Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

Back to Treasures Index


Norma McCallan

Honored June 2014

Norma McCallan

It was the history, the culture, and the landscape that drew her to New Mexico.  Working as a reference librarian at the State Library, Norma McCallan worked on the bookmobile and books-by-mail programs serving rural New Mexicans. She never believed in late fees because that might discourage people from using the library.

Her energy and focus soon became environmental activism.  A remarkable woman who doesn’t know the meaning of can’t, she has worked for the environment on every level.  Embracing the Sierra Club, Norma has held almost every official position, and as the Outings Director has led hundreds of hikes, introducing people to our special land, teaching them outdoor etiquette, and  promoting activism.  She has been a major contributor to the popular Sierra Club’s Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area book.

 The word “coalition” is a thread throughout descriptions of Norma’s efforts.  She makes connections with other environmental groups and with land management agencies to help shape policies on environmental issues. Two examples of her efforts are the Valle Vidal and the San Juan Basin Badlands.

Valle Vidal: Norma led many hiking trips there including “Take a llama to lunch” and then back home went door to door soliciting support from local businesses. Happily, a bill sponsored by Congressman Udall was passed in 2006, protecting this “Yellowstone of NM” from drilling for gas and oil.

San Juan Basin Badlands, a remote area near Cuba, known as a moonscape because of its ancient ponderosas and junipers, petrified wood, and weird hoodoos, is endangered by illegal woodcutting, irresponsible off road vehicle use, and overgrazing.  Norma gathered other environmental organizations to meet with the Bureau of Land Management in hopes that their new plan will include protective management practices.

Norma is a key player in the Buckman Bosque Restoration project,  seeking wilderness designation for the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area near Taos, and National Monument status for the Rio Grande del Norte. She has played a major role in having the Cerrillos Hills Park Coalition become a County Open Space and now a State Park.

Described as a political junkie, Norma goes door to door canvasing for political candidates endorsed by the Sierra Club.

Norma, a railroad buff, is working with other Amtrak supporters to ensure that the Southwest Chief route continues through Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Raton pass rather than being rerouted east of Albuquerque.

How does she accomplish so much?  As one of her respected cohorts writes, “Frankly, Norma is superhuman. I have come to expect that Norma will do the work of several people half her age and never refuse additional work on top of that...She is very thoughtful about all the consequences of any environmental project.  Before taking any action on a matter, she will contemplate it from every angle and is very sensitive to how it might affect both human and non-human communities. Norma is--above all things-- calm in the face of often-controversial environmental issues.  No matter the situation or the stakes, Norma remains unruffled and respectful. She is decent and kind to everyone.  She is persistent, but she’s never mean.”

Thoreau’s words describe the impulse behind Norma’s environment work: “We need the tonic of wilderness. We can never have enough of Nature.  In wilderness is the preservation of the world.”

Because of Norma the state has set aside many thousands of acres of undeveloped landscapes and will continue to sustain clean water and healthy wildlife populations. Many generations of New Mexicans to come will appreciate the natural wonders of our state because of the years and years committed by Norma McCallan defending them vigorously.  


Story by Nancy Dahl

Photo © 2014 by Genevieve Russell