Erasing the Desert & Destroying Mountains

Spending time in nature is extremely important to me and so my husband and I make it a priority to return to wilderness as often as we can. One day, upon returning home from one our of out-of-town camping trips, we were approaching West El Paso at around 7:00 pm just as the sun was beginning to set. As we watched the Franklin Mountains slowly come into view we remained quiet. Very quiet.

Developments to El Paso’s northwest have been steadily taking place for the past several years, we knew that. One major development to build an extended corridor to the existing Transmountain Road of the Franklin Mountains was especially disturbing. When I first learned about the plans for the corridor developments I was appalled. Driving into Transmountain Road from either the Northeast or Northwest end has always been known to be a cherished scenic route for El Pasoans and for visitors alike. The drive offers stunning panoramic views of the city and surrounding desert and offers a beautiful entrance to the Franklin Mountains State Park. Saddened, I signed the petition against the developments. And yet here it was, taking place right before our very eyes. Little did I know my husband and I were thinking the exact same thing. “It looks so different…” I said. He agreed.

West El Paso will never look the same. Now the western entrance to the Franklin Mountains has an overdeveloped-look as ghastly large interstate and shopping center signs obscure the once pristine and natural desert views. Many acres have been graded and zoned for commercial and residential developments as well. These developments sit annoyingly close to the Franklin Mountains State Park and can be seen from within the park, when before the views were of expanse desert.

Developments have changed the face of El Paso’s desert landscape forever. The damage that has taken place is irreversible and I have felt an ongoing and overwhelming sense of loss over that fact. Especially as local environmentalists began to lose ground to the new developmental changes. Which really hits home, hard. Traveling into El Paso City by car from either the East, West or Northeast used to be the classic southwest desert road-trip experience. The outskirts of the city’s boundaries were once marked with beautiful open desert landscapes with bluish, purplish mountains peeking over the horizon into the distance through a shrub-land dominated desert.

Sadly, the edges of the city now extend into those very desert plains. Developments spill over the landscape like a rogue fire, forever scarring it with concrete, pavement and buildings. Although, surrounding large expanses of desert do still exist, around the Franklin Mountains our beautiful and unique desert wonderland is dying and there is now nothing we can do to restore the whimsical charm that has been lost. Of the developments that have already taken place, the desert is gone. Today our children will only know a concrete-laden place disconnected from our native and natural space.

I have lived in El Paso for the past 18 years and adore the desert southwest with its animals, plants and other charms. When I was younger, my father and I used to make the drive on a two-lane desert highway to Alamogordo, New Mexico to visit my grandmother nearly every weekend. The hour and a half drive was always an enjoyable experience. I remember being able to take in the vastness of the desert during those trips. Occasionally, I’d see jackrabbits, desert cotton-tails, mule deer, hawks and turkey vultures as I peered out the window.

Each drive was different but the same and there was always very little traffic. Sometimes we’d have to drive back to El Paso during the nighttime. One of my favorite things to do was to gaze upwards from the window to look at the starry sky. Night-time lightening storms were the best! The expanse of the desert allowed us to see lightening strikes in complete brilliance. A truly awesome sight, since there was nothing to obstruct the view except for distant mountain ranges. I remember imagining what animals would be wondering the desert’s night-scape and peered ever so focused into the darkness, ready to see the unexpected deer or snake.

Today, that same highway has been divided into a four-lane highway and the traffic has more than doubled. This can now be said for all entrances to El Paso. From all sides of the city, the desert has receded and has been replaced by roads, freeway systems, traffic, houses and lights. It is now harder than ever to escape the city noise and light pollution.

Astonished by how much destruction has taken place just within the last 10 years I still feel the need to fight to protect what is left.  Heartbreakingly, these developments are not letting up and are spreading like that of cancer cells farther into the landscape hardly giving the residents a chance to breathe and adjust to the changes. More and more, people are spotting wildlife in “urban” areas and panic ignorantly oblivious to the fact we are invading their habitat, their home. The wildlife simply, cannot adjust quick enough as they move to find a suitable new place to call home again.

The fight to protect the Franklin Mountains is as strong as ever now. Developments continue to threatened many parts of El Paso’s natural beauty. Currently, plans to develop more homes will destroy the mountain slopes of the Northeast Franklin Mountains if nothing is done to stop it. For most, leaving these decisions in the hands of developers and city officials is the norm, but for me it is an ongoing battle.

To learn more, visit the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition.

A petition to protect the Franklin Mountains from further destruction can be signed here.

For other environmental issues and updates concerning the Franklin Mountains visit this wonderful blog: http://elpasonaturally.blogspot.com

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