We’re Americans Now – A Naturalization Photo Gallery

Every year, Red Rock Canyon is the backdrop for a naturalization ceremony.

Friends of Red Rock Canyon are proud to participate in this very special event, hosting breakfast and helping the Bureau of Land Management as hosts.

This year, 73 immigrants from 27 nations became naturalized citizens. They come from  Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, Vietnam.

We share the day with this gallery of faces of new citizens and Friends’ volunteers.


This Land is Your Land

“The United States is a grand melting pot, and we are all better off by sharing our cultures and experiences.” 


After swearing in 73 new U.S. citizens at Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area on Saturday, March 10, U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon shared his thoughts about democracy and all of our responsibilities to the nation and each other.  


The oath of citizenship you took required you to renounce your allegiance to any foreign state or sovereignty. That means you have renounced your allegiance to the government of a foreign country. You did not renounce your love or devotion to your native land or its people. You should never renounce that, and no one should tell you to do so. Cherish what you love about your former homeland. 

When your native country plays in the World Cup or its athletes participate in the Olympics, cheer for them. Some of my ancestors come from Scotland, England and the Ukraine, and I root for them during the World Cup, except when they’re playing against the U.S. You should cheer for the Americans as well, but do not give up your love of your native country. 

Cherish your heritage and culture. Share it with our children and grandchildren. Teach them about your native land, its language and its culture. The United States is a grand melting pot, and we are all better off by sharing our cultures and experiences. 

As a United States citizen, you have the right and the duty to vote, to participate in the political process, to serve on a jury. Too many of our citizens take those rights for granted because they don’t realize that in many countries the citizens don’t have those rights. Remind people about that. Work to make the United States the country that you hoped for when you came here, and the country you want it to continue to be. 

Because I’m a judge, let me focus on jury service. People often try to get out of jury duty. They don’t realize that jury service is a vital part of our democracy. People have their voices heard by voting and participating in the political process. But they also have their voices heard by participating on juries and making decisions about other citizens. 

A famous English judge said: “Where the jury sits, there burns the lamp of liberty.” Thomas Jefferson once said: “The jury is the greatest anchor ever devised by human kind for holding a government to the principles of the Constitution.” I agree with those comments. I urge you to participate in our democracy by serving on a jury. 

As a citizen, you also have the right to criticize the government. You have the right to say that Congress should allocate more resources to protecting and making available great natural resources like this one (at Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area). You have the right to disagree with the President’s policies. You have the right to say that judges are too lenient or too severe in their sentences. But, you also have an obligation to do something about it. Don’t just criticize; get involved in the process and change what you don’t like.  

As we gather here in this beautiful conservation area, I am reminded of the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie who sang: “This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York Island.” As a citizen, this land truly now is your land.  

The Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management hold this property in trust for all of us. And they do a fantastic job managing it. You can help by getting involved with programs like the Interior Department’s ‘America’s Great Outdoors Initiative’ to have a say in how to protect beautiful spaces like this. If you like places like this, don’t sit on the sidelines. Get involved! 

I will leave you with this final thought. Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address at what is now the Gettysburg National Military Park, which is protected by the National Park Service. Visit there if you can. It is very moving. 

In his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln honored the brave soldiers who died on that great battlefield in the Civil War. But he also issued a challenge to the nation to move forward from the war and reunite. Listen carefully to what he said because these words till apply today.  

“It is… for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

That “great task” still remains before us. We live in a time of great division in our country – culturally, politically, racially. So, I issue the same challenge to you now. Because “government of the people by the people, for the people “now refers to each of you. So this is now your great task: to preserve this country and make it better, to give this nation a new birth of freedom, so that it does not perish from the earth. 

Throughout our history, the United States has become better by admitting immigrants and refugees who have enriched our country. It is important that you continue that tradition, and I am confident that you will. 

Becoming a U.S. Citizen with the Calico Hills as Backdrop

Naturalization Fast Facts 

  • During the last decade, more than 6.5 million people were naturalized. 
  • To become a citizen, one must be at least 18 years of age; be a lawful permanent resident with a green card for at least five years; be a person of good moral character; speak, read and understand English; have knowledge of the U.S government and history; and take the Oath of Allegiance. 
  • 75 percent of naturalized citizens reside in 10 states –  California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, Georgia and Pennsylvania. 
  • In a typical year, the top countries of origin for naturalization were in the following order: Mexico, India, the Philippines, Dominican Republic and China. 
  • The United States has the highest total number of immigrants, being home to 19 per cent of the world’s immigrants.  


With the Calico Hills as a vivid backdrop, 73 immigrants from 27 nations became U.S. citizens, bringing enough beaming smiles to brighten an unusually grey and slightly rainy March Saturday morning.  

“The United States is a grand melting pot, and we are all better off by sharing our cultures and experiences,” U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Gordon told the newest citizens moments after swearing them in before ecstatic families and friends.    

“As a citizen, you have the right to criticize the government,” he explained. “You have the right to say that Congress should allocate more resources to protecting and making available great natural resources like this one (at Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area). You have the right to disagree with the President’s policies. You have the right to say that judges are too lenient or too severe in their sentences.  

“But, you also have an obligation to do something about it. Don’t just criticize; get involved in the process and change what you don’t like.”

Read Judge Gordon’s full remarks. Click here.

That message resonated palpably with the new citizens, many coming from countries that suppress freedoms that U.S. citizens too often take for granted, noted Judge Gordon.  

“Today, I leave the pain from my past,” Artak Malkhasyan from Armenia told his fellow new citizens. “Now I can talk freely,” he marveled, his voice rising in excitement. “It’s all about freedom of speech… Live the moment. You have no idea what influence you can have on one another now… how human kind can change the world.” 

Throughout the ceremony, the power of place resonated as deeply as the ever-present Calico tones stretched behind an American flag where family after family posed with pride for photos to commemorate their personally historic passages.  

“You are looking at one of the most visited sites in the nation,” said Catrina Williams, Red Rock’s field manager. “As citizens, they are your public lands.” 

“Now, you too are stewards of Red Rock,” Tom Lisby, president of Friends of Red Rock Canyon, told the new citizens who come from Australia to Ethiopia, from Mexico to Vietnam. “They belong to your children and grandchildren and their grandchildren. Join us to care for this special place.” 

Friends, with 600 members, co-hosted the naturalization ceremonies by offering each new citizen free membership while also providing breakfast and as a flag-festooned celebratory cake. Many volunteers from Friends were involved during the entire morning – from controlling traffic to helping move the event inside the visitor’s center as rain began falling a half hour before the scheduled swearing in. 

“Excited.” “Nervous.” “Amazing.” “I can’t believe this is happening.” The new citizens repeated these phrases from the moment they arrived – some as early as 7 a.m. for the 10 o’clock ceremony. 

Many talked emotionally about finally being able to join their own children, who were born in the United States, as fellow citizens. 

Brittany Brooks, assistant field manager at Red Rock, found herself emotional as well, confessing to happy tears as she watched how family after family gathered in hugs, waved flags and often marveled at the hills beyond.  

She commended all that Friends contributes to make the ceremony a possibility. “The ceremony couldn’t take place without Friends’ contributions and commitment,” said Brook 

As the formal ceremony got underway, Wayne Leroy of the Southern Nevada Elks encouraged the new citizens to “keep that smile for the rest of your lives.  The Elks distributed hand-held American flags to all the new citizens. “They are far more than cloth,” he told them. The red stripes represent the blood spilled by generations of patriots, the white represents the tears of those who lost loved ones in wars and the stars unify the 50 states.  

As the sounds of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blared across the visitor’s center, every new citizen in unison waved the flags from upraised arms while proudly clutching certificates attesting to their new status. 

“I was exactly in your shoes in 2004,” U.S. Congressman Ruben Kihuen, whose family emigrated from Mexico, told the assemblage. “My parents wanted a piece of the land of opportunity… They came with less than a hundred dollars in their pockets and no job or place to live.” 

And now their son is serving in the U.S. Congress, he said. “Let that sink in.” 

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez-Musto shared her story too. “We are all descendants of immigrants.  “One of my grandfathers was from Italy and the other from Mexico. I think about that (every time) I walk into the Senate,” she said. 

Red Rock was very much on Cortez-Musto’s mind as she spoke to the new citizens, sharing stories of hiking and camping when she was as young as five years old with her Mexican-American grandfather. “Now, the same Red Rock Canyon belongs to each of you,” she said. 

Judge Gordon concluded the ceremonies connecting Red Rock to the lyrics of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who sang “This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York Island.” 

“As a citizen, this land trul now is your land.” 




Battling Graffiti at Red Rock Canyon

One of the most disturbing trends experienced at Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, is the increase in malicious and intentional damage, specifically graffiti applied to cliff faces and boulders in the national conservation area. 

Vandals spray painted graffiti over Native American rock art panels that were over 1,000 years old. The cost to restore the panels approached thirty thousand dollars and was paid for by generous donations from corporate donors and private individuals. 

The rock art (mainly pictographs) is probably late prehistoric to historic (e.g. ranging in time from about A.D. 1000 to possibly as late as the eighteen hundreds) and was made by the known prehistoric archaeological cultures that lived in the area such as the Virgin Anasazi, ancestral Paiute and the Lower Coloradoan River groups. 

Here is a YouTube video update of this graffiti removal effort within Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, Nevada. 

You can help us remove graffiti from Red Rock in several ways: 

  • Become a member of Friends of Red Rock Canyon to support our ongoing efforts at preserving and protecting this very special place. 

You can also join our Graffiti Removal Team and become a part of our work to keep Red Rock Canyon a graffiti free zone. Additional volunteers are being trained to remove graffiti and will be working hard to restore the the park to its natural beauty. 

We are working with the Bureau of Land Management ) to compile an inventory of graffiti damage and will schedule volunteer workdays to remove the damage. 

  • Send your vandalism photos and the GPS location (use UTM NAD 83 if possible) to:preserve@friendsofredrockcanyon.org. 
  • Report graffiti to the BLM’s Law Enforcement Officers at 702-293-8932. Do not confront anyone you see or suspect of this crime but do note details to provide to the officers. 

$1,000 REWARD!! 

 We’re tired of graffiti ruining Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. 

We’re tired of having our volunteers hauling the water, chemicals and the tools needed to remove these disgusting eyesores. 

We’re tired of spending money that could be used to bring children to the Rock for educational field trips. 

Friends will be offering a $1000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone defacing Red Rock Canyon. 

Click on the reward poster to view a larger size PDF file 


Send your tax-deductible donation to Friends of Red Rock Canyon 1000 Scenic Drive Las Vegas, NV 89161 or click here to donate through Friends PayPal account. 



Camping in Red Rock Canyon

Bureau of Land Management 


Campground Location 

3293 Moenkopi Rd 

Las Vegas, NV 89161 

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area has one developed campground.  Red Rock Canyon Campground is located two miles east of the Visitor Center on west Charleston Boulevard (State Route 159) and then one mile south on Moenkopi Road.  

General Information 

The campground is accessible 24 hours a day.  There is no check-in for individual sites, however, payment of fees must be made within 30 minutes of arrival at the self-registration station. Campers with tents and recreational vehicles are intermixed in the area.  

  • There are no electrical, water and sewer hook-ups.   
  • There is no dump station.   
  • There are no showers. 
  • Shade is provided at all of the group sites and half of the individual sites. 
  • Restrooms are vault toilets.  
  • Water faucets for drinking water are located throughout the campground.   
  • No firewood available on-site. 
  • Picnic tables, campfire rings & grills are located at all sites except the walk-in sites. 
  • Walk-in sites don’t have campfire rings, shade structures or tent pads. 
  • Campground closes over the summer from around Memorial Day to Labor Day. 
  • Check in is 12pm, check out is 11am. 

Individual Campsites  

The campground has 72 individual campsites (including 14 walk-in, 5 RV & 3 accessible sites).  To make campsite availability fair to all, there is a 14-day limit in effect. Individual sites are not reservable. 

  • Limit 10 people per campsite. 
  • $20 per night per site. Walk-in sites are $10 per night per site. 
  • Two vehicles per site. 
  • A sand tent pad is provided for approximately 2 tents. 

Group Campsites 

The campground has 7 group campsites which are available through reservation. 


  • 10 to 15 people per site. 
  • $60 per night per site. 
  • Up to eight vehicles per site. 
  • Each site has about 12 areas for tents. 
  • Not a day use area. At least 10 campers must be spending the night. 
  • Each group site has about 12 areas for tents, some of which can fit 2 small tents. 
  • Check in required 
  • Commercial groups require additional permitting 
  • Reservations made on www.recreation.gov 
  • Campground Rules 
  • You are responsible for knowing campground rules and regulations. 


  • Generators are permitted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. 
  • Quiet hours are from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. (the use of generators, radios, music players etc., are prohibited during this time). 
  • Pets must be leashed and attended at all times. Waste must be cleaned up & thrown away. 
  • Maximum 14-day limit in any 28-day period. 


America the Beautiful (the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series) Senior and Access pass holders receive a 50% discount on individual site camping fees. No discount on group sites. 

No refunds are issued for individual sites. 

Campground Availability 

It is not suggested to arrive in the middle of the night in the hopes of locating an empty campsite, especially during the fall and spring. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday periods are also very busy as are other holiday weekends.   

To Assist You  

Campground hosts live on-site and volunteer for the Bureau of Land Management.  They are there to assist you in making your visit as enjoyable as possible. 

Biking in Red Rock Canyon

Bureau of Land Management

While road bikers can primarily be seen on State Route 159 and the 13-Mile Scenic Drive, Red Rock Canyon also offers exciting opportunities for mountain biking as well.  

Bicycles are allowed on designated paved and unpaved roads and on trails designated for mountain bike use. 

However, bikes are not permitted on any trails off of the 13-Mile Scenic Drive nor in designated wilderness areas. The trails can be accessed from two main trailhead and parking areas utilized by mountain bike riders: 


  • Cottonwood/Late Night Trailheads off of State Route 160, approximately four miles west of the State Routes 159/160 intersections (Cottonwood Valley Trails System) 
  • Mile maker 12 on Kyle Canyon Road/State Route 157 (Twilight Zone Trails) 


To make your trail riding experience more memorable, please follow these guidelines: 

  • Yield the right of way to other non-motorized recreationists. Move off the trail to allow horses to pass and stop to allow hikers adequate room to share the trail. 
  • Slow down and use caution when approaching another and make your presence known well in advance.  Simply yelling “bicycle” is not acceptable. 
  • Maintain control of your speed at all times and approach turns with anticipation of someone around the bend.  Be able to stop safely within the distance you can see down the trail. 
  • Stay on designated trails to avoid trampling native vegetation, and minimize potential erosion by not using wet or muddy trails or shortcutting switchbacks.   
  • Avoid wheel lockup. If a trail is steep enough to require locking wheels and skidding, dismount and walk your bike. Locking brakes contributes to needless trail damage.   
  • Ride directly over water bars or dismount and walk your bike. They are placed to direct water off the trail and prevent erosion. 
  • Respect public and private property, including trail use signs, no trespassing signs, and leave gates as you found them.  If your route crosses private property, it is your responsibility to obtain permission from the landowner.   
  • Do not disturb wildlife or livestock. 
  • Do not litter. Pack out what you pack in and carry out more than your share whenever possible. 
  • Always be self sufficient. Your destination and travel speed will be determined by your ability, your equipment, the terrain, and the present and potential weather conditions. 
  • Do not travel solo in remote areas. Leave word of your destination and when you plan to return. 
  • Always wear a helmet. 
  • Ride only on roadways, trails, and slick rock. The desert crust (microbiotic crust) is fragile and takes up to 50 years to recover from footprints, waffle tracks, etc. 
  • Toilets in unimproved areas — move off trail, and dig a one foot deep pit, cover after use. 

Image compliments of the Bureau of Land Managment

Fossil Ridge – A Photo Gallery

Count the Fossils on Your Fossil Ridge Hike

When you climb Fossil Ridge, your imagination soars as you encounter as many fossils as you do cacti along this walk.

You realize you are standing at once was the bottom of an ocean floor hundreds of millions of years ago. Sea sponges and scallops come alive.

Here’s a small sample of the discoveries ahead.

You can sign up for guided hikes along Fossil Ridge with our partner,  Southern Nevada Conservancy. Click here.

Love It or Leave It on Your Public Lands

Bureau of Land Management

Iit is illegal to remove archaeological artifacts from public lands.  

Artifacts are most often thought of as prehistoric (pre-European contact) – items such as arrowheads, grinding stones, and artistically modified stones. But, artifacts are also historic–they are the remains of American history across the landscape. Historic artifacts can range from old gun casings to railroad ties, glass bottles and fragments to mining tools and equipment, horse tack to enamelware bowls, tools and farming gear, and any form of household goods. 

Archaeological artifacts on public lands belong to all American citizens – not just the person who finds them on the ground. But even more important, they are an essential tool in the understanding of how we as people have – through time – related to our landscape. Often these small pieces of history give us our only tools to know what a site was used for, how old the site is, who lived there, and many other questions. 

