New Mexico's proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is stunning

Near Las Cruces, New Mexico, a stretch of iconic land abounds with dramatic mountain peaks, colorful plants, sprightly antelope and majestic birds of prey. This area in Doña Ana County has long been prized for its rugged landscape, historical sites and pockets of solitude, spread across thousands of acres encompassing the Organ, Sierra de las Uvas, Dona Ana and Potrillo Mountain Complexes. It is considered a crown jewel of the southern Rockies.

The Wilderness Society applauds New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich for their introduction of a bill to permanently protect parts of this area as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The monument would contain about 240,000 acres of protected wilderness perfect for hiking, camping and hunting. The greater monument area, nearly 500,000 acres, will also allow existing uses like motorized vehicle recreation and livestock grazing. Monument status would solidify the region's standing as a travel destination and driver of jobs and economic development.

If these places gain permanent protection, it will represent the fruition of years of work by sportsmen, conservationists and businesses in Doña Ana County and elsewhere in the southwest--as well as a truly stunning addition to our National Monument system.

 

Credit: flickr, Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management California.

The Organ Mountains are so-named because the granite "needles" that form their uppermost peaks look a bit like a pipe organ. To others, they may more closely resemble the spines of a gigantic dinosaur poking up through the desert. A section of the range would make up the eastern boundary of the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

 

Credit: flickr, Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management California.

The Organ Mountains reach about 9,000 feet at their highest point, towering over the Mesilla Valley and Tularosa Basin. The range's many exotic angles and nooks bespeak volcanic upheaval tens of millions of years ago, and make the area a challenge for climbers and prize for photographers.

 

Credit: flickr, Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management California.

In addition to its striking topography, the range contains a great variety of plants and wildlife. In fact, five rare species of plants, including the Organ Mountains paintbrush and Organ Mountains giant hyssop, grow only in this area.

 

Credit: flickr, Alex Derr.

These mountains, within easy driving distance of the city of Las Cruces, are beloved by locals and tourists alike. It should come as no surprise that the overwhelming majority of county residents support an Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument to protect important historic sites, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. Here is a view from the Organ Mountains' Aguirre Springs trail.

 

Credit: flickr, Alex Derr.

Within the Organ Mountains complex, the Achenbach Canyon trail is celebrated by hikers, nature-watchers and runners looking for a challenge. While some of the area consists of gentle, sloping grassy hills, as pictured above, the trail is also dotted with bulbous rock formations.

 

Credit: flickr, Alex Derr.

Another view from the Achenbach Canyon trail.

 

Credit: flickr, Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management California.

The proposed Las Cruces monument areas contain many archaeological and cultural sites of interest. The Organ Mountains, Sierra de Las Uvas Mountains and Potrillo Mountains all contain traces of civilizations hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of years old. Other historical landmarks include 22 miles of the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, part of the boundary of the Gadsden Purchase and Outlaw Rock, Billy the Kid's hideout in the Robledo Mountains.

 

 Credit: flickr, Patrick Alexander.

At the northwest bounds of the proposed monument area lie the Sierra de Las Uvas Mountains. Though these peaks are modest in elevation, the complex is known for the remarkable biodiversity of its Chihuahuan desert grasslands. Vegetation ranges from flowering mountain mahogany, at the highest points, to rotund barrel cacti. Animals found in the area include quail, bald and golden eagles, pronghorn antelopes, bobcats and a variety of reptiles.

 

Credit: flickr, Patrick Alexander.

The Robledo Mountains are a small part of the Sierra de Las Uvas complex, but they boast an impressive diversity of landscape and geological structure, including limestone peaks and basalt columns, as seen above. The red-tinged, rolling mountains, born of sediment left in the wake of a receding ancient sea, have yielded fossils hundreds of millions of years old. The mid-elevation area offers exceptional views of Las Cruces and is very popular among off-road riders.

 

 Credit: flickr, Visit El Paso.

Designated a National Natural Landmark nearly 40 years ago, the Kilbourne Hole lies in the eastern end of the Potrillo Mountains complex, which makes up the southern chunk of the proposed monument area. The volcanic crater measures 1.7 miles long and over 300 feet deep, making it a must-see for photo-opportunity seekers. Additionally, the otherworldly spot was used as a training stand-in for the surface of the moon by the crews of four different Apollo missions, including the Apollo 11.

 

 Credit: flickr, TwoTone777.

The Doña Ana Mountains lie to the northwest of the Organ Mountains inside yet another beautiful stretch of the proposed monument area. Ranging from 4,000 to 5,800 feet in elevation, the cluster of mountains and surrounding patch of the Rio Grande floodplain are home to pronghorn antelope, mule deer, mountain lions, bobcats, badgers and golden eagles. Additionally, the range is considered something of a hidden gem by rock climbers. An expansive network of biking trails winds through the area as well.