"Buy land, they're not making it anymore"
When I meet someone who is relatively new to Las Cruces, invariably their reasons for coming here include the phrase “… and when I saw those Organ Mountains…” This is a point of pride for everyone in our community. Granite spires that dominate the eastern skyline and give us a few extra moments of sleep before sunrise every morning and offer new colors of purple and blue as the sun sets in the evening. The valley below sinks into the lower Rio Grande valley, where it sharply rises into the desert mesas and hills to the west. My house is in the city, but my home is in the Desert Peaks that surround me.
Las Cruces has been teetering on the edge of being the New Mexico’s second largest city for a few years now. As cities such as Rio Rancho and Santa Fe have continued to grow from technology and service industry jobs, Hobbs and Roswell have found renewed growth in the liquid mineral extraction industries thanks to hydraulic fracturing. While our agricultural roots are still strong, Las Cruces has been shifting to a community that attracts retirees who appreciate our generally warm climate and fairly low cost of living. These folks have helped keep the service industries going and coupled with New Mexico State University and the nearby White Sands Missile Range and NASA facilities, helped to drive land and home sales as well.
So where do we look to continue our growth as a city and as a community? As we strive to answer this question, it seems clear that the answer is all around us. The wide open desert landscapes that surround Las Cruces have been harboring a veritable hoard of cultural resources that wait silently for more people to discover them. Just to name a few:
- Thousands of petroglyphs and other First Nation sites
- Nearly 30 miles of the first southern route overland trail, the Butterfield Stagecoach trail
- Sites associated with some of the Wild West’s best known figures like Billy the Kid and Geronimo
- The original boundary markers that demarcated the boundary of Mexico and the US after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo
- Aerial bombing targets that were used to train bombardiers for combat missions in World War II
- Kilbourne Hole, a National Natural Landmark, used by NASA to train Apollo astronauts
- Caves and springs, in-which have been found thousands of fossils dating back to prehistory and even included never-before-seen fossils of a four horned antelope.
This small list highlights just some of the “stuff” that can be experienced when you leave behind the paved roads and venture into the desert. What’s truly amazing is that these special places are all on public land, areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management and held in trust for We, the People. The proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument will encompass four distinct areas here in southern New Mexico and will ensure that our children can go out and experience these same wonderful discoveries well into the future.
Deer image with human figures, Apache Hills area of the southern Uvas valley
By including these lands in the National Conservation Lands, areas meant to remain open to public recreation but protected from private sales and leasing, we have the opportunity to see significant growth in our tourism and service industries. A new economic study by BBC Research & Consulting reveals that designating the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument on public lands in Doña Ana County will have a “significant positive effect” on the local economy. The study, commissioned by the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce and released earlier this week, estimates that protecting the national monument will generate $7.4 million in new economic activity annually. The study also estimates an additional $562,000 per year generated in combined state and local government tax revenue from designation of the national monument.
Just west of Las Cruces is the old territorial capital of Mesilla, an area already well visited by tourists from around the world. In my own life I commonly take friends and family for hikes in our cool desert mornings and then head to Mesilla for lunch and good walk around the plaza. And while Mesilla will always be there, the wide open landscapes and rocky mountain peaks nearby may not be; as Mr. Twain said, “…they’re not making it anymore.”
The future of Las Cruces is tied to our past. Permanently protected public lands will not only ensure that the lasting memories of those before us are carried into future generations, but will improve our quality of life today through economic benefits of monumental proportion.
- By Lucas Herndon. Lucas grew up in Las Cruces. He enjoys exploring the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks with his wife and young daughter, and is the Executive Director of the Friends of the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks.