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 Ocotillo, Prickly Pear and Yucca
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 Mountains. to the south, Florida Mountains. 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