A Shining Jewel: El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

Hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts are celebrating the designation of America’s newest national monument – the 240,000-acre El Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico. The ink is still fresh on President Obama’s declaration, but the widespread community and state support for permanent protection of this spectacular landscape has long been solidified. Sportsmen and women, ranchers, conservationists, Native Americans, and business owners have long campaigned to see this special place conserved.


“The area’s designation as a monument under the Antiquities Act is a refreshing sign that President Obama and Secretary Salazar recognize the importance of passing New Mexico’s heritage on to future generations,” said Kent Salazar, a National Wildlife Federation board member whose family has lived and ranched in New Mexico for generations.

A Shining Jewel in America’s Crown of Public Lands

Río Grande del Norte National Monument in Northern New Mexico. BLM photo.
El Rio Grande del Norte has been used, enjoyed and cherished by people of the Southwest for thousands of years. Petroglyphs are found near hot springs that bubble up from the deep underground. The area is rich in artifacts and archaeological sites. Images of the Clovis culture hunter-gatherers that once called this place home are happily conjured. It is an unspoiled haven for mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, raptors, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, and river otters. The area is part of the Central Migratory Flyway, a vital migration corridor for birds such as Canada geese, herons, sandhill cranes, hummingbirds, and American avocets.

The wild and scenic portion of the Rio Grande River in northern New Mexico cuts a deep and jagged line across the Taos Plateau, carving a canyon that not only carries the liquid life-blood of the arid Southwest but also a rich culture and heritage that spills beyond its polished boulders.

Known as Tierra Sagrada, or Sacred Land, the Taos Plateau stretches from the Servilleta lava flows at the Colorado border and gives way to the solitary volcanic cinder cone mountains of Cerro de la Olla, Cerro San Antonio and Cerro del Yuta. Their dramatic eruption from the valley floor is a reminder of the turbulent geological history.

As President Obama noted in his declaration, El Rio Grande del Norte is an “extraordinary landscape of extreme beauty and daunting harshness’’ that contains an “extraordinary array of scientific and historic resources offer opportunities to develop our understanding of the forces that shaped northern New Mexico, including the diverse ecological systems and human cultures that remain present today.”

Congressional gridlock is holding America’s conservation legacy and our children’s inheritance hostage. It’s therefore heartening to see President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar demonstrate their commitment to future generations as bold stewards of the treasured landscapes that provide habitat for fish and wildlife and embody the character of those people whose cultural heritage is inextricably connected.