The 1900s have seen New Mexico grow from an out-of-the-way
U.S. territory to a state known for science, sports, literature and the
arts as well as for its unique cultural mix and brand of politics.
While many people have contributed in these areas,
some have had a larger-than-usual impact. Some are known far and wide: Smokey Bear, Georgia
O'Keeffe, the Unser family. Others might not have as high a name recognition
outside New Mexico, but leave a legacy that helped define the state.
And in most cases, their influence has been felt
far beyond New Mexico's borders.
Here is one of the 20 individuals or families who
helped make New Mexico what it is today.
Aldo Leopold -- 1886-1948
Aldo Leopold worked in New Mexico forests for only
a brief time, but his influence spans millions of acres.
Leopold came to New Mexico as a young ranger in
the Carson National Forest and worked his way up to forest inspector for
the Albuquerque office when he heard about a vast stretch of untamed wild
land in southwestern New Mexico.
Through persuasion, fueled by an ability to speak
and write about the magic of the wilderness, the young Iowan sold his
Washington bosses on a concept that was unique at the turn of the last
century: That pieces of wild land should be set aside and kept untamed.
On June 3, 1924, three-quarters of a million acres
of mountains, rivers and desert officially became the Gila Wilderness,
the first area in the world to be managed as a wilderness area.
Anyone who has walked through a clean and quiet
forest and slept alone in silence can thank Leopold, who went on to help
found the Wilderness Society. The Gila Wilderness and the Aldo Leopold
Wilderness inside the Gila National Forest were the starting point for
the modern wilderness conservation movement that has carved out pieces
of quiet throughout the nation.
The idea of wilderness has always been a part of
the human psyche.
To the ancients, the untamed landscape held terror.
And for the eons that followed, wilderness was
a place to be feared or conquered.
But it was in New Mexico 75 years ago that the
idea of wilderness took a dramatic turn -- it became a place to be treasured
It was at the urging of Aldo Leopold -- who during
the span of a remarkable career was a writer, ranger, ecologist and head
of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce -- that the U.S. Forest Service
designated the Gila Wilderness as the world's first officially protected
That was in 1924. Forty years later, Congress opened
the way for more wilderness areas to be officially protected with passage
of the Wilderness Act of 1964. There now are about 103 million acres of
federal land preserved as wilderness in the country -- more than half
of that in Alaska.
In New Mexico, about 1.6 million acres -- or about
2 percent of the state's land area -- have been designated as wilderness.
by Fritz Thompson, Leslie Linthicum, Bill Hume and Dennis Latta
Compliments of the