Abandoned airstrip in the Mexican Mountain WSA. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Abandoned airstrip in the Mexican Mountain WSA. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.


The BLM Price Field Office appears ready to give in to the demands of the Utah Back County Pilots Association (BCPA) by allowing the naturally reclaimed landing strip in the heart of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness Study Area (WSA) to be upgraded to its pre-WSA condition.  There are several other backcountry airstrips in and near the San Rafael Swell that are available for BCPA and others to use and enjoy.  Please tell the BLM to preserve the integrity of the Mexican Mountain WSA by denying the proposed maintenance project.

The Airstrip’s beginning and evolution

The Mexican Mountain backcountry airstrip is located deep in the Mexican Mountain WSA, on the banks of the San Rafael River.  It was constructed by an oil company that drilled a test well in the area in 1975, but was quickly abandoned in that same year after the company hit a dry hole and capped the well.  The airstrip has not been maintained since, and Mother Nature has been slowly reclaiming the temporary scar inflicted by the airstrip 38 years ago.

Duty to protect the WSA’s naturalness and opportunities for solitude

Rock art near the airstrip in the Mexican Mountain WSA. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Rock art near the airstrip in the Mexican Mountain WSA. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.


Abundant geologic wonders typify the Mexican Mountain WSA: deep slot canyons of the Upper and Lower Back Boxes carved into Paleozoic rocks by the San Rafael River, vast expanses of Navajo Sandstone cut with numerous serpentine canyons, and the massive Mexican Mountain itself.  Archaeological sites, including impressive rock art panels, are found throughout the area.  Opportunities for primitive recreation and solitude abound throughout the WSA’s vast and imposing geologic formations.

The BLM is required to manage WSAs so as not to impair their wilderness characteristics until Congress can designate them as wilderness.  The BLM’s benchmark for non-impairment is the WSA’s condition in 1976 (when the Federal Land Policy and Management Act was passed) or the current condition, whichever is better in terms of wilderness characteristics.

Other backcountry airstrips are available

There are several other backcountry airstrips in and near the San Rafael Swell that are available for BCPA and others to use and enjoy.   However, the Mexican Mountain airstrip is in a WSA and should not be maintained for recreational fixed-wing aircraft use.  The BLM is required to preserve the integrity of the WSA by protecting its naturalness and opportunities for solitude.   The natural revegetation of the airstrip over the past 38 years has improved the wilderness character of the WSA and should not be undone.  Please ask the BLM to deny the proposed maintenance of the Mexican Mountain airstrip.

Liz Thomas