Minorities and people of color don’t often see themselves reflected in outdoor spaces, one of the reasons why many feel disconnected to the natural world. They are also underrepresented in National Park visitation, in the staff of federal natural resource agencies and environmental science professions.
The El Paso Times is launching a series called Latinos in the Outdoors in conjunction with Latino Conservation Week, which runs July 16-24. The event is a nationwide movement geared at getting underrepresented groups into the outdoors and interested in ecological conservation.
Our series will profile three Latinos who call the Southwest Borderland home. Each one has his or her own unique connection with the outdoors and is a strong advocate for welcoming minority groups into nature. Our series will also feature a story about a partnership between New Mexico State University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that aims to recruit more minority students into federal natural resource agencies.
To accompany this series, the El Paso Times has also put together the following resource guide to help locals access the outdoor spaces in and around our region. This non-comprehensive list includes local and regional organizations that help orient people with little or no experience in the outdoors.
To look up local and regional events tied to Latino Conservation week— including hikes, outdoor painting workshops and farm visits, look under the events tab of the host website and filter by location (it's best to search by state).
Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site
The park features three giant rock formations where visitors can walk, climb and crawl into stone shelters and see prehistoric pictographs. Visitors can watch tiny “living fossils” swim in small pools, known as huecos, that are scattered throughout the park. The park is a favorite destination among rock climbers.
Self-guided tours are available in the North Mountain section of the park. Visitors must watch an orientation video before entering. Reservations are not required, but highly recommended especially on weekends and during the park’s busiest months which are typically November through March. You can make a reservation Monday- Friday 7:00 am – 4:00 pm by calling 512-389-8911.
Two sections of the park, the West and East Mountain, are only accessible by scheduling a park-guided tour Wednesday through Sunday. To make a reservation call the park directly at 915-857-1135.
Check the park’s website under “Events” for special programming, including night hikes and star gazing. Special events are also posted on the Hueco Tanks Facebook page.
Entrance fees are $7 per adult and free for kids ages 12 and under.
Visitors can also access 20 camping sites within the park. Call 512-389-8911 to make a reservation. Check the park’s website under “Activities” for more detailed information. https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/hueco-tanks/activities
Franklin Mountains State Park
At nearly 27,000 acres, the mountain range that towers above El Paso is the second-largest state park in the United States within a city’s limits. There are more than 100 miles of trails within the park, some for hiking and others for mountain biking. The park also offers camping and rock climbing sites.
The wildlife within the Franklins includes more than 100 species of birds, mule deer, coyotes and mountain lions. Native plants such as ocotillo, yuccas and barrel cactus grow in abundance throughout the park.
Guided tours are listed monthly on the park’s website. You can also hike in the park on your own. Be sure to take plenty of water, sun protection and high energy snacks. Some hikes are available a short distance from the park’s visitor headquarters Visit the park headquarters, or Tom Mays Unit at 2900 Tom Mays Access Road just off Transmoutain Road on El Paso’s Westside. https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/franklin-mountains/park_events
Entrance fees are $5 per day. Children under age 12 get in for free. You can also purchase an annual Texas State Park Pass for $70 and have access to more than 80 state parks. The pass includes discounts on camping and equipment rental fees. To purchase a pass call 512-389-8900.
To support a community-led effort to protect the Franklin Mountains check out the Franklin Mountain Wilderness Coalition. https://franklinmountains.wordpress.com/
Frontera Land Alliance
This local non-profit seeks to preserve open natural spaces that are free from development and benefit wildlife and recreation. They’ve helped protect areas such as Lost Dog and Thunder Canyon on El Paso's Westside and Knapp Land Nature Preserve in the Northeast.
