Update: With President Obama’s signature on December 19, 2014, Columbine-Hondo became the first new federally designated Wilderness in New Mexico since the Sabinoso Wilderness was created in 2009.
“We are absolutely thrilled at the designation of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness and thank Senators Udall and Heinrich as well as former Senator Jeff Bingaman and Representatives Luján and Lujan-Grisham for their leadership, vision and hard work to make this happen,” said Mark Allison, NM Wild executive director.
The Columbine Hondo Wilderness is a 45,000-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. Read more about the victory here.
The Columbine Hondo Wilderness 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. The 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.
The Columbine Hondo Wilderness 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 cliff dwellers 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.
Timeline of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance’s involvement
1980: Columbine Hondo designated as a Wilderness Study Area by Congress.
2008: NM Wild helped form the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition.
Fall 2010: Columbine Hondo grazing permitees and acequia members join coalition.
August 2010, May 2011, June 2013, Dec 2014: NM Wild guides supporters and elected officials on flyovers of the Columbine Hondo utilizing the services of LightHawk.
December 2010: Led by efforts from NM Wild Traditional Community Organizer John Olivas, the Town of Taos issues a letter of support.
January 2011: Taos Cycling Coalition supports Columbine Hondo Wilderness and suggests boundary modifications.
February 2011: Efforts from John Olivas end in support from Taos Chamber of Commerce.
April 2011 & Nov 2012: John Olivas gets support from Taos Pueblo War Chief for Columbine Hondo Wilderness.
February 2012: Led by efforts by John Olivas, the Taos County Commission passes unanimous resolution supporting Columbine Hondo Wilderness.
April 2012: Sen. Jeff Bingaman introduces S. 2468, the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act.
February 2013: Sens. Udall and Heinrich and Rep. Lujan hold community meeting on Columbine Hondo in Taos County with all coalition members.
February 2013: International Mountain Biking Association supports Columbine Hondo Wilderness.
April 2013: Sens. Heinrich and Udall re-introduce Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S 776).
May 2013: Rep. Lujan Introduces Columbine Hondo legislation (HR 1683) in the House of Representatives.
November 2014: Act unanimously approved and marked up by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
December 19, 2014: The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act signed into law.