June 20, 2014
We headed out toward Los Alamos for a 1:00 pm sightseeing and photography tour we booked online last night at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Here is a link to a map of the area:
We stopped at a fishing access and picnic area (elev 8,700 feet) just outside the Preserve in the Santa Fe National Forest. We were in a beautiful spot, with wildflowers all around us. Just beyond the willow bushes there was a creek. We didn’t see any fisherman fly-fishing, but we did hear there are lots of brown trout in the creek.
After lunch, we headed to the Valles Caldera National Preserve for our tour… Informational signs about the Grande Valle, near entrance to Valles Caldera National Preserve:
A little history…
The Valles Caldera Preserve was created in 2000 by President Clinton. The legislation provided for the Federal purchase of the 95,000 acre historical Baca Ranch from the Dunigan Family, nestled inside a volcanic caldera. “At the time of purchase, the ranch was home to 40 miles of pristine trout streams, 66,118 acres of conifer forest, 17 endangered plant and animal species and 25,000 acres of grassland grazed by 8,000 elk, New Mexico’s largest herd. The ranch is encircled by federal lands, including the Santa Fe National Forest, the Jemez National Recreation Area and the Bandelier National Monument.” (I couldn’t figure out how to make a footnote here so I am citing: Valles Caldera National Preserve wiki.) Our tour guide told us there are 75 different species of grasses and sedge that grow here. The Grande Valle is the largest of five grasslands found in the caldera. The diameter of the caldera is 13.7 miles. Some sites of the Baca Ranch are sacred and of cultural significance to Native Americans. Santa Clara Pueblo purchased 5,000 acres in the northeast and an additional 300 acres were ceded to Bandelier NM.
In July 2011, the Las Conchas Fire, started by a power line on nearby private land, burned 30,000 acres of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The wildfire burned a total of 158,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains, including most of neighboring Bandelier National Monument. Most of the old growth Ponderosa Pine and Spruce Trees were burned. The recovery after this fire has been amazing. (We have seen Mt St Helens, and Yellowstone, and they are much slower to recover after fire…) The ground in the National Preserve is covered in lush grasslands, wildflowers, and new trees are coming up. There are large colonies of aspen growing in the areas that were burned in a fire in 2003 in the same area.
Environmentalists lobbied for the more inclusive protections of National Park status instead of the Trust model, but then-Senator Pete Domenici insisted on the experimental approach as a condition for his support for public purchase. In 2011, US Senator Jeff Bingaman has introduced two bills in the Senate that would transfer the property to the National Park Service as a Preserve (the NPS manages 18 other Preserves around the United States).
We were lucky to find this place… John and I stumbled on this vast grassland and caldera by accident. AJ was looking on the internet and saw mention of the Preserve. Because access is controlled, I have seen no mention of it any place else. One could spend days exploring this area… there are more than 200 miles of gravel and dirt roads in the caldera. Many cool geological features. There are two days a year when the public is allowed in without a tour guide.