Today, President Obama will create a new national monument on a quarter of a million of acres straddling the Rio Grande Gorge north of Taos.
That stroke of the pen will preserve El Rio Grande del Norte, a swath of unspoiled country that may appear just modestly attractive compared to the neighboring Sangre de Cristo range and the likes of Bandelier. But in reality, the northern reaches of the Rio Grande house a treasure trove of scenery and natural resources, including wildlife, and historical remnants ranging from petroglyphs to parts of El Camino Real. The river gorge alone, from its mouth near Pilar all the way to the Colorado border, is truly a wonder.
The whole area, extending from the site of the first Spanish settlements north of Española all the way into the San Luis Valley of Colorado is a human heartland, too — wintering ground to the Utes in ancient times, then home to Spanish settlers and, later, homesteaders. Preserving this heritage is part of the plan for the monument: supporters have made sure that traditional wildland uses, including hunting, firewood and piñon harvesting, will continue.
The basics for modern outdoor recreational activities also are sketched in — a trail system already exists along and into the gorge, and existing roads give access to the Cerro de la Olla and Ute Mountain, both a respectable 9,000 feet-plus tall.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation, with help from Coloradans, including outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, has tried for half a dozen years to get congressional action to preserve this unique and still largely unpopulated area. Unfortunately, those efforts failed, despite wide support from area residents, conservation groups, Taos Pueblo and Taos city and county, and Rio Arriba County.
The president’s action corrects the omission. The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is an important addition to our network of public lands.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.