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Retired NMSU professor publishes photography book showcasing 25 years of the Organ Mountains

Dark clouds filled the sky of Las Cruces as a few sunrays managed to break through, turning the sky a soft yellow. As the sunrays also escaped over the Organ Mountains an almost perfect silhouette of the mountains’ “organ pipes” was created. Neighborhoods and part of the city can be seen along the base of the mountains capturing the start of a beautiful sunrise.


Book cover
Released in mid-December, Don Cotter’s book, “Fran’s Organ Mountains” showcases over 100 pictures of the Organ Mountains in five different aspects: snowy, western and eastern slopes, during the evening and on cloudy days. (Photo by Don Cotter)

This is the picture that covers the front of Don Cotter’s book, “Fran’s Organ Mountains.” For Cotter, a New Mexico State University professor emeritus of horticulture and plant science, it’s one of few pictures that he captured of the mountains from the backyard of his home.

Cotter came to NMSU after a few trips overseas to Indonesia and working at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He was a horticulture professor at NMSU for 20 years where he spent his time researching vegetables as a physiologist and also teaching.

Released in mid-December Cotter’s book showcases over 100 pictures of the Organ Mountains in five different aspects, snowy, from the western and eastern slopes, during the evening and during cloudy days. Another section of the book is also dedicated solely to the flowering plants in the area of the mountains.

The pictures in the book were captured on a Canon film camera and were taken over a period of over 20 years.

“All of these photos were on film before and had to be digitalized. I began taking them in about 1991, that’s when I really started to accumulate my library,” said Cotter. “So, the photos are an accumulation of 25 years with some of them being 25 years before the other.”

Cotter’s book is named after his wife, Francis Cotter, who was always by his side during every adventure, including when all the pictures of the Organ Mountains were taken.

Don and Francis Cotter met during their freshman year at the University of Rhode Island at Kingston. All it took was that first moment for their lives to change.

“We dated virtually from the first day we got on campus as freshmen and I asked her to marry me in May before our last year and then 12 days after graduation we got married,” Cotter said.

Upon opening the book to the first few pages, a picture of Fran can be found that was taken by Cotter when they were visiting the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona. It includes a dedication to her where he calls her the “enduring enthusiastic supporter” of his endeavors and says her continuing and embracing support were critical in his attempt to bring the magic to tangible fruition.

When asked what went into the decision-making process to name the book after his wife, who passed away in 2014, Cotter answered in the simplest way possible:

“I love her.”

Cotter said it was the different faces of the Organ Mountains and how iconic the mountains are in Las Cruces that ultimately made him document so many pictures of them and create a book.

“The Organs are just a magnet, it kind of draws you to it and you want to capture the many faces of the mountain. It’s one of the signature places of Las Cruces,” Cotter said.

As Cotter looked through the book, he pointed out some of his favorite pictures, which include some of the snow shots and one in the evening color section of the book that shows the profile of the pipes that were being amplified by the sun.

“When you take pictures, you have one or two choices after you start taking pictures, you can let it die when you die or you can do something with it,” said Cotter. “And I decided to try and do something with it. It’s not cheap, but it’s a labor of love.”

Cotter said he is in the process of working on another photography book on landscapes, which he hopes will be out sometime this year. He said he also looking at about 300 to 500 more pictures which he hopes to also turn into more books.

To purchase a copy of Cotter’s book visit http://www.lulu.com/shop/don-cotter/frans-organ-mountains/hardcover/product-23502547.html?ppn=1