The Pew Charitable Trusts is working with local organizations throughout the West and in Washington to ensure that planners at the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, recognize the scientific, economic, and cultural imperatives to keep our West wild. The Brokeoff Mountains in southeastern New Mexico stands at the top of the list.
The Brokeoff Mountains, 80,000 acres of rugged and remote land, lie in the southeast corner of New Mexico, 30 miles west of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. These mountains are an ecological hotbed of plant and animal species, located at the intersection of the Chihuahuan Desert, semidesert grasslands, and conifer woodlands. The region hosts a number of rare plants, the nesting home of several varieties of raptor, and the winter range for Rocky Mountain elk.
These peaks and canyons are mostly public land, free and open, owned by all Americans, and overseen by the BLM. The general area is rich in archeological sites, and some of it is protected, for now, as part of a 31,606-acre wilderness study area. But unprotected spaces are threatened by natural gas development and mining for rare earth minerals.
BLM is revising its management plan for 2.8 million acres of public land spread across three south-central New Mexico counties—Sierra, Otero, and Doña Ana, and including the Brokeoff Mountains. The Pew Charitable Trusts, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and other local partners are encouraging the agency to conserve a greater share of land in this area to more effectively preserve its ecological richness.
BLM must inventory wilderness characteristics in the Brokeoff Mountains and other areas covered by the tricounty resource management plan. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance has collected valuable information about wilderness characteristics that should be used as a guide for the agency's effort.
A supplemental draft environmental impact statement is needed to address lands with wilderness characteristics and to provide alternatives to the agency's plans for maintaining and protecting special places such as the Brokeoff Mountains.
Conservation of this land by the bureau would benefit the region, which is renowned for its many rare plants. Lepidospartum burgessii, commonly known as gypsum scalebroom, is endemic to the southwest corner of the Brokeoffs where the range crosses the border into Texas. Other plants found in the area include: Dermatophyllum guadalupense, or Guadalupe mescal bean; Nama xylopodum, or Cliff nama; and the curiously named Ericameria nauseosa, or Guadalupe rabbitbush. A wide variety of cacti can be found in the Brokeoffs, as well as piñon juniper, Western Soapberry, desert willow, and many types of grasses. The New Mexico Rare Plants website has more information.
A crew from the public television series “This American Land” visited southeastern New Mexico to find out why locals feel passionately about protecting more of the Brokeoff Mountains. View the segment online, or consult your local public television guide for details on the broadcast.
A trip to the Brokeoff Mountains provides a wonderful complement to visiting nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Crooked Canyon, at the north end of the Brokeoff Mountain Wilderness Study Area, provides a particularly rewarding destination. It's an excellent example of the arid Chihuahuan Desert landscape featuring beautiful rock escarpments, mule deer, javelina, and golden eagles.
A detailed map of the area is a necessity. The New Mexico BLM website offers useful information for travelers, and free PDF downloads of 1:100,000 scale surface ownership maps. For this trip, consult the maps for the Carlsbad (PDF) and the Crow Flats (PDF) areas Google Maps also covers the Brokeoff Mountains and has the added advantage of offering a satellite view of the canyon.
Be sure to bring printed maps, because cell phone service is unreliable. Fill up with gas before leaving the Carlsbad area, carry plenty of water in your daypack, and wear sunscreen and a sunhat—even if it's not summer, it's still sunny New Mexico.
From Carlsbad, drive west, then south on Queens State Highway 137. Turn right at 415/G14, which is also marked on some maps as Dell City Road. Continue north, then west until G14 intersects with G13. Turn left and follow G13 east around the north end of Crooked Canyon, then south along the eastern side. There are no maintained trails in the area, so visitors to Crooked Canyon would drive the road alongside the canyon (G13) and walk from there in the drainage or along the ridgelines.