Let’s band together to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

Organ Mountains

Zen Kahn

A scene from the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

COMMENTARY: Coming from the mountaineering state of New York, I never in my wildest dreams considered that my life trajectory would provide for me the opportunity to live amongst the beauty in New Mexico.

My name is Zen Khan and I am currently pursuing my degree in doctor of osteopathy at the Burrell College of Medicine (BCOM) at New Mexico State University. I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I remember — the only other strong passion in my life has been the outdoors. My love for the outdoors began in the Catskills Mountains, where I learned to hike and climb.

That feeling of awe returned to me when I first looked upon the Organ Mountains and surrounding desert peaks. I had to stop the car on Dripping Springs Road and just take in the jagged contours and serrated summits. They resemble a crooked grin, an open-invitation to inspiring challenges in the unforgiving backcountry.

Zen Kahn

Courtesy photo

Zen Khan

The Organs are so close to Las Cruces, but at the same time offer untamed adventure and dire consequences if one is not prepared. However, there is a tremendous satisfaction one gets upon coming back from an arduous trip out to the monument.

I came to New Mexico to be a doctor, and the state’s public lands and its people have inspired me to practice as a rural physician in marginalized populations. The ethos of New Mexico is one of humility, and hospitality often offered by those who do not have much for themselves.

That speaks volumes about the people of New Mexico. I have been privileged to meet many great folks from Las Cruces who have taken their time to show me their love for their hometown and the Organs. I have much to learn about New Mexico, but the Organs are akin to my Catskills for another young person in Las Cruces to practice their kindness for the wilderness.

When I was looking for a medical school, I wanted to attend an institution in close proximity to wilderness. The Organs have maintained my sanity through some of the toughest medical curriculum in the country. I know those mountains will be there at the end of the day so that I can spend an afternoon exploring around La Cueva, or in the Robledo or Las Uvas mountains.  It seems it will take several lifetimes to wrap my mind around the complexities and intricacies of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

We need to protect these mountains for our youth so they too can revel in the serenity that the monument affords to the people of New Mexico. Living in Las Cruces, we see the Organs in the morning, and we see the sun sulking off the spires upon sunset. They are giants that tower over Las Cruces and remind us of both the historical and cultural richness of the Southwest.


To say I am passionate about the outdoors would be an understatement. The Organ Mountains and desert peaks are just another church in my eyes, where I practice my religion of kindness and respect for all creatures. It is a sort of spiritual therapy to be hiking amongst these rock formations that have long existed before us, and will continue to exist long after we are all gone.

However, in our tumultuous times I think it is necessary we stand up for the mountains, as they cannot speak to the injustices of unregulated development. It is of utmost importance to give our monument a voice and protect these lands for the next generation of children to cherish. I think back to the Catskill Mountains often and think that if my children could not witness them in their original glory, I would be devastated.

Our monument is a vital source of tourism for our region, as well as jobs and future economic development opportunities from outdoor recreation. Many of my fellow students also spend time in the mountains of New Mexico and come back rejuvenated. Just like me, the students need this monument as a means of keeping their mind and body healthy amidst the rigors of medical school.

As president of the Wilderness Medicine Society at BCOM, I want to further intertwine our efforts at BCOM with preservation of the Organ Monument. I am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure all these mountains will be protected for the best interests of the people of the United States. It is a source of inspiration for myself, and the millions of others who have roamed the same trails I have hiked.

Thus, I implore every Las Crucen to stop what they’re doing and recall that one moment they had in the monument that was magical. For me, it is the recollection of my knees being shredded by the cacti bushwhacking up the Needle. It was pain that transcended into sheer awe and reverence for the mountains, allowing me to summit and take in fantastic views of the high desert.

I hope we can all band together and ensure that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will indeed be there for the next individual who seeks adventure, tranquility and the beauty of the Southwest.

Zen Khan is a second-year medical student at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine. He plans to focus on providing health care to rural populations in New Mexico. He is also an avid outdoorsman and landscape photographer. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.

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