SWEC Back by Noon Hikes are back for fall
By Zak Hansen
Las Cruces Bulletin
Since 1992, Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC), along with its staff and the help of a time- and money-generous community, has dedicated itself to protecting and restoring native wildlife in their habitats in the Southwestern borderlands, focusing on advocacy, education and on-the-ground projects – to speaking for wild life and wild places throughout the region.
To do this, SWEC in 1995 began its weekly Back by Noon Hikes program, which have to date drawn thousands of residents and guests alike on guided hikes and walks through some of the Southwest’s most precious natural spaces. On Saturday, Sept. 5, the program returns with its fall 2015 schedule, bringing together popular old favorites and a few new surprises.
“The Back by Noon Hikes are part of the work we do to protect wild life and places in the Southwest,” said SWEC Executive Director Kevin Bixby, “and in order for people to care about those things and those places, they need to know about them. That’s why we started this program.”
While anyone can tell you the area is rife with hiking and outdoor opportunity – especially if you’ve got a handy copy of SWEC’s very own guide, “Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces-El Paso Area” by Greg Magee, indispensable – the Back by Noon program has a decidedly more educational bent.
“The program is to take the public out to spotlight different aspects of our regional natural heritage, and we chose the format – a guided Saturday morning natural history walk that is not too strenuous and only takes about half the day – as a way to both provide an education component to each outing with the guide and to make it accessible to as many people as possible,” Bixby said. “It’s not a huge chunk of time, the walks are fairly easy, you don’t need to be in super great physical condition and they’re kid friendly.”
Attendance at the weekly outings, pulled largely from Las Cruces, El Paso and the surrounding communities, varies from week to week but averages around 25 participants per, save for those hikes and walks where higher numbers mean a lower-quality experience – bird-watching outings, for example, are capped at a maximum attendance to ensure those in the back catch a view of the area’s avian specimens.
Hikes are led by a roster of guides from all areas of the community, Bixby said, “from local, avid conservationists, university professors from New Mexico State University and UTEP (University of Texas-El Paso) – it all depends on the subject matter.”
Led by deeply informed and insightful guides, SWEC’s Back by Noon Hikes are so much more than a walk in the park … er, mountains and deserts.
“We don’t really do hikes for the sake of hiking – though I’m a huge hiker and we publish a hiking guide – but these are outings with an educational component, designed to offer people a chance to learn something about our area’s heritage.”
This year’s program begins Sept. 5 with “Effects of Drought on the Chihuahuan Desert.” Drought is an ever-present part of life in the Southwest. Beginning at 8 a.m., “cowgirl botanist” Kirsten Romig, with the Jornada Experimental Range, will lead this trek through the foothills of the San Andreas Mountains north of Las Cruces, exploring the varied effects drought has had on our portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. This moderate-difficulty hike will be two to three miles, mostly off-trail, and will include walking along an arroyo.
The following week, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, biologist Paul Hyder will lead “The Desert After Dark.” In the desert, nighttime is the most active for many creatures. Hikers will cross a maximum twomile portion of the well-maintained Sierra Vista trail along the western flank of the Organ Mountains, learning about the many adaptations used to thrive in extreme desert conditions of arthropods, mammals and plants alike. This hike will have very limited space, so sign up early. There will be a second meeting spot for El Paso hikers at 7 p.m. as well.
Through the rest of the fall program – we’ll check back in a few weeks – the schedule includes “Geological Treasures of Tonuco Mountain” (Sept. 19), “Migratory Birds of the Rio Grande Valley” (Sept. 26), “Medicinal Flora of Dripping Springs” (Oct. 3), “Exploring the Last Desert Grassland” (Oct. 10), “Wetland Restoration in West Texas” (Oct. 24) and “Discovering Providence Cone” (Nov. 7).
Southwest Environmental Center is located at 275 N. Main St. For more information or to register for any of the fall Back by Noon hikes, call 522-5552 or visit www. wildmesquite.org.
Zak Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.