Americas High Sierra Report

prehistoric trackways

As a member of the Americas High School Student-Sierra Coalition, I have been delighted by the opportunity of participating in a multitude of environment-driven hikes in which we learn about the protection of the biome and the about the intricacy of the natural world. Moreover, our passionate organization has also been involved in local community service projects such as the construction of a wheelchair accessible trail within the Franklin Mountains State Park. One of the main goals of the Student Sierra-Coalition is to cultivate appreciation for nature and to make it accessible for everyone. Our main club sponsor, Ms. Hardin, has opened the possibility of sharing multiple outdoor experiences with members of the national park service, college science majors, and field experts, such as a paleontologist.

On January 2018, we were able to attend the Prehistoric Trackways National monument located near Las Cruces, NM.; we were given the rare honor of sharing the hike with a paleontologist who had as much passion and admiration for nature as the members of our group. From the rugged landscape of the Franklin Mountains to the developing wetlands of Rio Bosque, no previous hiking endeavors have deeply captured my interests. Although, nothing but positive memories have come from the outings provided by the Sierra Student Coalition, none have captivated my child-like innocence than laying my eyes upon the remnants of prehistoric organisms. From the bombardment of dates and eras of the geologic time scale, to the geology centered lectures, and finally to the main event being the impressions of beings which went extinct 250 million years ago. Observing the fossilized remains of these ancient creatures inspired my younger, and many others, growing minds alike. However, seeing this other portion of paleontology, being able to walk along similar paths as Dimetrodons, and learning about the possible behaviors of these organisms was an awe-inspiring experience of which I hope for more in the coming months.

-Lorenzo Gonzalez and Carlos Chavez members of the Americas High Sierra Student Coalition in El Paso, TX 

20,000 trees on the Rio Grande!


The International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC), has begun work at several habitat restoration sites along the Rio Grande within the cities of El Paso, Texas and Sunland Park, New Mexico. USIBWC requests visitors to take precaution, heed safety warning signs, and stay on trails and levees during construction.

Three sites are along recreational hike and bike trails. Two sites go through the Sunland Park trail (Anapra and Sunland Park Restoration sites), and the third site goes through the river portion of Valley Creek Park/Mary Frances Keisling Park in El Paso’s Upper Valley (Valley Creek Restoration Site). A fourth site south of the Country Club Bridge is not along a trail.

As a safety precaution during planting and site preparation, USIBWC contractor IDEALS-AGEISS will have temporary rolling closures of the paved hike and bike trail, in which pedestrians and cyclists should stay on levees and heed signs. Closures will take place only in small segments of a couple hundred feet at a time in the immediate vicinity of heavy machinery. All site prep and planting work is expected to be completed by March 30, 2018, with most work in the trail areas completed by March 1, 2018.

USIBWC contractors are using heavy machinery to remove non-native vegetation, particularly saltcedar bushes. Contractors will also be mitigating mistletoe damage on existing large native cottonwood trees, which may include pruning infected branches of large trees. At the Country Club East site south of Country Club Bridge, crews will be excavating the floodplain to create channel cuts and other areas for plantings. After the site preparation is complete, USIBWC contractors will be planting approximately 20,000 native trees and shrubs across the sites, including willows and cottonwoods. Some of the plantings will be transplants from vegetated islands that USIBWC will excavate from the Rio Grande channel as part of its routine maintenance program.

In addition, USIBWC has other active restoration sites in Vinton, Texas, and Shalem Colony, NM with similar work, although these sites are not located in designated trail areas.

These sites will also have several thousand trees and shrubs planted. The principal objectives of the restoration are to enhance the connection of the river and the floodplain; reduce exotic vegetation; restore endangered species habitat; and reestablish riparian habitat. Additional information about the USIBWC’s habitat restoration can be found at

Owl lady to speak February 27


El Paso’s Urban Biologist, Lois Balin of Texas Parks and Wildlife will be the Sierra Club speaker on February 27.  Her presentation entitled “Creating Habitat for Burrowing Owls in El Paso” will highlight all of her efforts to help one the area’s most amazing birds.  Her presentation will include the fascinating ecology of the Western Burrowing Owl and the research that has been done at Rio Bosque Wetlands Park in El Paso on monitoring and providing habitat for burrowing owls.

El Paso Group Sierra Club presents 2017-2018 Kevin von Finger Speakers Series. Named after the late Sierran and ecologist, Kevin von Finger, the series will include talks about Aquatic Life in the Huecos, Climate Change, Wolves, Recycling, Burrowing Owls, the role of utilities in renewable energy and sustainability and more. All talks will be given on the 4th Tuesday of each month from now through May. All talks begin at 7PM at the UTEP Centennial Museum, 500 W. University.

