Living in the same community for your entire life, it is easy to take it for granted. Part of your daily activities does not usually involve thinking about the uniqueness of the desert environment. As a native New Mexican, I fell into this mindset quite often until I became a member of the Green Team, an environmental education program for youth that is managed by Groundwork Doña Ana County.
In my three years as a Green Team member, I have helped build hiking trails, volunteered for the National Parks Service, planted trees, and surveyed for historic and prehistoric artifacts throughout Doña Ana County. From these experiences, I have come to believe the creation of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument will stimulate people both within and outside the community to re-evaluate the negative connotations they may have of the deserts and New Mexico as a whole.
The desert can be a harsh environment, and the need to protect it is often not evident. When I visit areas of the proposed national monument and discovered artifacts from ancient communities, I realize the cultural significance of this area. I realize how amazingly resourceful these ancient people were. The desert also contains remnants of more recent history such as bombing targets from World War II, which provide a wider range of historical significance to the area. By protecting these areas for future generations, humans will have a link to the past that they can personally experience and accept as their own no matter what their ethnicity is.
The proposed Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument allows you
escape from the stresses of everyday life. I have climbed to the top of some of the peaks in the area, and the views are amazing. When I look out at such a scene, I realize how large the world is and know that while I am only one person, I have the capacity to experience it to the extent I choose. It is easy to get stuck in our own little box of thinking, but these unique locations allow us to see the beauty of our surroundings and to establish a wider view of life as a whole.
Overall, the title of a “national monument” is significant in itself. Before my involvement with Groundwork, I did not know about the historical significance the land around me had. Growing up, I was somewhat embarrassed to come from New Mexico when all the “important” states like California and New York barely knew it existed. Now, I am proud to be a New Mexican because of the beautiful landscape and heritage the state has. And I believe the national monument will attract tourists to experience the living culture of New Mexico as well. I plan to have a career as a wildlife biologist and having the opportunity to work within the monument would be rewarding because I would see others discovering years later the environment I fell in love with.
I would like to close by emphasizing these public lands belong to all of us. Although we cannot survive without the life that nature provides, we have the power to destroy it. It is also within our power to protect nature, and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will protect everything from the time-worn resources of the land to the human emotions born within its boundaries.
Jennifer Romero is a member of the Oñate High School Class of 2013 and Groundwork Doña Ana Green Team.