Conservation and Camping in New Mexico

In 2014, Anthony “Chako” Ciocco received the Champion of Change Award from the White House, identifying him as a member of the Next Generation of Environmental Conservationists. The award recognized his leadership of local Native youth in ecological restoration work through the Ancestral Lands Program at the Southwest Conservation Corps. Today, Chako is the National Program Coordinator for the Southwest Conservation Corps.

Originally built as his family’s home, Chako and his wife Melinda have opened their Tselkabikiid Yellow Hogan to campers. Chako is working on expanding his restoration practices to his own property, where he is creating a permaculture garden and more forested space for wildlife. Tselkabikiid Yellow Hogan is an unmistakable sight, cheerfully standing out amongst the pinyon-juniper woodlands surrounding it. Inside, campers are sure to stay cozy with the wood burning stove and cots nestled together above the natural dirt floor. A short distance from the city of Gallup, Tselkabikiid Yellow Hogan is the perfect jumping off point for campers looking to explore New Mexico’s culture, history, and outdoor adventures.

From glampsites to indigenous lands, wineries to working farms, Chako is part of an emerging community of landowners and camp hosts who have generously opened their land to the next generation of campers. Dive in to learn more about Tselkabikiid Yellow Hogan, Chako’s conservation work in the Southwest, and get an inside look at his camp in our interview below.

HC: Why did you join Hipcamp, and allow campers to stay on your land?

Chako: I originally heard about Hipcamp when I met Alyssa at a conference. It seemed pretty neat and we had the extra space for camping right by our house. So I thought, why not?

HC: What kind of activities can campers participate in at Yellow Hogan?

CC: Chilling and camping! We’re right outside of town, about five minutes out, so it’s really easy to go visit town. There are lots of hiking trails all around Gallup, but there isn’t a place to hike right from the hogan camping spot. But, it has good access to everything in Gallup. It’s also far enough out that you don’t feel like you’re part of the city when you don’t want to be.

HC: In your listing you mention that your wife and her family have lived in this area “before the city of Gallup, before the long walk, and before colonization.” Do you want campers to walk away with historical knowledge of the land, and history of the Hogan? If yes, what do you want them to know?

CC: It depends, if we’re available to hang out or talk that would be pretty cool. I would be happy to talk about some of that. It just depends, we have three kids too, so we can be busy. Visiting those spaces is a way of connecting with history. The more you’re around those kind of places, the more you pick up. Maybe not all at one time.

HC: What is a hogan?

CC: It is based on a traditional Navajo home. You can live in it as just a house, or it’s also used for traditional purposes.

HC: What is your day-to-day routine as the National Program Coordinator for the Ancestral Lands Program at the Southwest Conservation Corps?

CC: Mostly I work 8–5 in Gallup. I also travel quite a bit and camp out with crews or do trainings. It varies. My job is to support more Native conservation corps programs throughout the country.

HC: I read that your work involves leading local Native youth in ecological restoration projects that provide access to the outdoors. What are some of the project specifics?

CC: Currently, we have one crew from Zuni, a crew from Acoma, a crew from Navajo, and a crew from Hopi. All four of them have their own leaders for the year. Right now all of the crews are camping out for eight days at a time. They train on leadership and skills like learning how to use the chainsaw, GIS, and how to do all the paperwork for the season. The leaders are going through all that training right now, and then in Spring the main work crews will start. We call it the Crew Leader Development Program.

HC: Can you talk about the impact you’ve seen in your community as a result of these projects?

CC: I’ve seen and felt a lot of impacts, that’s why I continue the work. It’s a space to step outside the routine and oftentimes the drama and pain of our lives. We get to create our own little world as a crew and it’s a world based on taking care of nature, which is pretty cool. I’ve seen many members grow, heal, and strengthen themselves. Maybe not everyone, everyday is having a life changing experience. Mostly it’s a lot of hard work, but those big things still happen in terms of taking away job skills, leadership, teamwork, and work ethic, but also internally for sure.

HC: What is your landscaping plan for Yellow Hogan?

CC: It’s a fun, passion hobby. Some of my ideas are unrealistic, but it’s fun to try! Basically, it would be foresting, creating a lot of wildlife habitat and edible and nutritional foods. Mainly, combining ecological restoration in the field with permaculture. There are all kinds of different pieces of things I pick up from work or conferences, and I just combine it all. There are deer, elk, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and turkey. They all live within less than a mile from the house. We’re right on the edge of a big forest, so if I can fill up the landscape, we’ll start to see a lot more of those visitors come and that would be pretty cool.

HC: In 2014 you received the Champion of Change Award from the White House for your work with Southwest Conservation Corps Ancestral Lands program. Is there a specific part of your work that you’re most proud of?

CC: When I received that award I never worked in the office. I was the chainsaw crew leader out in the field. So, I just worked the saw all day. I guess that’s what I’m proud of, not just as an individual, but that’s what I’m proud of for our program. We really get the work done out there. That’s the thing that drives the whole program, is what happens in the field. That is what that award was about.

HC: What is the best time of year to visit Yellow Hogan?

CC: It’s beautiful year round. One time not to visit is when it’s muddy, it can be tough. If it was muddy, I would have to call and let people know. You need four wheel drive in some cases. We’re hoping to actually fix up the road maybe in the next few months. I think in the long term it will be pretty different.

HC: Describe the camping experience at Yellow Hogan in three words.

CC: Yellow, desert, and tselkabikiid

HC: As a new host what are you most excited about having recently joined Hipcamp?

CC: We’re excited to see what kind of visitors we get!

HC: Do you have anything planned for Yellow Hogan in 2017? Are there any changes you hope to make happen this year?

CC: We plan to improve the road, and just mainly do a lot of landscaping. Some of the water harvesting, grass seeding, and tree planting should all start to green out this year. Someday it will be an oasis that all our grandkids friends will love to visit (laughs).

All photographs by Maddy Minnis and Vanessa Lamb

Start hosting our community of nature lovers to earn extra income for property management and dream projects. Learn more here.

Lisse Lundin is a photographer based in San Francisco. You can follow along with her adventures via Instragram.

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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