The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is a 46,000-acre wild mountain basin, located in the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, in Taos County. The Columbine Hondo is a treasured public wild land and valuable natural resource for local residents, ranchers, sportsmen, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the area for its outstanding natural beauty and opportunities for a wilderness experience. On April 22, 2013, Senators Udall and Heinrich introduced legislation to designate the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo area in Taos County as wilderness. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Representative Ben Ray Luján. Read the press release.
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The Columbine Hondo WSA contains the headwaters of the Rio Hondo and Red River, both major tributaries of the upper Rio Grande in northern Mexico. The pristine creeks and streams of the Columbine Hondo provide surface water for the downstream agricultural communities of Valdez, Arroyo Hondo, Arroyo Seco, San Cristobal, and Questa. Bighorn Sheep in the Columbine Hondo WSAThe lush forests and alpine meadows of the Columbine Hondo are home to abundant Rocky Mountain wildlife, such as mule deer, elk, black bear, and mountain lion. Above treeline, New Mexico’s prized herd of bighorn sheep, along with marmots and pica, can be seen in a fragile alpine tundra habitat.
Set aside by Congress in 1980 to be protected for its unique wilderness values and character, the Columbine Hondo is currently managed as Wilderness, by the Carson National Forest. It has been more than thirty years, and the time has come to ensure its permanent protection, by designating the area as wilderness.
There is currently legislation before Congress that seeks to remove protections from hundreds of Wilderness Study Areas across the country. If the Columbine Hondo WSA is not elevated to wilderness designation soon, similar legislation could remove existing wilderness protections, and open this magnificent wilderness area to motorized/mechanized use, energy/mineral development, timber sales, and other forms of development.
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.
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.
Learn more about the campaign for Columbine Hondo on the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition site.