An Administrative History
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The Forces at Work

During a period of fifty years a number of social, political, and economic factors combined to bring about the establishment of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Three of those factors might be singled out as crucial. One was philosophical: the belief in the necessity for parks in American society. The other two factors were economic: rapid development and population growth in West Texas and southern New Mexico, and the increasing use of the automobile, which provided a means to escape the pressures that development and increasing population created.

Parks were an accepted part of American life by the 1920s. Congressional authorization of the National Park Service in 1916 reflected public interest in material and spiritual conservation. This philosophy was based in the belief that scenic grandeur, experienced in a relatively primitive state, could revitalize people who lived daily with the forces of industrialization and urbanization. Since the country had a non-renewable supply of scenic resources, people believed they should be conserved and managed for use by present and future generations. [1]

Although the entire Southwest was less than thirty years past its frontier stage, the area was growing up. People living in small and scattered agricultural and ranching communities in New Mexico and Texas watched towns like Las Cruces, Roswell, Artesia, Carlsbad, and El Paso grow to be prosperous centers of economy and culture.

"Boosterism," a popular term of the early twentieth century, described the efforts made by individuals and organizations to advertise the potentials of a locale for economic development and personal contentment. Boosters wanted to put their towns "on the map." Chambers of commerce, the institutions of boosterism, seemed to grow spontaneously once a town achieved a population of several thousand.

El Paso, Texas, a city by local standards, was geographically isolated from other centers of population in Texas. The El Paso Chamber of Commerce looked east, therefore, to the rapidly developing oil fields of the Permian basin as a market for goods and services and to the newly established Carlsbad Cave National Monument in southeastern New Mexico as a source of expanding tourism.

Boosters of Carlsbad, New Mexico, were equally aware of the economic potential of their area. After Carlsbad Cave was designated a National Monument in 1923, tourism became the most frequently mentioned topic in the local newspaper. In addition to the spectacular cave, the boosters of Carlsbad pointed to the rugged beauty and archeological artifacts to be found in the canyons of the nearby Guadalupe Mountains; the beautiful and healthful waters of Sitting Bull Falls and Carlsbad Spring; and the tamer diversions the city offered, such as swimming and golf. [2]

The automobile provided the means for many people to make excursions to relatively distant points on their own time schedules. Without access to the diversions afforded by major metropolitan areas, and living in a climate that provided long seasons for enjoyment of the outdoors, residents of West Texas and southern New Mexico often spent vacation times camping and exploring archeological ruins or geological formations. The guano cave near Carlsbad, where Jim White was the resident foreman and guide, was a popular recreation destination for people from the area even before it became a national monument. Because they were proud of their scenic resources, local people also wanted the rest of the country to appreciate them.

As automobile use expanded, people became more aware of the limitations of the old wagon roads. Local good roads committees grew up with the chambers of commerce. Those committees, magnified to state and federal proportions, served as the lobbying forces to promote the establishment of a national highway system. Although people began to think it would be a good idea to establish a park in the scenic Guadalupe Mountains located between Carlsbad and El Paso, a park could develop only after roads opened the remote area. On the other hand, tax dollars would not be spent on improving or building a road unless the road led somewhere. In West Texas and southern New Mexico, automobiles, roads, and parks were inextricably linked.

Motorcades were a phenomenon of the 1920s, expressive of the country's newfound mobility, the spirit of boosterism, and goodwill toward neighboring communities. Organized by chambers of commerce, these events involved from several dozen to hundreds of vehicles traveling together, usually for a few days, but sometimes for weeks at a time. The motorcade was met with enthusiasm wherever it stopped because it occasioned an opportunity to show off each locality's particular attractions to an appreciative audience. During the social activities there was always time to discuss ways to strengthen ties between towns. Good roads were usually the principal topic.

In the 1920s no direct route existed between El Paso and Carlsbad. Instead, travelers from El Paso went to Alamogordo, then through the Sacramento Mountains to Artesia, then south to Carlsbad, a scenic but indirect route. In 1927, after a motorcade of El Pasoans through the "El Paso trade territory," the Carlsbad newspaper reported that there was much interest in building a highway to link El Paso and Carlsbad. To get such a project underway, one wealthy businessman from El Paso had put up $5,000 and challenged twenty others to match the amount. [3]


Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001