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Time Travel in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks

By Sandra Noll and Erv Nichols

Have you ever imagined climbing into a machine, spinning some dials and transporting yourself into the past? Most people have thought of time travel but, in a proposed wilderness area near Las Cruces, it seemed real to us.

Hearing about legislation to designate sections of BLM lands near Las Cruces as a national monument we decided to take a look; a friend familiar with the area was our guide. We drove about 45 minutes from town, first west paralleling I-10 then north on a paved road through grassland, parked the car and hiked up a foothill of the Sierra de las Uvas. We walked slowly up the hillside covered with volcanic rock and thin soil supporting a sparse growth of scrub grass, creosote, mesquite and a few cacti. Stepping over tiny ground plants with purple flowers we thought about how it would look in spring when Ocatillo, prickly pear and yucca bloom.

At the top of the hill we seemed transported hundreds of years back in time. Turning full circle, all we could see was miles of grassland dotted with low hills, a few remnants of volcanic cones, and mountains – jagged Organ Peaks to the east, rugged Potrillo Mts. to the south, Florida Mts. far to the west beyond Deming and more of the Uvas to our north. Other than an occasional jet far overhead, the 21st century had vanished. Las Cruces lay invisibly tucked into the Rio Grande valley, I-10 was obscured by hills and grasslands and Deming could not be seen. We were transported to a time before humans had made a mark upon the land.

One could imagine being a far-ranging Pronghorn or one of the First People pausing to scan the horizon while following deer sign; a soldier trudging endless miles behind a mounted Spanish explorer; a prospector headed into the mountains to try his luck; a bandit lying in wait for the Butterfield stage or a cowhand rounding up strays in an unfenced land. It’s hard to describe the impact of the uninterrupted miles of open land and the silence. We were tiny specks on the landscape yet intimately connected to everything.

And the overlook was just the beginning. Returning to the car we drove a bit further then hiked a dirt track from a cattle tank into Valles Canyon. Cattle and tanks would remain. Existing grazing leases and hunting rights that have been part of BLM-managed lands continue under monument status but the land would be protected from commercial development.

Leaving the dirt track we continued down a dry arroyo which deepened with rock walls rising on either side. Scrambling down what must be a beautiful waterfall in monsoon season we came upon a steep wall with 50 or more petroglyphs.

The time machine took us back to the age of hunter-gatherers. Having no written language, they pecked and scratched images into the hard stone – abstract circular and geometric shapes as well as animals, fish, birds and human hands. 

What did they mean? Were they prayers for a successful hunt or for the fertility of animals their lives depended on? Was it a record of their journey or part of a ceremony? Mystery is inherent in wild places.

The canyon beckoned on but it was time to turn back. A day outdoors, silence, uninterrupted vistas and signs of prehistoric man’s passing had worked together
to delight our senses, stimulate our imaginations and refresh us. The unique character of this place seems well worth preserving. New Mexico is a “land of
enchantment” for many reasons, one of which, we discovered, is time travel!