Almost six hours drive north from Las Cruces, close to the charming town of Taos, there is another New Mexico national monument that made the infamous review list in 2017: Rio Grande del Norte. Unlike Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, here there was virtually no local opposition to its creation in 2013. The over 242,000 acres (98,000 ha) of the monument include previously declared Wild and Scenic River designations for a section of the Rio Grande and Red River, and the popular Rio Grande Gorge Rest Area with its famous bridge. There are three well developed visitor centers as well as several campgrounds. The BLM office that manages the monument is actively involved and organizes frequent guided hikes and events (stay tuned for the 2019 calendar). This is a more detailed map of the national monument than the BLM one. The average elevation in Rio Grande del Norte is 7,000 ft (over 2,000 m), so the temperatures will dip at night and it won’t be as scorching. Even so, hikes down into the gorge along the river should start early and finish by the time the sun is above in the afternoon or later in the evening because it still gets hot and dry in the middle of the day (bring plenty of water). In the expanded area north of the Rio Grande Gorge the landmark visible from all directions is the highest point in the national monument: the extinct volcano known as the Ute Mountain, rising over 10,000 ft (3,000 m). The Rio Grande del Norte monument is an important wildlife migration corridor and wintering area, needed in order to better protect the Taos Plateau Prairie Ecosystem sitting on top of a large volcanic field, home to important species of raptors, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mule deer, badgers, box turtles and tarantulas. The human habitation and cultural artifacts it protects go back millennia and encompass the Pueblo native and hispanic heritage of the region. Rio Grande, New Mexico’s largest river, is one of the most dammed, irrigated and developed rivers in the United States. Its fresh water is a scarce resource in an arid state, and many species and human populations depend on its existence. Amid the special fauna present in the Rio Grande Gorge is a subspecies of endemic butterfly known as the Anasazi Skipper, discovered in the 80s by Steve J. Cary, New Mexico’s lead butterfly expert. If you’re looking to stay in Taos as a base camp for exploring the monument, you’ll be in for a treat because this town is a jewel of traditional architecture, cool bars, restaurants, cafés and accommodation options. Just outside the town you’ll find the Taos Pueblo UNESCO World Heritage Site, an ancient 13th century settlement of the Taos-speaking Native American Pueblo tribe (official website with visitation details here). Another attraction to check out is the Taos Mesa Brewing company, with its original location just outside the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, close to the Gorge Bridge. They often host events, live music shows and festivals which attract a colorful, cool community of people living in the nearby town and settlements. Their founders are big supporters of the national monument and they even crafted a special beer to thank President Obama for the designation of Rio Grande del Norte. If you’re looking to get involved in any way on the conservation side and keep track of the latest news regarding this national monument that escaped almost unscathed from the 2017 presidential review, you can visit the page of the Rio Grande del Norte Coalition supported by the Conservation Lands Foundation.
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