The United States has established two new national monuments in Texas and Nevada, President Biden announced on Tuesday, in the process providing protection to scores of Indigenous pictographs and petroglyphs across the region.
The designation covers over half million acres of land in Nevada that includes Spirit Mountain, or Avi Kwa Ame in the Mojave language, a culturally significant area that is also rich in biodiversity. These lands, Biden said during a briefing at the White House Conservation Summit, are home to “sacred lands that are central to the creation story of so many [Native American] tribes that have been here since time immemorial”. Around 33,000 acres of the Avi Kwa Ame area have been under federal protection since 1964.
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The Avi Kwa Ame area is scattered with several thousand-year-old rock carving known as petroglyphs, some of which depict natural resources in the area, such as acorns, large game, and water. The petroglyphs and pictographs—rock paintings—are a record of scores of an ancient Indigenous people who settled for generations in the site, or simply passed through. The Eldorado Mountains, in northeast Nevada, feature pictographs that likely provided directions for migrating groups.
The Castner Range in El Paso, Texas, was also designated as a national monument, more than 50 years after advocates began calling for its federal protection. More than 6,600 acres of land, stretching from the Franklin Mountains to the Chihuahuan Desert on the Mexican border, will now be placed under the management of the US Army. At least 40 archaeological sites with ties to Apache and Pueblo peoples and the Comanche Nation, Hopi Tribe, and Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma have been identified within the Castner Range. Three of those sites—the Fusselman Canyon Rock Art District, the Northgate Site, and the Castner Range Archeological District—are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Around now, as winter gives away, Mexican Gold Poppies will bloom across the desert plains and hills.
“Today’s historic announcement has been decades in the making,” US representative Veronica Escobar, a democrat from El Paso, who has pursued protections for the land, said in a statement. “Generations of activists have dedicated countless hours and resources toward achieving this once seemingly impossible goal. It brings me such joy to know that El Pasoans will soon be able to enjoy the beauty of this majestic, expansive landmark for years to come.”