FRANKLIN MOUNTAINS NOTES
Newsletter of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition
Next Meeting: March 15, 2006
The next meeting of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is Wednesday, March 15th at 7 p.m. It takes place in Room 411, Burgess Hall on the UTEP campus. Burgess Hall is at the intersection of Sun Bowl Drive and University Ave. on the west side of the campus. Please be prompt. The building entrance locks automatically in the evenings. If you arrive late and no one is at the door, call 861-4361 and someone will come to let you in. For more information contact Scott Cutler (581-6071).
CASTNER RANGE FORUM
On February 22, over 100 people attended the Castner Range Forum put on by the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition. Fort Bliss provided a short presentation about cleanup efforts to date and found archeological sites. Fort Bliss personnel were unable to attend so a coalition member read their prepared statement. This was followed by Mr. Bob Cook, who presented REDCO’s (El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation, part of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce) proposed vision for Castner Range. The concept presented included parts of the range going to the Park, a swath of poppy fields set aside, and a technology park along the eastern boundary with Hwy. 54. The third and final presenter was John Sproul, who gave an enlightening historical review of Castner Range since the Army labeled it as surplus to their needs. The review showed how many proposals have been put forth over the years and how completely viable alternatives have been found to allow the development to take place somewhere other than Castner Range.
The question and answer period followed with many impassioned pleas to leave Castner as it is and add it to the State Park. The Coalition will continue working to have Castner Range saved in its entirety. Your support, through your financial support and your time, will be most helpful as we move forward to protect Castner Range. Please try to attend the FMWC bimonthly meetings.
Many thanks to all who volunteered their time to make this event happen.
FMWC Interim President
CASTNER RANGE UPDATE
by John Sproul
Castner Range remains a hot topic. Here’s what’s happened in the past two months:
To keep the public informed about the issue of future use of the range, the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition decided to hold a community educational forum. We invited a representative from Fort Bliss to speak about the status of clean-up of unexploded ordnance and Bob Cook, president of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), to present REDCO’s concept for an office park for high-tech defense contractors on Castner Range.
The forum took place February 22 at Chapin High School. Nick Miller of KTSM-TV moderated. Fort Bliss declined to participate but did provide information on ordnance clean-up and archaeological-survey work that we shared with the audience. Bob Cook presented REDCO’s technology-park concept, and John Sproul gave an overview of the different recommendations put forward over the past 35 years for future use of Castner Range. Following these presentations, the audience had an opportunity to offer comments or questions for the speakers.
The forum was well attended, and the audience took full advantage of the time allotted for comments and questions. Most questions concerned REDCO and its
proposal. Thanks go to Nick Miller for keeping the evening running smoothly, Bob Cook for giving us a better understanding of REDCO’s proposal, and Chapin High School for providing the venue and logistical support.
A week later, on March 1, the City Council’s ad hoc committee on Castner Range met. This is the committee City Council asked on January 10 to develop a conservation alternative for Castner Range to present to Fort Bliss. The committee (Reps. Susie Byrd, Melina Castro, Beto O’Rourke and Steve Ortega) decided to recommend that the City:
1 Lobby Congress for funding for Fort Bliss to continue clean-up of unexploded ordnance on the range.
2 Ask the Department of the Army to initiate the process for having the range declared surplus property.
3 Ask the Army to consider either a conservation conveyance or public-benefit conveyance of all of Castner Range to ensure its permanent protection.
These recommendations are scheduled to go before the City Council for action on Tuesday, March 14. Needless to say, we fully support them and hope the Council will approve them.
Back on September 26, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Fort Bliss in an effort to learn more about its land-use planning for Castner Range. On October 21, Fort Bliss provided us a summary of documents within the scope of our request. We then narrowed our request to just documents related to “enhanced-use leasing” (the mechanism REDCO proposes using to secure land for the technology park) and to preparation of a land-use plan.
Fort Bliss’s summary indicated there were 731 pages of material on enhanced-use leasing of Castner Range and 240 pages on land-use-plan preparation. Evidently a lot has been done in both areas. On February 7, Fort Bliss provided us the documents it found to be “releasable”. We received no enhanced-use-lease documents and just 10 pages related to land-use planning (with the most substantive information “redacted”, i.e. whited out). The rest? “Exempt from disclosure.” The work Fort Bliss has been doing in these areas remains hidden from public view.
