Sandoval Signpost


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Obama designates Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Nat’l Monument

—Signpost Staff

On May 21, President Obama signed a proclamation to establish the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south-central New Mexico. Using his authorities under the Antiquities Act, the President’s action will permanently preserve approximately 496,000 acres.

Independent research indicates that the monument could generate $7.4 million dollars in revenue through tourism and recreation. It is supported by the entire New Mexico congressional delegation, except for Representative Steve Pearce who said, “It’s not going to be good for the county and will depress the economy over the long term and make it harder for the rural New Mexico way of life to continue.” Ranchers opposed the monument dubbed “Obama’s land grab.” Other critics question whether it will interfere with law enforcement along the border with Mexico.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “The Organ Mountains and surrounding Desert Peaks are steeped in culture, history, wildlife, and opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors—from hunting to hiking to gazing at ancient petroglyphs and fossils—and the President’s action ensures that these cherished landscapes are celebrated and passed on to the generations of New Mexicans and Americans to come.”

The area is home to a high diversity of animal life, including deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, peregrine falcons and other raptors, as well as rare plants, some found nowhere else in the world, such as the Organ Mountains pincushion cactus. Hundreds of archeologically- and culturally-significant sites are found within the new monument, including some limited Paleo-Indian artifacts, extensive rock art sites and the ruins of a ten-room pueblo, among other ancient dwellings. More recent history is memorialized with Geronimo’s Cave, Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, and sites related to early Spanish explorers. The Organ and Doña Ana Mountains are popular recreation areas, with multiple hiking trails, a popular campground, and opportunities for hunting, mountain biking, rock climbing, and other recreation.

First exercised by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the authority of the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents since 1906 to protect unique natural and historic features in America, such as the Grand Canyon and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument created in Northern New Mexico last year.

The monument will continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the system of National Conservation Lands. The BLM currently manages the federal land within the national monument for multiple uses, including conservation of natural and archeological resources and outdoor recreation, such as hiking, biking, camping, and hunting.

Scrambling up the North Six Shooter in Indian Creek
Photo credit: —Kieran Sullivan


—Evan Belknap

Back from South America for the last year, I’ve been living it up in our beautiful deserts here in the Southwest. Last week, I went to Utah—again. With my slowly dying car, my friend Will and I drove through Cuba, Farmington, Shiprock, Cortez, Monticello, and halfway to Moab, and then, like I’ve done many times before, I turned off on my favorite road, dropping down into sandstone canyons above Canyonlands. We climbers call this place Indian Creek—it is the best pure crack climbing in the world.

At sunset, the Wingate cliffs glowed deep red and the earth radiated purple. The last puffy clouds of a passing storm floated on by. Our campsite was quiet, the ground still wet, and a cool breeze blew yesterday’s snowstorm to the east. Many sites were empty. Most people had fled, but it seems that my friends are always here, even when I don’t expect them. It’s like coming home to family.

Hannah is here in her beloved and broke-down 90s Toyota truck, the back topper rigged with a bed, a bookshelf, and a large arts-and-crafts bin for rest days. Her ceiling covered with taped-up pictures of barnacles, snow-capped mountains, and her in her childhood backyard in Tennessee, standing in a one-piece bathing suit next to a chicken. Justin is tinkering in his pristine RV—his Mountain Dew obsession backed up with cases of Dew—making gourmet pizza from scratch when we arrive.

These two have been coming here for many months at a time, in both the fall and spring, for a couple years now. I went to college with Hannah. We studied marine biology in Mexico, learned how to telemark ski in Idaho, took roadtrips to Baja, and after college, lived together in Portland, Oregon with a few other friends. We are the kind of friends that see each other a couple times a year and know that nothing will ever change. Now, she works in Alta for winters, and climbs full-time otherwise.

I met Justin through Hannah. At 25, Justin got his masters in mechanical engineering. He was immediately making eighty grand a year in an office job. He got married and bought a house. That worked for a couple years. He didn’t not want that life, but he didn’t want it yet. Weekend climbing wasn’t enough, and all that other time, fighting to work for things he didn’t want just didn’t feel right. He bought a small RV, got a divorce, sold his house, quit his job, and hit the road. He works seasonally at Alta as well. His 35th birthday is coming up. He crushes and seems incredibly happy—inexplicably energetic.

Others in their make-shift palaces dotted the campground. Will and I set up our tents, made dinner, and built a fire with wood we gathered on the way. We each cracked open a Modus Hoperandi from Ska Brewery, and old and new friends trickled on over to join us.

I’ve spent many months here over the last seven years. In college, I came here for spring break and long weekends. After college, I’d spend up to three weeks at a time. In the last year, though, unfortunately, my trips here have been limited to a few days. I belong here, and it only takes a few minutes to fall back into the lifestyle.

At night, depending on where the fire is, strangers appear out of the darkness and tell stories. Everyone’s hands are swollen, scarred, and scabbed from the day’s climbing. We laugh a lot. All these weird people here, so well-traveled and well-educated, and living such seemingly pointless lives. People from everywhere are here to live in the dirt and masochistically thrutch themselves up parallel-sided cracks, day after day.

There by the fire, I can’t help but think, as I meet more and more climbers from all over the world, of all ages, that we share some sort of unspoken religion. I read a book once, and there was a quote I hung onto. It read, “The pursuit of God, of meaning, it was really about a lust for life while faced with the obvious poverty of the world’s paltry offerings.” The paltry offerings are what is left after the disillusionment of growing up wears off; our idealistic dreams are crushed, and we emerge often poor and working too hard to sustain lifestyle that is unsatisfying. (I am not riding a rocket like a bull around the moon, and that is rather disappointing to my nine-year-old self). Our existential crises sprout and start to grow. We ask, what is missing in my life? And then, I imagine, over time, if one does nothing to answer that question, it becomes rhetorical instead of literal, and then one slips into a gentle submission, a pacified unhappiness—much like dying of hypothermia, I guess.

These people out here in the desert, who have sacrificed all sorts of wealth and social stati and relationships to be essentially bums, are onto something good; they found that it was more important to keep play in their lives than to get rich. I’ve climbed with all sorts—doctors, engineers, lawyers, carpenters, teachers. And while some get more time off than others, and some live in fancier vans, I think that this game we all play out here goes on to inform how we tackle the obstacles in our lives. These people I meet have so little fear, and it’s inspiring to see.

Will and I wake up and grumble out of our tents, quietly make coffee in the morning glare. Dew laces the sage brush. Birds and lizards and rabbits stir the stillness. We stretch and wave to nearby friends. We pack our bags with lots and lots of cams and are soon bumping along a bad dirt road, many of us packed into a small truck towards one of the cliffs. The short but steep approach trail gets us all winded but is over before we really start to sweat. And then, like treasure hunters, we walk the base of the wall, each looking for a climb that is a personal gem—one that jumps out and sparkles and says, climb me! And this is all we have to do for the day. Find inspiration, try as hard as we can, be mostly humbled and destroyed, but also, every once and a while, be truly triumphant for no real important reason at all.

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