by Randy Scholfield
Something about the light-and-shadow swept landscape of Northern New Mexico gets into your soul--it feels like a place apart, a holdover from a time when people were connected to the land and community through traditions deeply rooted in wildness and the passing seasons. Living off the land--fishing, hunting, wood- and herb-gathering--has been a local way of life here for centuries.
On a recent visit, I stopped at a small farmers market in Arroyo Hondo, just north of Taos, where a mother and daughter were selling jars of homemade salsa. "All of the ingredients were grown on our farm," the daughter said proudly. Another woman was selling Osha, or wild bear root, a native herb gathered in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that is used for medicinal purposes.
To the east, I could see the soaring peaks of the Columbine Hondo wilderness, a rugged backcountry area that preserves diverse wildlife, including elk, mountain lion, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout.
The next morning, I met up with TU's Toner Mitchell, a native New Mexican who's working with local anglers and sportsmen to build support for preserving this special place and the outdoor way of life it sustains.
We hiked up Columbine Creek, where shaded pools hold conservation populations of Rio Grande cutts. We didn't manage to catch any, but lower in the creek, Toner did land a small brown--these invasives are just one of the threats facing the Rio Grande cutts, which have survived in these mountain streams since the last ice age.
"It's not a good sign," he said. "Just another reason why we need to protect the native fish here."
Later, on the West side of the Columbine Hondo, Toner pointed out a long sloping bench that he said provides a critical wildlife corridor to the Rio Grande River gorge. He's seen ancient petroglyphs of animals and hunting scenes on the canyon walls, reinforcing that this has been a game migration corridor for centuries.
Trout Unlimited would like to keep it that way. Read more about the campaign here, and on the Columbine Hondo Coalition website. And check out this brief video of Toner talking about the Columbine Hondo and its value to sportsmen and the local community:
Randy Scholfield is TU's director of communications for the Southwest region.