The New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) oversees the State Parks Division, which manages 35 state parks throughout the State. From crystal clear lakes and mountain forests to expansive deserts and sprawling canyons, New Mexico’s state parks provide visitors with endless opportunities for adventure and enjoyment.
In 2009 alone, more than 4.5 million visitors enjoyed New Mexico State parks and the many historical sites and recreational opportunities that abound throughout.
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Park rangers within the New Mexico State Parks Division are responsible for:
- Assisting visitors
- Patrolling the State park grounds
- Enforcing the rules and regulations
- Maintaining park facilities, grounds and equipment
Becoming a New Mexico State Park Ranger: The Employment and Training Process
General Expectations – Individuals who want to become a New Mexico State park ranger must possess, at a minimum, a high school diploma and at least two years of administration experience. They must also be able to successfully complete the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy and obtain a peace officer certification within one year of hire.
All applicants are also subject to drug testing, and all individuals must successfully complete an extensive background investigation to be considered for this position.
Education and Experience – Many individuals choose to complete a formal education program to prepare for advancement in the profession.
Go achieve an upper-level park ranger job (park ranger specialist) in New Mexico, individuals must possess, at a minimum, an associate’s degree in one of the following:
- Parks and recreation management
- Environmental sciences
- Criminal justice
- Wildlife management
Along with a formal degree, candidates must also have at least two years of experience in one or more of the following:
- Parks and recreation management
- Natural resources
- Environmental sciences
- Criminal justice
- Wildlife management
Any combination of education and experience totaling four years may be substituted to meet the minimum requirements for a park ranger specialist job in New Mexico; therefore, individuals with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in one of the recognized areas of study may qualify without meeting the experience component.
Park Ranger Job Requirements with the National Park Service in New Mexico
In addition to working as a New Mexico State park ranger, some may also choose to work as federal park rangers with the National Park Service (NPS).
Just a few of the national parks/sites in New Mexico include:
- Aztec Ruins National Monument
- Bandelier National Monument
- El Morro National Monument
- El Malpais National Monument
- Santa Fe National Historic Trail
- Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area
To become a law enforcement/protective or cultural/interpretive park ranger with the National Park Service (NPS), individuals must meet the Service’s employment requirements of the federal level, the minimum level at which park rangers are hired. This includes possessing at least one of the following:
- At least one year of specialized experience at the GS-4 federal level; OR
- A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university; degree program must include at least 24 credit hours in one or more of the following areas of study:
- Natural resource management
- Natural sciences
- Earth sciences
- Park and recreation management
- Law enforcement/police science
- Social sciences
- Museum sciences
- Business administration
- Public administration
- Behavioral sciences
- Sociology; OR
- A combination of education and experience
Further, all new hires must complete a course of formal training through one or more of the NPS’ training facilities, which include:
- Horace Albright Training Center at the Grand Canyon
- Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Maryland
- Stephen Mather Training Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
As certified law enforcement officers, NPS protective park rangers must meet an additional set of requirements, which include:
- Possessing (or have the ability to possess) NPS Type II Law Enforcement Commission certification
- The successful completion of a Seasonal Law Enforcement training program by an approved participating academy
- Certification/licensure as an Emergency Medical Responder or higher (EMT, paramedic, etc.
- At least 3 years of experience in a National Park Service Seasonal (Level II) or full (Level I) position or law enforcement position
Serving as a Park Ranger within the New Mexico Sate Park System
Although New Mexico park rangers are responsible for monitoring park operations, procuring related fees, and enforcing the park’s rules and regulations, these professionals are just as involved in the position’s interpretive/educational aspect, as their work often requires them to:
- Develop and present educational programs for visitors and school groups
- Educate visitors on natural resources
- Coordinate and schedule programs with youth groups and local schools
- Serve as interpretive guides for guided visitor tours
- Present educational safety programs to visitors
New Mexico State park rangers may do everything from present sailing, kayaking, rafting or canoeing safety programs to informing visitors of the latest state rules and regulations regarding fishing and hunting in the area.
They may patrol the countless equestrian trails or walking trails in the summer, or they may oversee the many winter activities enjoyed by visitors, including snowshoeing, tubing, and ice fishing.