By collecting artifacts, you deprive others the pleasure of seeing our history. A collected artifact in a personal home may only allow for 10 to 20 visitors, whereas an artifact left for all to see will be seen by an indefinite amount of people. 

The Archaeological Resources Protection Act protects artifacts more than 100 years in age, with few exceptions. So, if you find an artifact, please admire it, take a picture, enjoy the location where you found it, but LEAVE IT THERE! If you aren’t sure if it is too old to pick up legally…leave it there!

Please set the right example for all who visit public lands.  

A Matter of Interpretation – The Beauty and Mystery of Red Rock Canyon

… there are those days that I get out of my car and I can smell the cliff rose and see the sun shine on the sandstone escarpment and realize that I am very blessed to come to work every day and experience the beauty that surrounds me.


So, what does Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Interpretive Ranger Kate Sorom do on her day

Take a two-and-a-half mile walk in the Calico Hills led by Friends’ President Tom Lisby, demonstrating that Red Rock Canyon represents more than a job; it’s a passion.

A passion that she always wants to share with visitors – especially young people.

A Las Vegas native, Kate grew up as a ‘city kid,’ but one whose parents frequently took the family camping on Mount Charleston and at Beaver Dam State Park on the Nevada-Utah border. “I have always loved nature, and the idea of being a park ranger began when I was very little,” she

She entered the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as an education major, thinking she would become a teacher. “But, I really wanted to be outside and teach in a different way. I just didn’t know how to go about it at the time.”

After getting married, Kate and her husband packed up for Reno where she graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in Natural Resource Science, focusing on forestry and range management.

“Trees and cows,” she jokes.

“Growing up in Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon was always a place I thought would be neat to work at. In high school, I went to the new Visitor’s Center to talk with a Bureau of Land Management official. “How can I work here?” I asked her. Ten years later, that same official became Kate’s boss.

During those intervening 10 years, Kate worked summers at Nevada state parks as a seasonal aide. “This was a good start to becoming a Park Ranger, learning people skills, meeting
visitors from all over the world.”

After graduation, she returned to Las Vegas and worked with the Red Rock Canyon Interpretative
Association, now part of the Southern Nevada Conservancy. Two years later, Kate was hired for a permanent part-time position by BLM.

“Being an interpretative ranger is being a “Jack of all trades and master of none,” she explains.
‘I meet people from all over the world and get to introduce them to my Mojave Desert home – and
specifically Red Rock Canyon.

“I get to do this by having general conversations, setting up interpretive table tops with hands-on
items and information, leading guided hikes and presenting at community events.”

Her favorite role is as Environmental Education Facilitator, arranging school field trips and
teacher workshops. “During the last school year, Red Rock Canyon hosted 190 field trips for 9,658
students and 10 workshops for 177 teachers,” she noted.

There are two field trip opportunities in Red Rock Canyon. One is led by rangers and the other
by teachers, who guide students on one of four recommended trails for a nature walk and place-based learning activities, explained Kate.

Ranger-led trips are based on student grade levels and are tied directly with their school curricula
to help teachers meet their classroom requirements. “We try to be a tool in their toolbox to help
teachers meet their educational goals for their students,” said Kate.

“Another program I facilitate is the Naturalist Educator volunteer opportunity. This program
trains assistant hike leaders, tabletop interpreters and hike leaders. There are a number of requirements for each of the positions, the most popular being the assistant hike leader.” she explained.

“A good number of students who come to Red Rock Canyon on field trips have never been here
before. This is a new experience for them, and sometimes new experiences can be scary and exciting at the same time.

“Some are experiencing the landscape of Red Rock Canyon, the flora and fauna, for the first
time. They are learning that as visitors you need to be on your best behavior as you would be when
others come to their homes. That’s because this is the home of rabbits, lizards, birds, flowers and
much more.

“Many time students say they will come back to visit with their parents or siblings, and we hope
that they do. But mostly, we have planted a seed; and hopefully it grows, molding that student into
a good steward as an adult and a caretaker of our public lands,” said Kate.

As a naturalist and interpreter, Kate often works with Friends of Red Rock Canyon through its
generous transportation grant program that she emphasizes has “contributed greatly” to getting students here.

“Many schools cannot afford or budget even minimal off-site field trips, leaving teachers to find
alternate ways to get students out to experience the areas in which they live. Many students and
their families don’t travel far from “civilization”because they may not have the means to do so,”
she noted.

