Located in southern New Mexico, close to the border with Texas, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument protects almost 500,000 acres (200,000 ha) of rare biodiversity and cultural treasures: ancient petroglyphs, Camino Real, Apache warriors, Civil War and Buffalo Soldiers, outlaws, settlers, farmers, WWII vestiges and Apollo missions all have blended at this crossroads region of human history. It was designated as a national monument in 2014 with support from local businesses, associations, NGOs and authorities from Las Cruces and partially from the Doña Ana County (see Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce). Though there was some vocal opposition from ranchers and other groups, and supporters feared that because of its surface split into four different areas the monument would be reduced in size during the review in 2017, no major changes were proposed so far. The main gateway community is the City of Las Cruces, bordered to the east by the stunning Organ Mountains. Las Cruces is a pretty great place to stay when exploring the monument, with lots of lovely New Mexico “casitas” available to rent on Airbnb and other guesthouse and B&B options. While the Organ Mountains are a more developed section, with a visitor center and a great paid campsite at the Dripping Springs Natural Area (watch for scorpions at night), the Desert Peaks and Potrillo Mountains sections are more remote and wilder. Nestled in the Desert Peaks are ancient petroglyphs and an awesome variety of lizards and crickets, while the Potrillo volcanic field is the place where you see the Kilbourne Hole National Landmark, a maar volcanic crater where Apollo mission pilots trained for moon landing and WWII pilots trained for target bombing. The vastness of the national monuments and the network of dirt roads crisscrossing it are best explored in a 4WD or AWD vehicle, though this isn’t mandatory for the more developed Organ Mountains. Don’t forget to have a good navigation app (BLM online map is pretty basic while the proposal one includes more details). Trails in the Desert Peaks section are a bit harder to find and unmarked, with a higher density of points of interest in the Robledo and Sierra de las Uvas mountains where we still didn’t succeed in finding the petroglyphs on our own. To get the best out of your trip in the Desert Peaks, it is best to opt for a guided trip. Southwest Expeditions is the only outdoor outfitter in Las Cruces, and we were happy to meet and interview its owner, David Crider, a dedicated supporter of the national monument with an impressive knowledge of the area. If you decide to visit Las Cruces and the national monument in September, you will witness the newly created Monuments to Main Street series of festivals and events celebrating community and the natural and cultural heritage of the city and the Doña Ana County. Aside from the nearby Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, Las Cruces is just an hour drive away from another New Mexico landmark: the popular White Sands National Monument. And if you want to get involved or support in any way the conservation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, you can get in touch with the Friends of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks who also organize frequent trips in the monument, as well as with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance who have created a comprehensive online resource for the national monument.
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