Just a few of New Mexico’s most popular state parks include:
- Navajo Lake State Park: New Mexico’s second largest lake and home to a number of watersports and services
- Heron Lake State Park: Popular for its sailing, windsurfing, and trout fishing
- Eagle Nest Lake State Park: Home to a 2,400-acre lake and surrounded by Baldy Mountain and Wheeler Park, the two highest peaks in the State
- Clayton lake State Park: Best known for its excellent bass, trout, and catfish fishing opportunities
- City of Rock State Park: Known for its spectacular rock formations
- Cimarron Canyon State Park: Part of the Colin Neblett Wildlife Area, the largest wildlife areas in the state
- Caballo Lake State Park: Known for its yearly migration of majestic bald and golden eagles
New Mexico Park Ranger Salaries
According to the National Park Service, there are 13 national parks throughout New Mexico, including Carlsbad Caverns and Aztec Ruins. Park rangers in New Mexico work primarily on a seasonal basis through New Mexico State Parks, the duration of which depends on the operating season of the individual park. There are, however, additional positions throughout the state suited to park rangers.
When looking at New Mexico park ranger salaries, it’s important to consider the additional roles which park rangers take on. The salaries shown here are provided by the New Mexico State Personnel Office:
Forest and Conservation Workers, Level B
- Minimum: $18,709
- Midpoint: $25,985
- Maximum: $33,260
Forest and Conservation Workers, Level O
- Minimum: $20,599
- Midpoint: $28,609
- Maximum: $36,620
Forest and Conservation Workers, Level A
- Minimum: $22,852
- Midpoint: $31,738
- Maximum: $40,625
Curator, Level B
- Minimum: $27,959
- Midpoint: $38,831
- Maximum: $49,704
Curator, Level O
- Minimum: $30,892
- Midpoint: $42,906
- Maximum: $54,920
Curator, Level A
- Minimum: $34,389
- Midpoint: $47,763
- Maximum: $61,136
Further salary information published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is shown in the tables below:
Recreation Workers Salaries in New Mexico
Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in New Mexico
Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in New Mexico
Aztec Ruins National Monument
The Aztec Ruins National Monument is a preserved community of multi-story structures, buildings, roadways, artifacts, and earthworks left by the ancestors of the Pueblo people of the Southwest between the 11th and 13th centuries. This National Monument encompasses 320 acres in northwestern New Mexico, near the City of Aztec.
The Aztec Ruins National Monument reflect the “outstanding universal value of ancestral Pueblo architecture and culture,” according to the National Park Service (NPS), which manages it and other federally designated parks, monuments, historical sites, and structures throughout the United States.
The Aztec Ruins National Monument became a National Monument in 1923. Since then, it has expanded considerably to include a number of other structures and surrounding parkland. And, in 1987, the Aztec Ruins National Monument received a UNESCO World Heritage designation, which recognizes the contribution this National Monument has made toward preserving the Pueblo architecture and culture.
The Value of NPS Park Rangers at the Aztec Ruins National Monument
The significance of the Aztec Ruins national Monument and the opportunity it provides to tell the stories surrounding these Aztec settlements to today visitors and future generations means that NPS park rangers here serve an important purpose, not only to ensuring the protection and preservation of this National Monument, but to educating people on its value.
As such, NPS park rangers serve the Aztec Ruins National Monument in a number of ways:
Visitor Center: When visitors enter the Aztec Ruins National Monument, they are guided to the visitor center, where they pay an entrance fee and receive a park ranger orientation to the archeological site. Visitors may also pick up a guide trail for a self-guided tour or set up one of the park ranger-guided tours available throughout the day.
Visitor Center Museum: The visitor center is also home to a museum that displays a number of ancient artifacts that were excavated at the Aztec ruins. Visitors may also watch a short film that explains the pre-Columbian history and the Pueblo people and Navajo tribal members. Park rangers are on hand to answer questions and provide additional information to interested visitors.
Interpretive Programs: Park rangers at the Aztec Ruins National Monument offer interpretive talks and tours throughout the day. These NPS professionals are also heavily involved with scholarly lectures, school programs, special events, and demonstration of traditional American Indian arts.
