February 2014

A Visit to the Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks


A Proposed National Monument



Marian Naranjo


In October, 2013 I was privileged to join a delegation of norteños to spend time in the Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks in the southern part of our state. I traveled from my home at Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico to visit the Organ, Sierra de las Uvas, Robledo and Potrillo mountains, a traditional ecological landscape in Doña Ana County. I had never been to that region before, but I knew from stories passed down that the Native people who used to make a home there in those wilderness areas carried a wealth of traditions and knowledge about how to live in balance with plant, animal, human and spirit relations.


I was asked to join the group because I had been involved in the vibrant coalition that helped move the New Mexican congressional delegation and then President Obama to establish the Río Grande del Norte, 242,000 acres of magnificent wilderness in the north, as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. It took years and many, many people. It took diverse organizations, businesses, individuals and community leaders who came together to protect our land and water.


Before I went on this trip I had a conversation with a spiritual leader from Santa Clara Pueblo who is knowledgeable in the history and culture of the ancestors. One of the interesting topics that came up was about the trade routes, and I learned about our first trade foods: raw cocoa, chile and melons. They came from further south than the Organ Mountains. Those foods took two routes; one went north along the Río Grande and the other went west where many pueblos exist, including Acoma and Zuni, and ultimately towards what is now known as the Navajo Nation and even Hopi.


As I connected with the Native and Hispanic people who guided us around the designated National Monument area, I saw firsthand that the stories passed down were evident in the petroglyphs and the actual wild food that still grows there. The source and sustenance of all earthly life was all around us. That was an amazing moment! To marry the oral histories with the observations we were making in the landscape was proof of this cultural richness.


We discovered an ancestral “kitchen” near Providence Cone. In one spot there were hand-hewn grinding bowls in the rocks for making pastes and meals. Women long ago ground locally harvested food that provided nutrients for their tribal community. We sat back-to-back, reenacting the process of women in service from a time past. We imagined the women’s contributions and relished this memory. We put our hands in the smooth surfaces of these beautifully carved bowls. We were astonished by how functional they were. One could tell that these bowls had been used over and over as an everyday way of life. They were part of the “kitchen” area, and it was obvious that this was a communal kitchen for women.


We were enamored by the bounty and beauty. All around this kitchen were plants and herbs growing in abundance. The lemoncillo we picked added to the aroma and flavor of our water. We found wild onion, which was pungent and spicy to the taste. We also gathered wild beans, which we learned were a protein staple that complemented the game that was hunted by the men. The petroglyphs we saw, which mirrored similar designs of current day Zuni, Hopi and the northern Pueblos, were truly a remarkable sign of cultural linkage.


There was a spot I located near the kitchen that we believe was the tool-making area. Flint pieces appear to have been created there, and we saw an example of the final product: an arrowhead. This was an exciting find. We were seeing traces of an established communal society. We were amazed by the sophistication and vitality of their place-based existence.


The rock carving that particularly caught my attention was that of the Avanyu, which my people know as the water serpent. This important symbol lives on today at Santa Clara Pueblo. There was actually so much that I related to, such as the broken pottery shards. We saw pottery that dated from indigenous ancestry, as well as a later period of colonization by the Spanish. This area is our living history and must be preserved. Being with the air, land and water in this area, it was easy to hear the calling of our ancestors and to remember that we are not separate from the sacredness of the natural world in which we live. I brought corn meal in a pouch because I knew I might come across a sacred place. It turned out that the whole area was a sacred place, and we were all moved by the spiritual and intellectual strength of the land. I was compelled to honor the ancestors and made a spiritual offering. It felt so good to call the ancestors in and thank them for sharing their life. It was a stunning day!


We spotted lizards, nearly stepped on a tarantula, and were visited by a flock of raptors overhead, Swainson’s hawks. At another point, we stood mouths agape as swallows darted in and out of holes in the cliff habitat overhead. One of the youngsters we were with picked up and then released fluorescent green bugs the size of a thumbnail. We didn’t see golden eagles, quail or owls, but had we stayed longer and hiked deeper into the mountains, maybe other wildlife would have graced us with their presence. We walked amongst the grasslands, desert shrubs, ocotillo, yucca and barrel cactus. The Organ Mountains may be one of the most botanically diverse mountain ranges in New Mexico.


Protection of this ecosystem—for our own well-being and for the benefit and survival of all living creatures with whom we share this land—will sustain us physically and spiritually. This biologically rich habitat is quite vulnerable, however. These areas are threatened by unregulated large-scale housing developments, off-road vehicle abuse, rapacious energy- and energy-infrastructure degradation and mining for rare earth minerals. We created a major step when a long-term preservation plan designating a National Monument for the Río Grande was enacted. Together, again, we can protect the woodlands, mountains, arroyo riparian areas, stone outcroppings, and all the flora and fauna that inhabit the Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks —if you will join me and our strong coalition.


In December, 2013 Senators Udall and Heinrich introduced S.1805, a bill to designate the Organ Mountains and other adjacent public land as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the state of New Mexico, and to establish the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. We must congratulate them for their recognition of the need to preserve these historic ancestral lands and cultural heritage sites and for their conservation leadership. I pray that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and President Obama will honor our request to permanently protect the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks and create a National Monument for generations to inherit and enjoy.




Marian Naranjo is director of Honor Our Pueblo Existence (HOPE), based at Santa Clara Pueblo, NM. She is a grandmother and a traditional potter. She has been involved in environmental and health issues for 20 years. HOPE also works on cultural preservation and reclamation projects. mariann2@windstream.net





Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument Legislation

New Digital Photo Book Released


Last month New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced legislation to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a national monument in response to longstanding and widespread local desire to see the area preserved for future generations. The area is well known for its steep mountain cliffs, thousands of archeological sites and diversity of wildlife, including peregrine falcons, pronghorn antelope and mountain lions. The bill would protect public lands near Las Cruces that many consider the crown jewel of the Southern Rockies. The new monument would be managed by the Bureau of Land Management and would include eight new wilderness areas. The legislation has provisions to help ensure border security, support flood prevention and continue to allow hunting and grazing in approved areas. A recent economic study found that national monument designation would give an annual $7.4 million boost to the economy and double the number of jobs supported by outdoor recreation and tourism on public lands.
Some cattle ranchers and a coalition of border sheriffs oppose the legislation. The ranchers have a deep-seated distrust of the federal government and think the national monument would lead to restrictions on how they run their ranches. The sheriffs think it would increase illegal immigration and drug trafficking from Mexico.
New Energy Economy has released a digital photo book featuring the landscape of the proposed monument and some its diverse supporters. It may be viewed online at: http://youtu.be/qFF9oJAs1UU


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