Sierra Club Speaker Series

Return Wolf to Texas graphic

2017-2018 El Paso Group Sierra Club Speakers Series

El Paso Group Sierra Club presents 2017-2018 Kevin von Finger Speakers Series. Named after the late Sierran and ecologist, Kevin von Finger, the series will include talks about Aquatic Life in the Huecos, Climate Change, Wolves, Recycling, Burrowing Owls, the role of utilities in renewable energy and sustainability and more. All talks will be given on the 4th Tuesday of each month from now through May. All talks begin at 7PM at the UTEP Centennial Museum, 500 W. University.


2/27/18                      Lois Balin (Creating Habitat for Burrowing Owls in El Paso) This presentation will include the fascinating ecology of the Western Burrowing Owl and the research that has been done at Rio Bosque Wetlands Park in El Paso on monitoring and providing habitat for burrowing owls.

3/27/18                     Rick LoBello (Dude, come on, wolves need a decent life) For the sake of wilderness and our ecosystem, a growing number of people believe that the Mexican wolf should be given the chance to reclaim its rightful role in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas.  Rick LoBello from the El Paso Zoo will tell the rest of the story.)

4/24/18                      EPEC (The role of utilities in renewable energy and sustainability)

5/22/18                      Paul Hyder (“Ecological and Environmental Consequences of the “Wall”)




Trump signs Castner protection


By Laurence Gibson, El Paso Group chair

On Dec. 12, President Trump signed a provision to permanently protect Castner Range in El Paso’s Franklin Mountains into law.

El Paso’s U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who introduced the act, called it a monumental victory for those who have worked decades to preserve the “crown jewel of West Texas.”

The provision is a big deal – it saves a huge piece of land from commercialization, giving El Paso a very visible green belt on its east side to be enjoyed by all. Hopefully, we’ll be hiking there soon.

El Paso is divided by the nation’s largest urban park, running along the west side of the Franklin Mountains, created by Sierrans and other hardworking environmentalists 40 years ago. The northeast side of the mountains is another story, with the Mountain Park residential area at the north end and Government Hills on the south. In between lies the ugly Cemex quarry still eating away at our Franklins, and the 7,081-acre Castner Range sweeping from the heights all the way down to U.S. 54.

Really, this land had the ultimate in protection: a random sprinkling of unexploded ordnance left behind after the Army stopped target practice there. It was off limits to all.

Nevertheless, developers and chamber-of-commerce types drooled at the prospect of buying pieces of it to “grow El Paso.” Several years ago funding was finally approved to study clearing the unexploded ordnance from this beautiful land that blooms with yellow poppies most every spring. Then finally the clearing operation began in early 2017, and with it the clamor for land sales along U.S. 54.

El Pasoans turned out by the thousands, overflowing meetings to show the Army we wanted to preserve the beautiful poppy fields and roadless slopes leading up to the crest of the Franklins. We thought perhaps Obama would give us a National Monument designation in the waning months of his presidency. But word was the Department of Defense wanted to keep the land.

So last spring, Rep. O’Rourke cleverly inserted protection for the land into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Naturally, the president signed it, no National Monument stigma to raise his ire. The provision prevents commercial enterprise, roads, use of vehicles and the construction of buildings on the land.

“Today’s environmental win ensures Castner is preserved for all El Pasoans, Texans and Americans to enjoy,” O’Rourke said, “Further, it preserves an important former military training facility – a reflection of El Paso’s strong relationship to Fort Bliss and its longstanding military and veterans’ community.”

3-day trip in Big Bend

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El Paso Group Outings chair John Walton and Group chair Laurence Gibson joined a group of Dallas Sierra Club backpackers recently for a 3-day trip in Big Bend National Park. Destination was the seldom-visited Mesa de Anguilla in the extreme western tip of Big Bend just east of Lajitas. The group hiked about 8 miles a day base camping out of the Tinaja Grande. The weather was perfect with highs in the low 80’s and a big Supermoon illuminating the campsite at night. No one else was seen in three days on the trail.
Backpacking the Mesa de Anguilla requires detailed knowledge of the various tinahas (water holes in the deep arroyos) and which ones are likely to hold water. If water is not found, travellers face stressful situations getting back to civilization. This trip went off without a hitch and the group returned home just ahead of a massive snowstorm that covered the Big Bend. How wonderful to experience the cleansing effect of backpacking the Big Bend.

Dallas leader Zeev Saggi, an Israeli who grew up hiking the Negev desert, has backpacked the Mesa de Anguilla for 40 years. He will lead the Dallasites once again in February. Their annual trip features a sleeper bus (already sold out) full of Sierrans on five different trips ranging from day-hiking in the Chisos to traversing the Dodson Trail, to exploring the Mesa de Anguilla with Zeev Saggi.

