As a boy growing up in Northeast El Paso, I often played “soldier” with my brothers and neighbors on the land that lay just north of Castner Range.
Throughout my years at Andress High (class of 1978) I often hiked or drove up Transmountain Road which, running through the heart of the range, was opened to traffic in 1969.
I joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation, training in San Diego, then stationed at Quantico, Virginia, and completing my military enlistment as a crew chief aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter. But I never forgot the beauty of Castner Range and the 25 percent of the Franklin Mountains that lie within its boundaries.
To me it was home. It was home to the tens of thousands of soldiers who trained there from 1926-1966 to fight in three of our nation’s wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
It was home to the soldiers of Spain as they claimed and then conquered the land for their king. It was home for 10,000 years to the warriors of the many Native American nations that lived nearby or passed on through.
And it is home today — 50 years after Castner became a closed artillery range — to the poppies and bushes and the arroyos and alluvial fans that make the land so worthy of being conserved as a national monument.
The range has witnessed more than 500 years of the recent history of El Paso del Norte and is a constant reminder of that history for the folks who live in the Greater El Paso area.
The name Castner itself comes from Brig. Gen. Joseph Compton Castner who, as a young lieutenant in the U.S. Army, served as constructing quartermaster at America’s first national park, Yellowstone, and who would eventually lead the Ninth Infantry Brigade during the successful Meuse-Argonne Operation of World War I.