“Public transportation does not extend past city limits, leaving much of the public land areas such
as Red Rock Canyon out of reach for them to experience on their own. But, Friends of Red Rock
approved funding for 60 buses during the last school year. That’s almost a third of the number
of field trips that came out. Without that funding,these students would not have had the opportunity to experience Red Rock Canyon.”

Kate has had some kind of relationship with Friends since she started working at Red Rock
Canyon 23 years ago.

“The organization and its volunteers have always been willing to help when needed. As all the
Friends know, our common mission is to preserve, conserve and protect the canyon for current
and future generations; not only the human kind, but also the critter and flowery kind” she said.
“Friends of Red Rock Canyon as an organization and its members make that happen every day and I am so grateful for what they do directly for me and for the entire conservation area.”

Finding resources always is a challenge, especially in an era of budget constraints, but one program
– Every Kid in a Park, launched in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Interior, has allowed Kate
to increase outreach especially to fourth graders.

The program allows them and their parents to visit public lands without paying a fee.
“I have been able to go into the schools and share information on our Nevada State mammal,
the Desert Bighorn Sheep.

One such visit inspired the 4th grade class at Garehime Elementary to make a proposal to a Las Vegas City Councilman that Las Vegas have its own city animal. These fourth graders, soon to be fifth graders, will make their proposal to the Las Vegas City Council in September. “

Through the program, Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon National Conservation Areas have
issued more than 8,000 free passes. That presents more than 20 percent of Clark County School
District’s fourth-grade population.

“Many days, I take working at Red Rock Canyon for granted, I think about what I have to do
for the day, how much I need to get done,” Kate confesses. “But then, there are those days that I get
out of my car and I can smell the cliff rose and see the sun shine on the sandstone escarpment and realize that I am very blessed to come to work every day and experience the beauty that surrounds me.

“The day is always better at Red Rock Canyon.”

Even on a particular Sunday when she is officially off work, but volunteering as Tom Lisby’s assistant trail leader, sharing the Calico Hills with a new group of amazed visitors.

Roaming the Range Lands of Red Rock

Tabitha Romero is responsible for all the wild horse and burro herds here.  She shares her work and passion for these special animals that confront constant challenges where water and forage is always so precious.     


By Glenn Ritt 


When Tabitha Romero comes to work, her “office” happens to extend 2.3 million acres across all of southern Nevada.  

That’s the vast territory this 30-year-old northern Wyoming native is solely responsible for as a wild horse and burro specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

Growing up hunting, fishing camping and riding Mustangs, Romero always knew she wanted to work outdoors and be involved with horses, but she never imagined it would be this challenging.  

With a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources for Fisheries and Wildlife from Oregon State University, Romero’s responsibilities are wide-ranging, often changing by the day and circumstance. It requires long hours crossing rugged terrain by herself in a Jeep, many trials and errors and a willingness to learn on the spot. 

“That’s why I love my job,” she says. “It’s rarely the same from week to week.” 

During spring – which is the busy season – Romero will be in the field about three days a week monitoring water and forage for the animals – and sometimes training volunteers who help  her cover such a vast region. 

She must balance that with constant office work such as writing and analyzing environmental assessments and other documents, as well as spending time from Red Rock Visitor’s Center to Pahrump and Amargosa conducting outreach programs about wild horses and burros.  

Another aspect of her wide-ranging job is working with people adopting wild horses – from interviewing them to inspecting how they are treating the animals. 

Recently, The Rock spent a day with Romero driving across part of her immense region – Red Rock Conservation Area – inspecting bands of wild horses and monitoring precious watering locations ideally fed by natural springs, but during drought conditions reinforced by tanker trucks that must navigate rutted and rock-strewn remote paths for a full day. 


What are the most significant challenges in your job? 

Romero: Human interaction with the wild horses and burros, forage and water conditions. In the Southern Nevada District, we have a very high number of people who can encounter these animals, so we are constantly trying to educate them. if they want the wild horses and burros to stay wild, they have to let them be wild.  

We have domesticated these animals for more than 6,000 years. So, they revert back to domesticated behaviors very quickly if they experience human interaction. Many people do not understand that these are not backyard barn animals. They are wild and can be dangerous.  

Feeding them increases their dependence and stops them from looking for natural forage.  This leads to more private property damage, animals being struck on the highways, and declining body conditions.  

Forage and water availability always is a challenge within the Mojave Desert. Despite many different natural spring sources, they go dry during warmer times of the year, especially if we suffer from low precipitation.  