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Smart Goal Update

The El Paso Sierra Club Group has five active smart goals at this time.   We hope to report on next steps and progress on these goals in a future blog post.   Smart Goals are:

Specific – The goal should be clearly understood by all stakeholders and the owner of the goal identified.
Measurable – How do we measure and how often.
Achievable – A statement explaining why we think the goal is achievable.
Realistic-Is the goal something that can realistically be achieved and are the resources needed clearly identified?
Timely – Specific Timelines including a description of how the goals are reviewed and how often.

Smart Goal 3
Leader – Laurence Gibson.  Glass Recycling for El Paso.  Get a glass processing machine for El Paso with several drop­ off sites for bottles and other glass.

Smart Goal 4
Leader Rick LoBello.  Return of the Wolf To Texas Educational Initiative.  The Sierra Club will help to put the return of the wolf to Texas back on the conservation radar screen in North America.

Smart Goal 6
Leader Jim Tolbert.  Prevent Future Quarrying Near McKelligon Canyon.  Boundaries between the State Park and the Cemex Quarry near McKelligon Canyon need to be surveyed.

Smart Goal 7
Leader Rick LoBello.  Help establish Big Bend Maderas Del Carmen International Biosphere Reserve.

Smart Goal 8
Leader Neysa Hardin.  Sierra Student Coalition of Americas High School.

What’s in a Hueco?

A species of Tadpole shrimps (Notostraca) living in temporarily water-filled pools. Length of this specimen: about 2.5 cm / 1 inch (incl. furca of the tail).  by Christian Fischer

What’s in a Hueco? An interpretive hike of aquatic habitats at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site.

Leader: Liz Walsh, Professor of Biological Sciences, UTEP and National Sierra Club Treasurer & Executive Committee Board Member

Duration: 2 hr

Date: October 15

Time: Meet at Hueco Tanks at 9am

Limit: 10

Join Sierran and UTEP Professor Liz Walsh on a hike to explore aquatic habitats at Hueco Tanks. Liz has been studying life in the huecos and other temporary aquatic habitats at Hueco Tanks for over 20 years. During the hike, we will visit very temporary huecos that are the home to specialized communities of animals including fairy shrimp, tadpole shrimp, waterbears and even an endemic species of rotifer. Liz will explain how these organisms persist during prolonged periods of dessication and exposure to the elements. We will also visit larger temporary waterbodies such as Laguna Prieta where, in addition to fairy and tadpole shrimp, hundreds of species of invertebrates thrive during the wet season. Wear sturdy shoes, bring plenty of water and a snack for this 2 hr hike to North and East Mountain sites.​​

Student group visits Organ Mountains


Sierra Student Coalition coordinator Neysa Hardin recently led a hike  to the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks National Monument, one of the 27 national monuments that are under threat of being rescinded by the current administration. With passion and curiosity for nature, biology, history, archeology–the young people who are members of the Sierra Student Coalition deeply care about their national parks and monuments.

It was a great day to be in the mountains. We stand with our public lands!

Quarterly Report



The El Paso Sierra Club Group is part of the Rio Grande Chapter.   Our chair, Laurence Gibson, recently compiled this quarterly report.

SSC leader Neysa Hardin recently took 25 Americas High School students to Hueco Tanks State Park for solar eclipse viewing.

Vice-Chair Jim Tolbert’s is back on the Excom as vice-chair and program chair. He wants to re-establish regular monthly general meetings, checking with all the single-issue egroups for a clear date, searching for a venue, and beginning to line up speakers through the spring semester. October program will probably be members showing photos from summer outings. Now that he is free of City Council, Jim may resume his crusade to stop Cemex from threatening the Franklin Mountains State Park boundary. A survey is needed, but Parks and Wildlife has no funding, and Cemex no interest!

We have our own website once again at, thanks to excom member Rick LoBello. Our previous site was shut down by David Van Winkle when he introduced the Sierra Club to the Drupal open source platform several years ago.

Glass recycling in El Paso continues, but on “life-support” as reported by ex-city councilman Tolbert. Reaganomics, with services needing to pay for themselves, is the big problem. New Republican mayor has yet to weigh in. We would like to contact bar owners to pick up their glass but they are contracted out, mosrly with Waste Management. New activist from Austin reports her apartment complex is not allowed to recycle anything. (Waste Management again)

El Paso Zoo Educational Curator Rick LoBello continues efforts to awaken interest in restoring the wolf to Texas with over 4,000 letters from zoo visitors. Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept is now citing a state law, intended for citizens really, that forbids releasing wolves on to the land. It will take research and pressure from large-scale landowners to change the rule. Unlike New Mexico and Arizona, Texas has little public land. Rick is looking for researchers to help with a peer reviewed research project on the feasibility of returning wolves to Texas ( . Obviously, this is a long-term project.

Group membership continues to rise, courtesy of the Trump administration. We are approaching 600 members now.