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The Land of Enchantment: New Mexico's Protected Wilderness

By Paul Rowe

It's easy to see why New Mexico has been called "The Land of Enchantment."

"The land itself is special. It's very much a part of our quality of life," says Mark Allison, Executive Director for the The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance - an organization that advocates for the state's wilderness areas. In fact, Allison cites "opportunities for outdoor recreation, scenic beauty, and easy access to public lands" as important reasons why many choose to relocate to New Mexico.

New Mexico has long been at the forefront of conservation, playing a crucial role in the land conservation and wilderness protection movement in America.

"The world's first area protected as wilderness is New Mexico's Gila, as a result of the advocacy of Aldo Leopold," says Allison. "New Mexico Senator Clinton P. Anderson was a sponsor and floor manager for the 1964 Wilderness Act." And famous New Mexicans, like author Ed Abbey and environmentalist Dave Foreman, have acted as national advocates for the need to protect wild places.

In fact, it was volunteer citizen activists concerned by threats from oil and gas development, logging, and road and off-road vehicle use who united to form The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in 1997. Since then, this organization has thrived as a watchful protector of New Mexico's captivating wilderness.

From its snow-capped alpine peaks to the flat expanse of the Chihuahuan desert, New Mexico touts richly diverse landscapes. "New Mexico's wilderness is rich and vibrant, the beauty sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic, always with the ability to surprise," says a passionate Allison. "It complements the generosity of its people and rewards those willing to be open and patient. Its vastness of sky and desert are humbling."

The history is as rich as the landscape here. The Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument provides wonderful adventure in southern New Mexico, with historic sites that include the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, Billy the Kid's Outlaw Rock, Geronimo's Cave, World War II aerial targets, as well as thousands of Native American petroglyphs and pictographs. In 2014, The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance helped win community support to protect this 496,000-acre national monument. To the North, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, also protected by the alliance, offers a perfect spot for river rafting, camping, hiking, mountain-biking, and fishing.

The Gila National Forest, the first protected wilderness area, is still one of the best. The people of New Mexico backpack here when they seek a place of solitude. "It is best to take a few days to backpack in to really appreciate the wildness that still exists in this protected landscape. You can always join us on one of our trips," says Allison.

The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance offers volunteer service projects in the Gila National Forest and an annual backpacking trip to learn about the endangered Mexican wolf that still roams wild in the Gila.

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About The Author

Paul Rowe is a graduate instructor of writing and master's student of Literature at...

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