Currently we have been hauling water to two separate areas since June, one every week and the other every 3-6 weeks. We also have to haul water to two other areas within the district seasonally. Since June 2017 we have hauled approximately 180,000 gallons of water.  


What brings you the greatest satisfaction in your job? 

Romero: When I’m able to place wild horses and burros into good adoptive homes. We currently have approximately 46,000 wild horses and burros that we care for long-term holding corral and pasture facilities. If not adopted, horses eventually move to holding pastures in the Midwest where we maintain them for the rest of their lives. Roughly $50 million a year is spent on these facilities each year. So being able to get as many animals as we can into their forever adoptive homes is very gratifying.  


What are the current conditions of wild horses and burros? 

Romero: As numbers stand now the wild horse and burro population is over-populated.  

Throughout 10 western states there are 26.9 million acres of public lands managed for wild horses, wild burros and other species. While this may seem like a lot of land, you have to understand that the vast majority of these areas are arid or semi-arid and contain limited resources that must not only support healthy wild horse and burro populations but also grazing permittees, mineral, oil, and gas development, native wildlife, and outdoor recreation to name a few.  

Congress designated BLM a multi-use agency, so we have to strive for the best balance between all stakeholders. As of March 2017, we estimated that on BLM administered lands alone there are approximately 73,000 wild horses and burros. But we have determined that to maintain healthy range lands and herds, only about 27,000 should be on the range. 

This is causing range degradation and unhealthy competition among wild horses, burros and native wildlife such as elk, deer, pronghorn and sage grouse. Wild horses and burros do have predators such as mountain lions in some of areas, but they do not make a big enough impact on herd numbers to help properly manage the populations.  With an average growth rate of 20 percent per year, a wild horse or burro herd can double every four years; so, it is up to us to properly manage them. 


At this time, what is the population of wild horses and burros in Red Rock Conservation Area? 

Romero:  There are 200 wild horses and a wild burro population of approximately 70. 


When bands get overpopulated, does BLM let them die naturally if they are malnourished, or are all horses relocated? 

Romero: If there are animals that are in distress due to lack of water or forage the BLM typically removes them from the range permanently. Dying of starvation or dehydration is a very painful death and is not a humane form of management.  


How do you go about observing and measuring their numbers and impacts? 

Romero: We do flight inventory surveys where we count the animals from a helicopter every two to three years. We use a simultaneous double-count method where we have two observers in front and two in back sighting and counting animals over predetermined flight lines. We fly approximately 150-200 feet above the ground to better see the animals.  

Every year we conduct forage utilization surveys of our herd management areas. This allows us to see how much of a key species of forage is being consumed on a scale of zero to 100 percent.  We also monitor spring conditions to measure impacts to riparian areas from wild horse or burro usage.  


When there is drought and water is not naturally arriving for the animals, what happens? 

Romero: As an emergency measure we are authorized to haul water to the animals or develop springs to allow for better storage of water that is naturally occurring. If we haul water for long periods, then we analyze range conditions and animal numbers more closely to determine if we need to gather excess animals from the area.  


What do you want the public to know about these animals? 

Romero: Wild horses and burros are amazing creatures, and it’s very special to see them on the range. It is important that we preserve and protect these animals for future generations to enjoy by educating ourselves on current issues and trying to collaborate on management decisions with all stakeholders.  

Some believe that we are “managing the animals to extinction,” and that we cater to cattle ranchers or private individuals. This is not the case. We are passionate not only about the wild horses and burros, but also the range land and all activities occurring on them. By striking a balance among all these, we benefit all parties, not just a few.  


How important are these animals to the sustainable habitat of Red Rock Canyon? 

Romero:  Scientific studies prove that sustainable numbers of wild horses and burros on the range lands can benefit native wildlife. Wild burros provide fine fuel management with their grazing and help create better soil conditions in some areas. They also create great hiking trails. I always tell people if you go for a hike find a burro trail because it’s going to be the path of least resistance! 


At the same time, how do they potentially threaten the habitat? 

Romero: When overpopulated, wild horses and burros can overgraze forage, impact soils, and severely damage riparian areas. While this area can support healthy herd numbers, if they get too numerous the results can be devastating. We do not have the luxury of high precipitation and lower temperatures here in the Mojave. The annual rainfall average is roughly four inches, so when our desert ecosystems are damaged it can take decades for them to recover. You can see evidence of this within Red Rock Canyon itself where fires burned through 10-20 years ago and recovery has been very slow going.  