Guided Tours: NPS park rangers engage visitors with a number of guided tours, which include:
- West Ruin Tours: Ranger-guided tours of the West Ruins provide visitors with information about the site’s history and some of the interesting facts that make this National Monument such an amazing site.
- East Ruin Tours: The East Ruins tour allow visitors to discover one of the site’s unexcavated Great Houses that is normally not open to the public. Park rangers take just 15 people once a month to this fascinating site.
Self-Guided Tours: The Aztec ruins consist of the Pueblo “Great House,” which is referred to as Aztec West. Visitors can walk through the 450 rooms of this structure, which was built with stone masonry and well-preserved wood roofing. At the end of the trail to the Great House, visitors enter Great Kiva, a subterranean structure that is nearly 40 feet in diameter. It served as the social and religious center for the community. It is now recognized as the oldest and largest reconstructed building of its kind in the world. Park rangers are on hand to ensure the safety and enjoyment of visitors engaged on self-guided tours and to answer questions.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is located in Carlsbad, New Mexico, about 140 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas, is a fascinating National Park consisting of no less than 119 caves, which have a long history of human use since prehistoric times.
The gem of Carlsbad Caverns National Park is undoubtedly the caves, the most famous of which is Carlsbad Cavern. This National Park is visited by more than 380,000 visitors each year.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park also encompasses two, historic districts that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: The Cavern Historic District and the Rattlesnake Springs Historic District. This National Park also includes a museum, which contains more than 100,000 culture resource artifacts that are preserved and protected.
The park rangers of Carlsbad Caverns National Park play an important role in this unique National Park, as they ensure that the park remains preserved and managed as to allow researchers and scientists to understand the unique ecosystem contained within it. They also serve in an interpretive capacity, educating visitors on the human activities that have left their mark on the caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, dating nearly 14,000 years ago with the American Indians.
The Unique History and Features of Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns was first discovered by American Indians nearly 14,000 years ago who lived in the Guadalupe Mountains. Their original cooking ring sites and pictographs still exist today. By the 1500s, Spanish explorers had discovered the caverns.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park supports a unique and diverse ecosystem, including a number of rare reptiles and the beautiful ponderosa pines. This National Park is also home to everything from cougars to what is believed to be the largest colony of cave swallows in the Northern Hemisphere. The Carlsbad Caverns bat cave area supports a huge colony of Brazilian free-tailed bats.
Rattlesnake Springs, which is located within the National Park, has been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. This area is home to more than 300 species of birds and is visited by birders from around the world. The park’s annual checklists also reveal that 67 species of mammals, 55 species of reptiles and amphibians, more than 900 species of vascular plants, and more than 600 species of insects have been identified here.
NPS Park Ranger-Guided Tours of Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Park rangers at Carlsbad Caverns provide ranger-guided tours to the thousands of visitors that embark upon this unique National Park each year. Park ranger-guided tours range from easy, family-friendly tours to challenging tours that take visitors on a tight crawl through Spider Cave. Park rangers also often provide guided hikes around the park, via Desert Loop Drive and the Chihuahauan Desert Nature Trail.
Self-guided tours can be completed, although the areas are limited to the Big Room or Natural Entrance. Park ranger-guided tours, however, allow visitors to explore some of the other popular caverns, including Lower Cave, Left Hand Tunnel, Kings Palace, and the Hall of the White Giant.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park
Elephant Butte Lake State Park is a popular New Mexico attraction that was planned around the Elephant Butte Reservoir, the largest lake in the state. This man-made lake, which is located just 5 miles from Truth of Consequences, New Mexico, is 40 miles long. The park itself encompasses more than 36,000 acres of land, and the lake features nearly 200 miles of prime shoreline.
The New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), State Parks Division, manages Elephant Butte Lake State Park.
Protecting and Educating the Guests of Elephant Butte Lake State Park
It is best known for its wide array of recreational activities, including:
- Bird watching
The New Mexico State park rangers here are responsible for enforcing the park’s rules and regulations as to ensure the safety and enjoyment of visitors. They also provide visitors with regional information and are on hand to answer questions about the park and guide visitors through the interpretive exhibits at the visitor center.
