Which President added more land to the National Park Service than Theodore Roosevelt? The answer will probably surprise you as it did me. Under the Antiquities Act, Barak Obama has created or expanded 19 National Monuments, bringing the total acres he has protected to 260 million.
New to the National Park Service (NPS) are Basin and Range in Nevada about 2 hours north of Las Vegas, Berryessa Snow Mountain in California about 100 miles north of the Bay Area, and Waco Mammoth, a 5-acre paleontological site in Central Texas. They were added to the system in July, 2015. Previous to that Obama designated 5 new national monuments–Rio Grande del Norte, Harriet Tubman, Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers, Delaware Historic Sites, and, my favorite, Washington State’s San Juan Islands. During the last week of 2015, Ruth & I visited a 9th, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, which joined NPS on May 24, 2014. It was fantastic.
In 4 sections surrounding the town of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and comprising almost 500,000 acres, the Desert Peaks area includes the Doña Ana, Robledo, and Sierra de las Uvas Mountains–landscapes full of buttes, canyons, mesas, etc. The Doña Anas are in a small, separate section. For a long time the Desert Peaks area of this monument will remain largely undeveloped.
Southwest of Las Cruces, the Potrillo Mountains, a 3rd section, is a land of volcanic craters and cinder cones that will also be pretty much in its natural state for generations. Its Kilbourne Hole Volcanic Crater National Natural Landmark is an exception. All of these areas will stay harsh desert environments for young, experienced hikers carrying plenty of water.
There’s yet another National Monument in this area, Prehistoric Trackways. When the land that is now covered by Las Cruces was near the equator 280 million years ago, this was a tropical environment near an inland sea and home to a variety of critters, but not dinosaurs. They came much later. Prehistoric Trackways’ 5,000+ acres was designated a National Monument in 2009. In the Robledo Mountains, it contains lots of unusual footprints, including species unknown until evidence of them was discovered here. Reportedly, this land is still only seen by scientists, hikers, and folks on horses.
The 4th section, the Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces, will probably become the most developed. In fact, it already has a visitor center and some established trails. This is the part that Ruth and I visited, and I’ll tell you about it, including its most famous resident Agostini Justiniani, tomorrow.