Tours take a peek at national monument: Supporters gather for a day full of outdoor explorations

By Todd G. Dickson, Las Cruces Bulletin
September 21, 2012

David Chavez recently put in track lighting at his home and had a bare wall in need of something distinctly New Mexican.

The director of the Las Esperanzas neighborhood association found it Saturday, Sept. 15, on the rock walls of the Valles Canyon in the mountains above Corralitos Ranch west of Las Cruces. They were in the photos he took of centuries-old petrogylphs of strange animals, hands and spiral designs.

“I’m going to frame these and put them on my wall,” he said. “It doesn’t get any more New Mexican than this.”

Chavez was one of a group that hiked more than two miles to get to the canyon as part of day of hikes and tours in the area organized by supporters of an effort to have the area declared a national monument, along with other areas in Doña Ana County. Other tours went to scenic overlooks and to historic structures that can still be found along the remnants of the Butterfield Stage Trail.

The day of hiking and site-seeing was meant to show how people could enjoy the historic and cultural sites being cited as reasons for adding greater protections on the federal land, according to Nathan Small of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument proposal calls for the status to be granted to 600,000 acres around Doña Ana County, which includes more than 22 miles of the Butterfield Trail, many archeological sites, Kilbourne Hole – a volcanic crater used by NASA for manned moon training, historic ranches, sites of conflicts with American Indians by early settlers, aerial World War II markers, a cave allegedly used by Geronimo, a hideout allegedly used by Billy the Kid, called Outlaw Rock, and the site of a Civil War surrender.

Along the trail during Saturday’s tours were roaming cattle, which reflects the opposition to the national monument effort that was an outgrowth of the effort to get much of the same area declared wilderness by Congress.

Ranchers, off-roaders and conservatives have opposed the efforts, saying the added federal protections would making traditional uses – such as ranching, hunting and off-roading – more difficult. They also raise national security concerns for the area of the Portillo Mountains near the U.S.-Mexico border, saying protections would make it difficult for law enforcement and Border Patrol to control illegal crossings.

The opponents support Republican Congressman Steve Pearce’s bill to grant national monument status to only the Organ Mountains.

Before the start of Saturday’s tours, Wayne Suggs showed a book a natural scenery he used to promote the home built by his company, Classic New Mexico Homes. Pointing to the canyon below, he said the location would be ideal for building homes should it be released by the Bureau of Land Management for development.

“But, as a lifelong resident, I’m saying why would you?” he said. “It’s about protecting our culture and our heritage.”