Further, park rangers at Elephant Butte Lake State Park are staffed the Paseo del Rio Recreation Area and at the Dam Site Recreation Area as to provide visitors with unique insights and information regarding the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps and their construction of the dam.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park is home to a wide array of recreational amenities, including picnic areas, campsites, marinas, boat launch ramps, and sandy beaches. The majority of visitors flock to this State mark to fish, canoe, dive, swim, and camp, particularly during the summer months.
Although there are few trails within Elephant Butt Lake State Park, many visitors enjoy hiking through the park’s rugged terrain for challenging adventures.
Marina Del Sur is located near the visitor center, as well as a boat launch ramp, while South Monticello Point provides an ideal place to camp, as it offers stunning views of the lake. Other marinas in this State Park include the Dam Site Marine and the Rock Canyon Marina.
The Dam Site Recreational Area within Elephant Butte Lake State Park is a designated Historic District that features cabins, an RV park, a number of trails/paths, and the Dam Site Lodge, which dates back to 1911.
The size of Elephant Butte Lake means its can accommodate watercraft of nearly any size, from pontoon boats and sailboats to houseboats and kayaks.
Fishing remains one of the most popular activities at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, as the lake is abundant with many types of fish, including: white bass, crappie, walleye, black bass, blue gill, and carp, just to name a few. Elephant Butte also holds a number of state records for fish, including a 54 pound striped bass.
Navajo Lake State Park
Navajo Lake State Park, which is located about 25 miles east of Bloomfield, New Mexico, features the second largest lake in the State, with more than 150 miles of picturesque shoreline. The expansive lake and the more than 21,000 acres of pristine land surrounding it are ripe with recreational activities, making Navajo State Park one of New Mexico’s most popular destinations.
The New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), State Parks Division manages Navajo Lake State Park.
There are three recreation areas within Navajo Lake State Park: Pine River, Sims Mesa, and the San Juan River area.
- Pine River features a visitor center with a number of developed campgrounds, interpretive exhibits, a day-use area, and a full-service marina.
- The San Juan River area, which is located below the dam, is the most popular spot for trout fishing. It features Cottonwood Campground, day-use areas, and a number of hiking trails. This area features more than 4 miles of catch-and-release waters, which are known as Quality Waters. The average trout here measures more than 17 inches in length.
- Sims Mesa, on the other side of the lake, features a visitor center with interpretive exhibits, a full-service marina, and campgrounds.
The Work of the State Park Rangers at Navajo Lake State Park
Some of the most popular activities enjoyed at Navajo Lake State Park include:
- Cliff diving
- Scuba diving
- Wildlife viewing
Navajo Lake State Park is home to a number of campgrounds, two marinas, and two boat docks. It has also become known as a world-class fly fishing destination.
The park rangers of New Mexico’s State Parks Division can be found throughout Navajo Lake State Park, patrolling the grounds, enforcing park rules and regulations, and providing visitors with information and directions.
The Navajo Lake reservoir, which has a surface area of more than 15,000 acres and extends nearly 35 miles up the San Juan River and 13 miles up the Pine River, provides a number of benefits for the wildlife and fish of the region and is designed to provide irrigation and flood control.
The New Mexico State Parks Division and its force of park rangers oversee all recreation on Navajo Lake. As such, the work of the park rangers here includes patrolling the water’s nearly 23 square miles and its 5 public boat ramps and 3 marinas. The marinas are full-service marinas that provide fuel, slip and pontoon rentals, and nearby boat docks and boat ramps.
The History of Navajo Lake State Park
Navajo Lake State Park, which is located within the Four Corners region of Northwest New Mexico, features the Navajo Lake reservoir, which was created following the construction of the Navajo Dam in 1958-1962. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built the dam to provide water to the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project (part of the Colorado River Storage Project of 1956), as well as for flood control, sediment control, and recreation purposes.
Now, the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project provides water for the more than 110,000 acres of farmland located on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
This beautiful region supports a unique ecosystem that is home to falcons, quail, dove, geese, peregrine falcons, mountain bluebirds, and even bald eagles. Further, antelope, mule deer, and elk roam the land, making big game hunting just outside the park’s boundaries a popular activity.