For those who have never had the chance to observe these animals, can you describe them  – their characteristics, range, predators, interaction with people?  

Romero: Wild horses and burros can be very different from their domesticated brothers and sisters. Typically, they are very distrustful of humans because they believe that we can be a predator (which we were during the Pleistocene era). So, when they see people, they will typically head for the hills. But when they become accustomed to humans, they are more willing to stick around and see what’s going on.  

The wild horses and burros come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors due to their mixed ancestry; and they are very versatile. We have people that have adopted wild horses and competed in different disciplines such as dressage, reining, endurance, hunter/jumper, you name it.  

Wild burros have been used for therapy animals, drawing carts, and even riding if they’re large enough. So, you see a lot of these different personality traits while they are on the range as well. They can travel 12-15 miles a day looking for food and water.  

Being that they have few, if any, natural predators on the range, it’s not often you will observe them doing much more than posturing to one another when trying to determine who is the dominant mare or stallion.  

And as far as interaction with people, like I stated before, if you want them to stay wild, you have to let them be wild. Observing from a distance is fine, but it is never acceptable for a person to approach or feed a wild horse or burro. This can be very dangerous for your own personal safety; and if caught by BLM officials, you will receive a $500 fine.  


How can someone go about adopting a wild horse? 

Romero: We have 17 facilities located throughout the United States. The closest facility to Las Vegas is in Ridgecrest, Calif. or Reno. The best thing to do is call us at 866-4MUSTANGS, email us at wildhorse@blm.gov, or go to BLM.gov/WHB to see what the adoption requirements are for a wild horse or burro.  

Typically, you will need to have 6-foot panels set up in a space no smaller than a 20×20 area with a shade structure. We also work very closely with the Mustang Heritage Foundation to gentle animals before they go to adopters. Doing this has greatly increased our adoption success rate,  and it is a great way to get a wild horse or burro if you don’t have any holding facilities near you. 


How easy is to domesticate it? 

Romero: They have had little to no human interaction for the majority of their lives. It’s not necessarily more challenging to domesticate them, but you do have to work thoroughly and consistently with them to gain their trust and to advance them in their training. They are highly intelligent animals; so, if you try to speak their language instead of forcing them to learn yours, you will set yourself up for success.  


Last year, BLM rounded up many wild horses. What happened to them? Is this typical and if so, how often are there round ups?

Romero: BLM only gathered approximately 4,000 animals. It didn’t even cover the foal crop from last year. Unless an animal is injured or very emaciated and unhealthy, we take all gathered animals to corral facilities. Their age is determined, they are vaccinated, given a health assessment, gelded, and provided a freeze mark.

The BLM attempts to find a home for every animal gathered from the range; however, when an animal is not adopted or sold, they are eventually sent to the Midwest and Great Plains where they spend the rest of their lives on open pasture land under contract for their use.

Gathers are typically conducted in areas where animal populations are very high, range conditions have deteriorated, or animal conditions have worsened. Since wild horses and burros are located within so many different areas, we have to prioritize who gets to gather and how many and for what reason.


Why are there so much activist protests about round ups?

Romero: Miseducation is the number-one enemy of the wild horse and burro program. We are as transparent as possible. If you have access to our website, then you have access to pretty much everything we are currently doing within the program.

Many people are convinced that we send all the animals to slaughter, that we run them down with helicopters, beat them, or kill them for no reason. They think that people who pay to have their animals graze on public lands are receiving large subsidies from the government, and that we are “managing the wild horses and burros to extinction.” These are all very far from the truth. That is why we focus so much on outreach and education. We want people to know about how we manage the program and be as involved as possible.

Within the wild horse and burro program we have very high humane animal welfare standards for the treatment of the animals, and we do everything we can to lessen their stress, whether it be during a gather or on range lands.

Equus evolved in North America, but then became extinct 10,000-13,000 years ago. They were not reintroduced here until the Spaniards arrived in the early 1500’s. Donkeys evolved in Africa and were never found in North America until they too were brought over by the Spaniards in the 1500’s.

The ecology of North America has changed drastically since that time, and while it is possible to have healthy populations of wild horses and burros throughout the western United States, they need to be managed.

It is an emotional issue and a very complicated, multi-faceted one at that. But, we have to strike a balance in order to have healthy herds and healthy range lands.