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Sept. 8, 2009

Franklin Mountains State Park to Host Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta

Park Event Kicks off Annual Celebration of Our Mountains Festival in El Paso

EL PASO — Franklin Mountains State Park will be the host site for the fifth annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta, a day-long interpretive program highlighting the unique plant and animal life of the southwest desert ecosystem and the Rio Grande region, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 at the park’s Tom Mays Unit, located at the western base of Transmountain Road.

The Fiesta will also serve as the inaugural event for the popular, six-week Celebration of Our Mountains festival, now in its 16th year. The festival features numerous educational programs, hikes, field trips, driving tours, nature walks, and other activities around town showcasing the city’s natural beauty and significance of its environmental resources.

Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta will offer various presentations by state park staff throughout the day on topics such as helping protect the threatened Texas horned lizard, the numerous bird species of the region, and the restoration of vegetation along the Rio Grande. The event is sponsored by the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC), a conglomerate alliance of state agencies, nonprofit, education and other organizations in far West Texas and Southern New Mexico that are concerned with conservation of the area’s rich environment and ecology.

Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition also will be on hand giving free climbing tutorials, and a chili cook-off—sanctioned by the Chili Appreciation Society International and complete with tasting open to the public—will also be a part of the day’s activities.

“The main focus of the Fiesta is to increase awareness of the Chihuahuan desert,” said Rick LoBello, education curator of the El Paso Zoo, which is a member of CDEC. “The desert has been identified as a real hot spot for conservation, particularly in light of urban sprawl. It’s important that we help people understand what the desert is all about, so they can help protect it.”

“Most of Franklin Mountains State Park is high elevation, but the Tom Mays Unit has the greatest number of low elevation trails, so it’s the best example of the desert ecosystem,” continued LoBello. “I can’t think of a better location (for the Fiesta) in the Chihuahuan desert environment that’s close and accessible to where people live.”

The park’s customary $4 per-person adult entrance fee will be waived for the day, but donations to the park’s Lone Star Legacy endowment fund will be accepted. Food will not be served to the public, but facilities will be available for picnicking and outdoor barbeques.

“There are so many people who have lived here their whole lives, or who have maybe just moved here, who cruise past this area on the highway but don’t understand what this desert ecosystem is about,” said Rink Somerday, president of CDEC. “The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America, and if people will get out and experience it, they can start to understand all of the wonderful plants and animals that make up this ecosystem.”

For more information about the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta, call Franklin Mountains State Park at (915) 566-6441, or visit, or for more information about the Celebration of Our Mountains festival, visit


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