Fort Bliss has not yet announced a date for the public meeting to gather initial community input for its Castner Range land-use plan but has indicated it will be in early April. Stay tuned.
The obvious versus the inconspicuous
By Gertrud D. Konings
While hiking through the Franklins we focus often too much on the most obvious plants and easily forget to take a closer look at what is hidden amongst the lechugillas, sotols, yuccas, agaves, ocotillos, and creosote bushes. And when thinking about cacti we visualize the big Barrel cactus that we are familiar with as desert landscape decoration for front yards and also those unloved green or purple shrubs with the spiny pads, the opuntias that despite our dislike for them sometimes greet us with a heart.
The most common opuntias in our area are the Engelmann’s Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii) and the Long-Spined Purplish Prickly Pear (Opuntia macrocentra) which during the winter acquires a purple color of the pads that give the landscape a nice tint.
Once we take our time to stop and take a closer look at what grows around us, we will detect a different set of plants that are more inconspicuous and too easily overlooked but very worthy to study more carefully; among them are the smaller cacti of our region. The bees and butterflies will guide us to their site! They are grateful for the generous supply of nectar in the very early spring days. Now is the time of the Early Bloomer (Echinomastus intertextus), a small cactus with an intricately twisted spination and a grayish-green to brown earth color that helps hide it from the view of the passer-by. It deserves its name, since it already flowers when everything else is still looking pretty dry and in winter-sleep. With its crown of white flowers it is now a little easier to spot.
Take the West Cottonwood trail that passes along Cory’s Cove up to a little hill overlooking the area. On your way up you will find several specimens of this little cactus that will be in bloom now, and you will come across several of our indigenous small cacti. The most common among them are whitish clumps of the Corn Cob Cactus (Coryphantha tuberculosa) that looks like a Corn Cob when it loses its spines on the stem and flowers end of May to beginning of June.
The Eagle Claw (Echinocactus horizonthalonius) and the Cat Claw Cactus (Glandulicactus uncinatus var. wrightii) are also to see. Especially the Eagle Claw cactus is easy to spot and sometimes even grows on the path, and you have to be careful to not step on it.
When it flowers in the summer, starting in June, it produces 1-3 large purple flowers and all members of the species in the area will bloom at the same day. The flowers only last for one day and open around noon. You will have to be lucky to catch this cactus flowering, but they do so several times during the summer, usually three to four days after a rain. In bloom this cactus is a special treat for the eyes.
The Eagle Claw is easily recognized by its very long, extending upper central spines that bend into a threatening claw. Its spines are usually yellow and the cactus resembles dry grass bushels, but on this trail I found some specimens with a dark red spination. They were sitting on rocks, and the sun lit them up to give them a beautiful red glare. Their dark brown-red flowers appear in April at the tip of the plant, and when the fruits ripen they will be bright red and easy to spot.
The yellow flowering Texas Rainbow (Echinocereus dasyacanthus) is less common on this trail and often replaced by the New Mexico Rainbow (Echinocereus viridiflorus var. chloranthus) with its beautiful red and white spines. They will catch your eye when the sun is shining on them. Its flowers appear at the side of the stem in April and are relatively small and brown to brown-green in color.
Once you reach the top of the hill you will find a seat to rest and enjoy the great view over the desert around you. When you continue walking a little further to the southeast on the plateau, you will spot many specimens of the little Early Bloomer that just started to bloom in the beginning of this month and will continue flowering all through March and into early April. The petals of the flowers often have a pinkish mid-vein and the color of the stigma varies from a soft pink to an obvious dark red.
While you are watching the plants you will experience the busy search for nectar of the bees and how much they enjoy minding their business. They dive all the way into the flower, roll over in between the stamens and cover themselves completely with the yellow pollen. They often do not mind the company of another bee, but sometimes they sit in the flower and defend “their” plant. They will make you forget the time.
Here on the top of the hill I was surprised to find a big clump of the Long Mamma cactus (Coryphantha macromeris) which is usually restricted to arroyos and loves the shade of the mesquites and creosote bushes. But here it stood completely in the open, fully exposed to the sun and seemed happy with it. This cactus flowers several times in the summer, for the first time usually in June, and its fine, pink flowers are plentiful and last over several days.
