Structures or Noteworthy Events that Occurred on the Landscape
The Potrillo Mountains complex is home to a human history that began with Paleo-Indian peoples between eight and twelve thousand years ago. The climate was much wetter then, and nomadic Paleo-Indian peoples used the Potrillo grasslands in pursuit of big game like now extinct Giant Ground Sloths and Four Horned Antelope. Early, Middle, and Late Archaic peoples followed, with the Mimbres Pueblo culture following them. Preserved Mimbres Pueblo sites are preserved in Indian Basin, and further archaeological study of the area promises more discoveries of both habitations and also clues regarding the region’s role part of well traveled trade routes.
The Potrillo Complex has a rich Hispanic heritage. Known as the Malpais, or “rough country” in Spanish, this lava has served vital roles for both Hispanic and Mestizo culture since the early 18th century. By that time, residents of Ciudad Juarez and also smaller settlements north along the Rio Grande used the Potrillo Mountains for hunting—a practice that still continues today. Numerous herds of Pronghorn Antelope, Desert Mule Deer, and even Desert Bighorn Sheep lured area hunters away from the valley floor and into the Potrillos. In fact, the area was a hunter’s paradise. Increased heat from the black lava rock allowed grasses to remain green later into the winter. Depressions held water and offered increased vegetation. Hispanic use of the Potrillos for hunting continues to this day, with sportmsen pursuing Desert Mule Deer, Javelina, and both Gambel’s and Scaled Quail. Desert Bighorn were extirpated in 1900 when 40 Bighorn were killed and shipped to Deming, NM. Also at the turn of the century, Pancho Villa is reputed to have crossed into the Potrillo Mountains. Pancho Villa Tank in the western Potrillo Mountains bears witness to this tumultuous yet formative time in southwestern history.
The Organ Mountains were first documented in 1598 when Don Juan de Oñate noted them in his journal during the maiden voyage over the Camino Real. For 300 years the Camino Real del Adentro was the sole route north from Mexico City to interior lands, connecting it to innumerable settlements throughout New Mexico. Local landmarks marking the “Royal Road to Interior Lands”, like Paraje Robledo and Robledo Peak are current places in the Robledo Mountains and part of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Both are named for Pedro Robledo, who drowned on that initial expedition underneath the peak that bears his name. Pedro Robledo’s descendants, including cultural icon and former Democratic State Representative J. Paul Taylor still live in the Mesilla Valley.
Camino Real Del Adentro
The Camino Real del Adentro is one of 19 National Historical Trails. Its significance to Hispanic settlement throughout New Mexico and the entire Southwest cannot be underestimated. A renewed interest in the Camino Real is driving community projects along the entire length of its route. Southern New Mexico and in particular Las Cruces are leaders in this field. Local community organizations like Las Esperanzas are recognizing sections of the trail in their community, recovering and showcasing rare artifacts, and celebrating the the living history of the Camino Real del Adentro.
Evidence in caves near Peña Blanca and La Cueva shows human habitation and usage of the Organ Mountains stretched back 8-12 thousand years, to the Paleo-Indian peoples who left Folsom points behind. Desert Archaic and the melding of the Mimbres and Jornada cultures have also left their marks, including both pictographs and petroglyhps. Native peoples continue to use the Organs to this day, with local Puebloan tribes from Ysleta del Sur and the Piro-Manso-Tiwa gathering sotol and yucca along the verdant Organ Mountain slopes for use in Catholic ceremonies that retain strong Native influences.
Don Juan de Oñate was the first recorded Hispanic admirer of Los Organos, but many generations have followed in his footsteps. Passes in the Organ Mountains allowed travel to El Paso salt flats that were important to local communities and served as a flashpoint in struggles for increased Hispano rights. Mining camps employed local residents, and natural resource use focused on hunting.
A late 19th century resort, Van Patten’s Mountain Camp, was built in the Organ Mountains and provided relief from summer heat for residents and travelers alike. It was later purchased and repurposed into a sanatorium by Dr. Nathan Boyd. Today the buildings remain in remarkable condition, and receive thousands of recreational visits every year from tourists and local residents alike. Also home to the famous Cox Ranch begun by W.W. Cox, the Organ Mountains now overlook White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss in addition to the rapidly growing population of Las Cruces and the Mesilla Valley. Presently, the Organ Mountains are a critical cultural resource to the growing Mesilla Valley population. Historic use by Hispanic families has been passed down through generations and has strengthened local connections to the land.
The Sierra de Las Uvas complex has a rich cultural history that is still visible today. Paleo-Indian peoples left behind evidence, including a Folsom point, in a Robledo Mountain cave. Extensive rock art resources adorn canyon walls throughout the Sierra de Las Uvas and Broad Canyon. In a few areas, the co-location of Jornada and Mimbres culture rock art along with the Gaan dancers of the Apache people speak to the area’s status as a Native crossroads.
Butterfield Stagecoach Route
The Apache presence drove the construction of nearby forts by early Hispanic and Anglo settlers. One, Fort Mason (sometimes referred to as Mason’s Fort) was a stop on the Butterfield Stage route, which delivered passengers and all of the Western territory’s mail for a brief period from 1857 to 1861. The Fort’s remains are still visible, and partial walls stood through the late 1960’s. Nearby Massacre Peak was commemorated for the killing of over 20 stage riders by Apache warriors. Western lore is layered throughout the region, with the Rough and Ready Butterfield Stage stop just a few miles to the east. The National Monument includes a full 22 miles of the Historic Butterfield Trail. The entire route through the proposal is visible from the air and sections remain identifiable from ground level.
Geronimo, proper name Goyakla, was a known visitor to the Mesilla Valley. A cave in the Robledo Mountains bears his name, where stories say that Geronimo led a group escaping from pursuing cavalry. Upon seeing the Apache band enter the cave, the pursuers stopped and waited for the provision-less Apache to emerge. They never did, due to a legendary second entrance that hidden from the watchful pursuers but let the Apache ride west to the Black Range.
Billy the Kid also made his presence known in the Mesilla Valley through inscriptions on Outlaw Rock. In this part of the Robledo Mountains the Kid, real name William Bonney, hid with other notorious outlaws and stole cattle when the soldiers from Fort Selden were elsewhere. Billy the Kid is heavily commemorated in Las Cruces and Mesilla where he was once imprisoned. The connection from the Mountains to Main Street with Billy the Kid significantly increases the historical appeal of the area and adds prestige to the National Monument.
The Sierra de Las Uvas Complex is also renowned hunting area that receives heavy local usage. Much comes from Hispanic residents whose families have hunted in the mountains and canyons for many generations. Also, the strong native stands of sotol and different varieties of yucca make the Sierra de Las Uvas a prime gathering area for plants used in both traditional native ceremonies and in processions like the Easter Procession and Tortugas Feast Days that draw thousands of area residents.