By Mark Starr
Program Director, Vet Voice Foundation
They do a lot of things well in New Mexico. It is truly a Land of Enchantment.
However, one area to address is the protection of significant historical sites and artifacts within the state’s borders.
This is a shame, considering the wealth of history that can be found in all corners of the state — but especially within the borders of the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico.
In this region, citizens are fortunate to have a place that is the cultural and historic crossroads not only of New Mexico, but also of the entire Southwest. It is here that the ancient Camino Rael from Mexico City crosses more modern routes such as the Butterfield Stage Trail, which was established in the late 1850s to provide a route for mail to travel from the eastern United States all the way to California.
Several key stops along the trail were located in the footprint of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument proposal. It’s sad to note that other states, such as Texas and Arizona, have done a better job of highlighting the importance of the Butterfield Stage route for their visitors and residents.
As an armed forces veteran who served his country with pride and dignity, there are the other places in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks that are close to my heart and equally worthy of permanent protection.
Did you know the region was a key site for World War II bomber training? It’s true. In the deserts around Las Cruces there are 24 large bulls-eyes that made up the Deming bombing targets. These targets were vital training tools for Army Air Corps pilots during World War II, giving the pilots the opportunity to test secret navigational equipment. The mastery of this equipment ultimately was instrumental in defeating the Nazis.
Considering the profound historical significance of these places, shouldn’t we do everything we can to ensure their protection so that future generations of Americans can learn of the important deeds that took place here?
This past December, I was honored to lead a tour for more than a dozen veterans to the Butterfield Stage Trail and the Deming bombing targets. Thanks to help from local historians and resource experts, we provided a unique opportunity to learn more about the region’s storied past and our shared heritage as veterans and American citizens. After being a part of this tour, I am convinced more than ever that these historical sites deserve to be protected.
The timing of the tour couldn’t have been more perfect, coming one day after Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced a bill, S. 1805, calling for the permanent protection of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument.
The veterans on our tour and all residents of the Las Cruces area know that a national monument designation will also be helpful for the local economy. One of the veterans on the tour, Bernie Digman, an Army veteran and local business owner, summed these feelings up nicely.
“When an area is declared a national monument it immediately becomes a sought after destination for travelers,” Digman, who owns a coffee shop, explained. “Last year, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument was designated in northern New Mexico. Visitation to the area increased 40 percent over the prior year and business has picked up. The same effect will play out here in southern New Mexico and I am very excited about these prospects as a business owner.”
Thanks to the work of Senators Udall and Heinrich, the Butterfield Stage Trail, the Camino Rael and the Deming bombing targets would be just some of the sites protected. Also protected would be thousands of archaeological sites ranging from the time of Spanish occupation all the way back to the Archaic Period — literally thousands of years ago. In total, the proposed monument would protect nearly 500,000 acres of wild lands ranging from desert grasslands to jagged peaks, a far-reaching area containing many sites of equal historical importance to the places we visited on last month’s tour.
I join Senators Udall and Heinrich in imploring the President to do everything in his power to preserve Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks for future generations to learn from and, ultimately, enjoy.