Descending the trail, take a stroll over the rocks of Cory’s Cove where the climbers have a place to practice their hobby. There you will find some beautiful ferns, lichens, and mosses and occasionally a small specimen of the Tree Cholla (Opuntia imbricate var. arborescens), a slender-stemmed Opuntia that will decorate itself with big purple flowers in April. Its yellow fruits look like dried parts of the stem and often last all through the winter into spring. On the red boulders you will spot some lizards bathing in the sun and after a rain some butterflies coming to drink from the water that got trapped in between the rocks. Happy hiking!
Franklin Mountains State Park Update
by Danny Contreras, PRII, ADSO
Greetings, from the Franklin Mountains State Park. The great weather we have been having lately has increased our visitation and is keeping us very busy we hope you’ll take advantage of the weather and come out to visit the Park.
We also would like to welcome Michael Hill as our new Regional Director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
We are looking forward to “The Coyote Classic Mountain Bike Race” coming up on Sunday April 2, 2006, which will be held at The Franklin Mountains State Park. Mike Rosson along with the Borderland Mountain Bike Association, Robert Newman and the Texas Youth Commission (Schaffer House) and other Volunteer’s have been doing trail work in preparation for the race.
Also coming up on Saturday April 8, 2006 at the Tom May’s Unit will be “The Canutillo School District Walk-A-Thon”. We look forward to seeing you all for these exciting events.
On Saturday, February 18, 2006 the “5th Annual Far West Texas Jack Rabbit Rally”, was held at The Franklin Mountains State Park. Mark Dorian worked very hard to make this race a success, rarely does a week go by that Mark is not out working on trails along with his wife Helen. We would like to thank Mark and Helen for their support and hard work.
On March 4, 2006, I was given the opportunity to participate in an outreach program held at the Botanical Gardens. The response from the community was great. On the same day Rick LoBello of the El Paso Zoo was kind enough to allow me to speak during one of his programs to students from Hornedo Middle School. I encouraged them to plan and develop a garden using native plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds by adopting an area next to the Franklin Mountains States Park Headquarters.
Robert Pichardo, Lead Ranger of The Franklin Mountains State Park was interviewed by Channel 7 regarding current drought conditions.
We have been incredibly busy with the different programs, our regular tours, and the day-to-day operations of the Park none of which would be possible if it wasn’t for the great staff of Volunteers who are always willing to go above and beyond. Thank you all from the Park’s staff.
Thank you, Steve Vinson, for the following essay :
I won’t be shy; the Franklin Mountains are epochly beautiful, ecologically important and self-supporting, and a continuing resource for the El Paso region. Conversely, the aspirations and struggles of men and women, including both those who scheme for personal profit and those who cry to protect the land, are minuscule and plain, an insignificant blip in the earth’s timeline, a dust into dust reality. I study the geologic folds along the Transmountain Road cuts, each a million- of- years wrinkle; from atop North Franklin Mountain, I take in the expanse of the basin and range, splayed out eastward in my tiny field of view; I note the change in complex plant communities on either side of the ridgeline, ever following the sun; my blood accelerates in my slow completion of a hundred, priceless hikes along and throughout the range. I am told that the United States military establishment from far away Washington district, or various government functionaries, elected and appointed by a small fraction of citizens, determine the future of the Franklins. The thought angers me—until I laugh softly—because even mighty Rome continues to crumble, until nothing is left but the atoms collected randomly in its assemblage. As a former pragmatist, I empathize with the pain of temporal loss; as a natural idealist and mortal man, I hike less these days, but I gaze at the fathomless stars, extending like an endless crown above my beloved Franklins.
The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition
Borderland Mountain Bike Association - - Celebration of Our Mountains - - Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Rescue - - El Paso Archeological Society - - El Paso Cactus and Rock Club - - El Paso Native Plant Society - - El Paso Regional Group of the Sierra Club - - El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society - - El Paso Wilderness Preservation Committee - - El Paso Women’s Political Caucus - - Friends of the Franklins - - League of Women Voters of El Paso - - Mesilla Valley Audubon Society - - Mountain Park Community Association - - Photography Enthusiasts of El Paso - - Southern New Mexico Group of the Sierra Club
VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT http://iloveparks.com/fmwc/