroft Highway near Alamogordo. Despite the signage of US Route 82 being withdrawn no formal truncation application was submitted to AASHTO by the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
During the 1990s and first decade of the 2000s US Route 70 from Interstate 25 to Organ was rebuilt as the first non-Interstate freeway in New Mexico. The US Route 70 freeway roughly extends from Mile Markers 150.669-161.260. Presently the US Route 70 freeway ends in Organ at Nasa Road/Baylor Canyon Road and continues as a four-lane expressway east over San Augustin Pass towards Alamogordo.
Part 2; a drive on US Route 70 over San Augustin Pass
Northbound Interstate 25 in Las Cruces intersects US Route 70 at Exit 6. Traffic heading towards San Augustin Pass is directed to stay east towards Alamogordo. Traffic heading onto eastbound US Route 70 is advised the highway accesses White Sands National Park.
As the US Route 70 eastbound freeway begins passes exits for Roadrunner Parkway and Rinconada Boulevard. The US Route 70 freeway between Las Cruces and Organ does not have exit numbers.
Eastbound US Route 70 next passes an exit for Sonoma Ranch Boulevard.
Eastbound US Route 70 next passes an exit for Porter Drive.
Eastbound US Route 70 next passes an exit for Holman Road and Dunn Drive.
Eastbound US Route 70 next passes an exit for Weisner Drive.
Eastbound US Route 70 next passes an exit for Brahman Road. Traffic is notified White Sands National Park is located 40 miles to east.
Eastbound US Route 70 next passes an exit for NASA Road and Baylor Canyon Road.
The freeway portion of US Route 70 ends as the highway enters Organ. US Route 70 passes through Organ as a four-lane expressway with numerous at-grade street crossings. Traffic is advised the White Sands Missile Range is 12 miles away whereas Alamogordo is 54 miles.
US Route 70 east of Organ climbs over San Augustin Pass.
A scenic vista can be found along US Route 70 on the eastern flank of San Augustin Pass. A historic marker denotes the historical importance of San Augustin Pass as part of US Route 70. The high peaks of the Organ Mountains can be seen facing south along with the White Sands Missile Range facing east. A retired Nike Hercules Missile can be found on display along with a historic plaque. Between 1955-1967 over 650 Nike Hercules Missiles were test fired over US Route 70 in the White Sands Missile Range. Even in modern times closures of US Route 70 due to test firing at the White Sands Missile Range are common.
US Route 70 descends east from San Augustin Pass and intersections Aguirre Springs Road. Aguirre Springs Road can be used to reach the Aguirre Springs National Recreation Area of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. US Route 70 continues east through Tularosa Basin past notable locales such as the White Sands Missile Range, White Sands National Park and Alamogordo.