The group has a staff of scientists and nature-lovers who offer free guided outdoor walks in and around El Paso. Bilingual guides are available. Call to schedule a walk: 915-351-8352. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Latino Conservation week, Frontera Land Alliance is hosting a series of events July 16 - 24 including an outdoor painting workshop, a farm volunteer day and a guided tour at Hueco Tanks. Find more details on their website. https://www.fronteralandalliance.org/events
Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
This park east of the Zaragosa International Bridge recreates the wetlands that once lined the banks of the Rio Grande. Visitors can walk a series of trails alongside native trees and plants and maybe catch a glimpse of a burrowing owl or bobcat. Birdwatchers have counted 260 bird species in the park.
The 375-acre park has monthly events including bird watching tours, volunteer maintenance days and group hikes. Check their website for dates and information or contact park manager John Sproul at 915-747-8663 or email@example.com.
Getting to Rio Bosque can be tricky. Don’t rely on your phone or GPS navigation system to get to the park, most visitors get lost this way. For directions, check under “Location and Hours” on the park’s website: www.utep.edu/cerm/riobosque/location-and-hours.html
Rio Bosque belongs to the City of El Paso park system and is managed by UTEP’s Center for Environmental Resource Management. Day-to-day operation of the park depends largely on volunteer work and tax-deductible donations. To support the park visit their fundraising page. https://givingto.utep.edu/RioBosque
The National Park Service originally designed this 400-acre park in south central El Paso after voters approved a special tax to fund the project in 1937. The park was the largest Civilian Conservation Corps project built in Texas. El Paso County manages the park.
Visitors can fish for catfish, rainbow trout and largemouth bass in the park’s 45-acre lake at no charge (a fishing license is required and can be purchased at local sporting goods stores). Ascarate features numerous recreational facilities including basketball and tennis courts, softball, baseball and soccer fields, and an Olympic-size pool. Picnic tables and playgrounds are also available around the lake.
There is a $2 parking fee on weekends, which increases to $5 -$10 during special events and holidays.
Insights Science Center Dino Tracks Tour
Eight-foot tall Iguanodons once roamed an ancient dinosaur beach near the base of present-day Mount Cristo Rey in El Paso. The fossilized footprints of those five-ton creatures are still present in a 211-acre stretch of desert owned and managed by El Paso Insights Science Center. The tracks, estimated to be more than 100 million years old, were discovered by geologist Eric Kappus in 2002.
Insights offers guided tours in English and Spanish of the tracks to private groups and schools. Visitors hike along a two mile loop that lasts approximately two and half hours. The cost is $12 per person for non-profit groups and $15 per person for private groups, with free admission for kids under age 5. Tours must be booked online and paid for two weeks in advance.
Too hot to hike outside? Insights also offers an “augmented reality” dino tracks tour in English and Spanish. To view the virtual tour, download the science center’s “Explore AR” app on their website. You can find a link under the “Dinotracks” tab.
For more information and to register for a guided or self-guided tour go to Insight’s website http://www.insightselpaso.org/www.insightselpaso.org. You can also call 915-534-0000 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Visitors must bring their own water, snacks, sturdy shoes, and weather appropriate clothing.
Friends of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks
Interested in exploring New Mexico's abundant public lands? The Friends of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks is a Las Cruces-based non-profit that leads guided hikes and tours to various sites in southern New Mexico. The general public can sign up for their events on the organization's website (most events begin in the fall and spring when the weather cools off). Events are also posted on the group's Facebook page. For more information call 575-323-1423 and leave a message. https://organmountainsdesertpeaks.org/
Friends of the Organ Mountains works with under resourced youth and families through its "Moving Moñtanas" program. The group organizes family camping trips and rock climbing events while providing all the necessary gear. Moving Moñtanas targets families mostly through Doña Ana County schools but sometimes has open slots they make available to the public. Contact Jessica Gomez at 575-680-0957
You can donate to the Moving Montañas program on their website. https://organmountainsdesertpeaks.org/moving-montanas/
Friends of the Organ Mountains will host a series of events during Latino Conservation week that include a hike, a bike ride, and rock climbing. Events are posted on the group's Facebook page.
Written by Mónica Ortiz Uribe for the El Paso Times.