Freeing a Landlocked Wilderness Area

“Not being able to go there is like telling a Californian that they cannot go to the beach.”

-Fred Romero

Located in remote northeastern New Mexico amongst never ending skies, rugged short-grass prairie, and sprawling, historic cattle ranches, the Sabinoso Wilderness is a high desert paradise with prime habitat for mountain lions, black bear, mule deer, wild turkey and migratory waterfowl.

The 16,000 acre Sabinoso Wilderness was designated in 2009 and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. After designation, The Wilderness Land Trust became actively involved in outreach to neighboring landowners to secure an access route because the wilderness was surrounded by private property and inaccessible to the public.

Fred Romero, a local landowner whose family stretches back several generations, describes the canyon as the backyard of his youth. “I grew up herding cattle and playing in that canyon and on the mesa,” Romero explains. “Not being able to go there is like telling a Californian that they cannot go to the beach.”

Thanks to a generous contribution from the Wyss Foundation, in 2016 The Wilderness Land Trust completed a purchase of the 4,176 acre Rimrock Rose Ranch, a private property that sits adjacent the designated wilderness.

The ranch property includes beautiful sheer canyon walls soaring over 500 feet in height, year-round green meadows and towering cottonwoods along the headwaters of the Canadian River that flows through the heart of the beautiful Canyon Largo. The ranch was originally proposed to be in the designated wilderness due to water and ideal wildlife habitat, but it was left out because it was privately owned.

Word spread quickly amongst the small, tightly knit community that the new owners could bring positive change to the public access issue, and before long, offers of help began to pour in.

An adjacent ranch offered lodging to staff members of the Trust as they made frequent visits to the area to assess the property for cleanup. Another offered a helping hand to round up stray cattle. Before long, dozens of neighbors and hundreds of local volunteers stepped up to offer their time, equipment and plain old-fashioned sweat equity to prepare the former working ranch as a new addition to the Sabinoso Wilderness.

“I volunteered to help clean up a demolished house in the canyon to see this spectacular place and help open it up to others: said WLT Volunteer Glenn Carr.  “It was filthy, dusty and rewarding work. The place was well worth it and did not disappoint.”

In late 2017, this collaborative effort by friends, family and neighbors paid off when the Trust donated approximately 3,500 acres of the Rimrock Rose Ranch to the Bureau of Land Management as a new addition to the Sabinoso Wilderness. In doing so, the wilderness was completed, the size of the designation grew by 25 percent and access to the wilderness was unlocked for the first time in history.

“We are deeply grateful to the Wyss Foundation for their vital role in the success of this project,” says Brad Borst, President of the Trust, “as well as everyone who generously volunteered their time, labor, and kindness during the past two years.  It’s a testament to the quality of the surrounding community.”