Before the Spanish started north on the Camino Real trail, the Organ, Robledo, Uvas, and Potrillo Mountains overlooked centuries of civilization in what would become the Mesilla Valley. Generations of Native Americans from the Jornada Culture and streams of Spanish settlers were watched over by the dramatic granite pinnacles of the Organ Mountains. Their fresh springs offered precious water, and their rugged yet productive land sheltered game of all types. These tall, jagged, and wild mountains, known also as Sierra de Los Organos, are today the backdrop to the community of Las Cruces, New Mexico, home to more than 100,000 people and part of New Mexico’s fastest growing region. It is a hub for new businesses and a magnet for retirees, participating in the so called “amenity migration” towards greater quality of life.
Northwest of Las Cruces lie the rugged canyons, arroyos, and distinct Chihuahuan desert grasslands of the Sierra de las Uvas Mountains and the striking views that one finds standing above Broad Canyon. In the Robledo Mountains pre-dinosaur footprints and a petrified forest lie buried in the strata, and twisting canyons in the Broad Canyon Country shelter petroglyphs from three separate Native American cultures. Across the grasslands, stage and wagon tracks trace the Butterfield Stage route and speak to the strong, diverse cultural influences in this enchanting land. To the south one discovers lava flows, unique cinder cone mountains, and a rugged landscape offering hundreds of thousands of acres of remote hunting and other primitive recreation opportunities. Rocks that were once a practice ground for the Apollo astronauts still shelter Gambels and Scaled quail, mountain lion, foxes, desert mule deer and javelina.
Despite this abundance of wildlands, wildlife, and natural beauty, these lands are under constant threat from a wide range of modern-day activities. From urban sprawl to potential mining for rare earth minerals; from proposals for energy development to an explosion of off-road vehicles, these lands are under siege and need the protections that only a National Monument can provide. To create the level of support necessary to achieve this goal, a coalition of business, religious, conservation, and sportsmen’s groups was established in 2005 to work once again to achieve the protection for these areas that many have sought for more than forty years.
These lands are currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Within the monument are ten wilderness areas that were established when S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 was signed into law in March 2019. At 179,846 acres, a complex of six wilderness areas centered on the Potrillo Mountains southwest of Las Cruces now represents the fourth-largest Wilderness complex in New Mexico, after the Gila (559,311 acres), the Aldo Leopold (203,548 acres) and the Pecos Wilderness areas (221,806 acres).
The boundary of the monument is, in accordance with the Antiquities Act, confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of objects to be protected. In all, the national monument encompasses close to 500,000 acres of land in three units. The lands are a diverse mix of Chihuahuan desert grasslands, sky island peaks, seasonal streams, rare native cacti, dramatic canyons, and historical remains. Some of the lands in the national monument extend south from Las Cruces and are divided by a major highway named after former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici. The other portions of the proposal are found northeast and northwest of Las Cruces.
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument lies within New Mexico’s second congressional district. The 2nd seat is currently occupied by congressional Representative Steve Pearce, a Republican from Hobbs, New Mexico. Representative Pearce has shown a tendency to fight conservation efforts on multiple levels and is opposed to Wilderness designation for these lands. Ironically, this district is the same that was once home to Aldo Leopold, the man credited with advocating and successfully lobbying for America’s first Wilderness area—the Gila—during his years working in the Gila National Forest. Despite Congressman Pearce’s views to the contrary, South central New Mexico and Doña Ana County show strong levels of support for landscape scale conservation. Community wishes and work have been fulfilled with national monument designation for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.
Exploring the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
From Devon Fletcher and David Soules comes Exploring the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument – a comprehensive guide to the hiking trails located within the monument. Purchase a copy today for the outdoor enthusiast in your life!