Columbine Hondo Wilderness History

Columbine Hondo History

Natural History

The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area is located in New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost chain of the Rockies. These mountains were pushed up around 20 million years ago, and are one of the youngest mountain ranges on earth. The northern boundary, along the Red River, sits at the base of a now extinct super volcano known as the Questa Caldera, which is said to have erupted 26 million years ago.

Anthropology/Cultural History

The Columbine Hondo shares a long multi-cultural history with the people of New Mexico. Paleo-Indians walked these mountains 11,000 years ago, and evidence of the earliest stone tools come from nearby Folsom and Clovis, NM. The Ancient Pueblo Cliffdwellers of the Four Corners region migrated to the Taos Area roughly 1,100 years ago, making Taos Pueblo the oldest continuously inhabited dwelling in North America. Nomadic Kiowa, Ute, and Apache explored and hunted the area for almost as long. Spanish settlers since the 16th century used the area for seasonal sheep grazing and depend on the area's surface water for traditional agriculture. The trails of the Columbine Hondo are part of an historic trail system to commemorate the New Mexico Gold Rush from the late 1800s into the turn of last century. In the 1930s artists like Georgia O'Keefe and writers like DH Lawrence moved the area for its outstanding natural beauty and solitude. Today the area is a favorite destination for hikers and backpackers, sportsmen and anglers, wildlife viewers, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts of all ages.

New Mexico, The Birthplace of Wilderness

Aldo Leopold, considered to be the father of wilderness and one of the founders of The Wilderness Society, was the first Supervisor of the Carson National Forest from 1912-14, just as New Mexico entered statehood. Leopold was so enamored with New Mexico that he established the Gila Wilderness in 1924, as the first designated wilderness in the world!

The Wilderness Act of 1964

It took Leopold and the framers of The Wilderness Act more than 30 years to see it pass Congress and establish our National Wilderness Preservation System. The Wilderness Act is the first legislation on the planet to address human beings' spiritual need to have places to reconnect to nature. Our wilderness areas are the most highly protected places on our public lands. Wilderness Areas are designated by an act of Congress to be protected and preserved in their most pristine condition.

Motorized vehicles and mechanized transport are prohibited in Wilderness Areas and WSA's. The Wilderness Act states, "...no use of motor vehicles , motorized equipment... no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation, within any such area." Read a great article on Mountain Biking and Wilderness, from Campaign for America's Wilderness, to understand more about the philosophy of wilderness, as well as the historical context and perspective, in regard to bicycles in wilderness.

New Mexico Wilderness Act

The New Mexico Wilderness Act of 1980 was the result of many years of hard work, on the part of local residents and concerned New Mexicans. It established the Cruzes Basin and Latir Peaks Wilderness Areas. It added environmentally sensitive areas to the Wheeler Peak and Pecos Wilderness Areas, and it established "...approximately 46,000 acres... shall be known as the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area." The Act authorizes the Carson National Forest to manage the WSA as wilderness, "...in furtherance of the Wilderness Act."

The Act also mandates the Secretary of Agriculture to "...report his findings to the President... no later than January 1, 1986." This critical final step in the permanent protection of the Columbine Hondo was never completed, and the area has sat in limbo as a WSA for more than 30 years. As a result, the area's protection is hanging by a thread. Current legislation before Congress is now threatening to remove wilderness protections from over 60 million acres of Roadless Areas and Wilderness Study Areas across America.

Campaign/Coalition History

Formed in 2008, the Columbine Hondo Coalition has been raising awareness and gaining the support of the local community, while working with the Carson National Forest and our elected officials, to introduce wilderness legislation that would permanently protect and preserve the area for future generations through wilderness designation for the enitre 46,000-acre WSA . It's been more than 30 years, and the Columbine Hondo WSA deserves to be protected now, for future generations of New Mexicans, and Visitors to the Land of Enchantment.