Exploring: The Great Outdoors

November 9, 2018 pixelmark

desert star gazing

Written by Cheryl Fallstead

Conference encourages Southern New Mexicans
to get out and explore!

The Outdoor Economic Conference held at Hotel Encanto in May set the stage for a dynamic conversation about the importance of outdoor recreation in communities. After numerous presentations during which outdoor and business development experts from seven states across the West shared their knowledge, Senator Martin Heinrich dropped a bombshell: he was introducing legislation to upgrade White Sands National Monument to national park status.

Filmore Canyon HikeThe room erupted into enthusiastic applause for a proposal that Heinrich says has bipartisan support and whose time has come. He said, “I strongly believe that public lands, where we hunt, fish, and camp, are vital parts of who we are as Americans.” Senate Bill 2797 was introduced that month, with co-sponsor Tom Udall, and at last check had been referred to the Committee on Armed Services.

The event was coordinated by Jeff Steinborn and Nathan Small of New Mexico Wild and the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, led by Carrie Hamblen. The goal of the conference was to advance economic development strategies and opportunities to grow New Mexico jobs connected to protected public lands and outdoor recreation. According to an Outdoor Industry Association 2017 report, the outdoor recreation economy in Colorado and Utah generated $28 billion and $12.3 billion, respectively, in consumer spending. For the same period, the outdoor recreation economy in New Mexico generated $9.9 billion.

Baylor Canyon Hike FallsteadThe communities represented, both as speakers and as attendees, have a vested interest in their public lands. Many of the speakers shared stories of decline in other industries in their areas, from the collapse of logging to railroads leaving the area, and how their communities had to reinvent themselves to survive and thrive.

They turned to the great outdoors and discovered the solution was all around them: public lands which offered recreation opportunities that would draw visitors. Rather than focusing on cutting down trees, for example, they reveled in the recreation opportunities a forest could offer, including hiking, birding, mountain biking, and skiing.

Mike Caldwell, the mayor of Ogden, Utah, said, “The outdoor industry is the canary in the coal mine for outdoor life. If outdoor-related industries are moving to your community, your quality of life is going up. We do everything we can to support them.”

reflection of the past for las cruces magazineRalph Becker, former mayor of Salt Lake City, echoed his sentiment by saying, “Create a livable outdoor economy. When you create a community people want to visit, your community thrives.”

Kevney Dugan, CEO of Visit Bend (Oregon), agreed, saying, “When I look at the power of public lands to build an economy, there’s a great story to be told,” expanding the thought to say that jobs in the outdoor economy help keep younger people in the area. He also noted that as Millennials replace Baby Boomers as the largest group of travelers, they will be looking to visit the places that represent the values they have at home, including places that care for their natural resources.

The goal of the conference was to advance economic development strategies and opportunities to grow New Mexico jobs connected to protected public lands and outdoor recreation.

Outdoor Adventure

Here are some of the special places for both visitors and locals who enjoy getting out into nature. Fall is a great time to explore the desert and mountains, so see how many of these you can mark off your bucket list over the next year!


  • Aguirre Spring
  • Dripping Springs
  • Bar Canyon/Soledad Canyon
  • Sierra Vista Trail
  • White Sands National Monument
  • Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park
  • Picacho Peak Recreation Area


  • Organ Mountains

Mountain biking

  • Monumental Loop (bikepacking.com)
  • Doña Ana Trails System (Check with Outdoor Adventures about Tuesday night trail ride)
  • Tortugas “A” Mountain
  • Canyon Loop Trail
  • Sierra Vista Trail
  • Robledo Mountains SST Trail
  • Aden Crater loop (Directions to trails here)

Road biking

  • Triviz Trail
  • La Llorona Park Trail
  • Las Cruces Outfall Channel Trail


  • Leasburg Dam
  • Dripping Springs
  • Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park
  • Las Cruces Flood Control Dam area


  • La Llorona Park
  • Leasburg Dam SP, mid-March to mid-October
  • Young Park

Rafting, canoeing, kayaking

  • Leasburg Dam State Park (mid-March to mid-October)
  • La Llorona Park
  • Southwest Expeditions (Trips from Leasburg Dam or La Llorona mid-April to early September)


  • Aguirre Spring
  • White Sands National Monument
  • Leasburg Dam State Park


  • White Sands National Monument
  • Dripping Springs Picnic Area
  • Aguirre Spring
  • City parks

Horseback Riding

  • Sierra Vista Trail
  • Baylor Pass Trail
  • Bar Canyon Trail
  • Picacho Peak Trails
  • Corralitos Ranch Trail Rides (check the website here)

Young Park fishing-FallsteadPanelists also discussed the goal of increasing participation in outdoor recreation for minorities and low-income families. Devaki Murch, trade show manager of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, said, “One of the most important things about community spaces is making everyone feel welcome. Outdoor recreation doesn’t have to be extreme. That’s one of the most important things for inclusivity.” He said outdoor recreation doesn’t need to be a flight to a mountain range or a $125 lift ticket. It could be going down to the park after dinner.

Inclusivity is just making sure everyone is welcome. These activities are becoming more and more mainstream. That will help break down those barriers as we invite everyone to participate.Ashley Korenblat, Western Spirit Cycling in Utah

Outdoor Economics ConferenceReaching younger generations is key, as is educating them about the outdoors. One panelist shared that a young girl who lived on a New Mexico pueblo responded to a question about her favorite wildlife as a Pokemon character. Local photographer and builder Wayne Suggs noted that there are thousands of petroglyphs in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, but that he doesn’t share their locations due to concerns of them being vandalized.

“People aren’t taught to preserve,” he lamented. Chris Lang of Organ Mountain Outfitters noted that his company is developing a series of videos to share with the younger tech generation, showing how to get out on trails and encouraging conservation such as picking up trash. It’s one way to help develop what he believes can become the biggest group of outdoor advocates.

Mountain biking in PicachoOne local program is taking hundreds of low-income Hispanic students outdoors. Gabe Vasquez founded Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, a group supported by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, along with Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, and Latino Outdoors. They’re teaching youth about conservation, fishing, hiking, biology, and the history and culture of the area, as well as job opportunities.

In an interview with KRWG, Gabe said, “I’d like to think that we are creating the next generation of conservation stewards, because we’re not just teaching, we’re not just having fun, but we are encouraging some of these youth to have careers working outdoors.”

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