5 Essential Safety Tips for Exploring the Great Outdoors
Safety conscious hikers at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico.

When the mountain peaks and waterways of New Mexico summon, the Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) is on hand to assure your safety as you embark on your adventures in the Land of Enchantment. This nonprofit organization advocates for responsible and safe exploration of our public lands, with a keen emphasis on preserving the integrity of the ecosystem and cultural heritage.

PLIA is in the process of producing a collection of concise educational films aimed at raising awareness about safe practices for river activities, fire prevention, wildlife interaction, adherence to Leave No Trace Principles, and cultural awareness. Designed with the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in mind, the safety and etiquette tips are nonetheless applicable across a wide spectrum of natural settings. A virtual tour of the monument is also slated to be a part of this informative series.

Here is a brief summary of what viewers can expect from this upcoming series: the videos will be made available on the websites of both BLM and PLIA, and for those visiting in person, at the Wild Rivers and Río Grande Gorge visitor centers. The series is designed to be a companion to the Junior Ranger booklet, which is distributed at these centers.

River Safety

In the northern part of the state, particularly when the river swells, the Río Grande becomes a hotspot for thrill-seekers to engage in rafting and kayaking. This high-energy activity contrasts sharply with the calm, leisurely pace of floating on the Río Grande’s southern sections.

Life vests are required for anyone navigating these waters. They’re a lifesaver, quite literally, even for those who are proficient swimmers. The shock of frigid waters can induce an involuntary gasp, leading to drowning; a well-fitted life vest is your best bet against such unforeseen incidents.

Additionally, for those tackling the rougher waters, wearing a helmet is a key safety measure. Remember the 120-degree rule: if the air and water temperature combined is at or below 120 degrees, wear a wet or dry suit.

It’s critical to assess your own skill level accurately and avoid any river excursions that exceed it. Always set off from a safe spot and leave your whereabouts and expected return time with someone. If you’re not well-versed with the river, partnering with a guide who knows the water well could be invaluable.

Safety on the water includes wearing a helmet, like this kayaker. Photo courtesy BLM.
Safety on the water includes wearing a helmet, like this kayaker. Photo courtesy BLM.

Fire Safety

Wildfires constitute a grave threat across Northern New Mexico’s landscapes. A mere spark can obliterate forests that have stood for hundreds of years and extinguish the lives of the creatures that call them home. These fires can also quickly spread to neighboring towns, posing severe risks to residential areas and human life. Therefore, taking preventative measures is important.

Always observe any local fire bans or regulations. For example, at the camping areas in Wild Rivers and Orilla Verde within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, fire is only permitted in provided grills or fire pans. In certain locales, particularly in the arid season, fires might be totally forbidden. Refrain from lighting fires on gusty days, as wind-driven sparks can travel vast distances, starting wildfires. Be sure to have a water source on hand before even starting a fire.

When children are with you, it’s vital they comprehend fire’s hazards and that you supervise them to prevent any accidents near campfires. Making s’mores can serve as a casual yet effective fire safety lesson.

Control the size of your campfire, and never leave it unsupervised. Ensure it’s fully snuffed out and the remains are cool to the touch before leaving. When putting out the fire, thoroughly soak it, watch for steam and stir through the debris to ensure all hotspots are reached. Continue this until all heat is gone. If water is not available, dirt or sand can be used.

Wildlife Safety

The vast stretches of wilderness that make up our outdoor recreation areas are also the home for a diversity of wildlife. Within the boundaries of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, it’s fairly typical to see wildlife navigating the terrain as they make their way across various mountainous regions. Ensuring our safety and theirs comes down to respecting their space requirements. These animals tend to avoid encounters with humans, making it crucial that we don’t corner them or obstruct their potential exit paths.

In regions where the weather is warmer, it’s common to spot rattlesnakes, sometimes found soaking up the warmth on a sun-drenched trail. Be sure to maintain a safe distance and to avoid probing into small gaps or rocky shelters where they may be hiding.

Safety is important around all wild animals, like this bighorn sheep at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo courtesy BLM.
Safety is important around all wild animals, like this bighorn sheep at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo courtesy BLM.

Leave No Trace

Many individuals who enjoy the wilderness often forget to take their trash with them: leftover food packages, disposable bottles, drink cans, soiled diapers, cigarette butts, and even abandoned apparel. This litter not only contaminates the environment but can also endanger wildlife, leading to disease or death. Furthermore, it ruins the natural beauty and enjoyment for subsequent visitors. The rule of thumb should be clear: what you pack in, you must pack out. Make sure the only sign of your presence is the footprints you leave.

Respecting Petroglyphs and Sacred Sites

The terrain you tread upon may be hallowed to Indigenous communities, and it’s possible to find historical items such as petroglyphs etched into stone or ruins of homes that date back many generations. It is imperative not to interfere with or damage these ancient sites. If you encounter areas marked as restricted due to their consecrated importance, it is your duty to honor such designations and refrain from entering.

Petroglyphs at the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.
Petroglyphs at the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.

About Río Grande Del Norte National Monument

Administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the expanse of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument features a landscape of expansive highlands and remnants of volcanic activity, regions inhabited by humans since the days of prehistory.

In its current state, this conserved space is accessible for numerous recreational pursuits, including setting up camp, hiking across trails, recreational fishing, game hunting, horse riding, cycling on mountain trails, observing the diverse wildlife, and experiencing the river from which the monument derives its name. The Río Grande cuts through the terrain, creating a remarkable gorge that plunges up to 800 feet beneath the level plains.

Photos courtesy BLM.

Learn more about this PLIA adventure safety project here.

Read about the PLIA virtual reconstruction of Fort Craig here.


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Posted by LasCruces.com

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