This blog is about hiking trips along the Valles Caldera Rim. For more information, see link for the Valles Caldera Rim Trail blog.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Brief Presentation on 2009 Public Use and Access Planning Process at Valles Caldera Trust Meeting

On Friday, December 12, 2008, the Los Alamos Monitor ran an article by Roger Snodgrass that gave a brief synopsis of the December 11, 2008 meeting of the Valles Caldera Trust (VCT), in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Bratcher Named Preserve Director.

There was a short presentation at the meeting by Martin Chavez and Tom Christensen. I believe they are part of the Enterprise Technical Services team that the VCT will use in the development of alternatives for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning process. They will be working with the public in Spring 2009 to gather input on the what uses and access the public envisions for the Preserve.

Martin was with the forest service for 33 years and Tom is a conservation and recreation planner. Tom says he helped plan Land Between the Lakes in Tennessee and that it's similar in plan to the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP).

The planners will solicit public comment and then have a "testing process" in April-May 2009 for different public use and access ideas. It's unclear to me if that "testing process" only includes indoor sessions in public workshops, using storyboards to plot out alternative ideas or if it will also include actual testing of alternatives on the ground in the Preserve. It may be a combination.

The planners welcome "packages of options" for public use and access as prepared by the public.

I don't have contact information for Tom Christensen but Martin can be contacted at:

Martin Chavez
VCT Public Access/Use Coordinator
(505) 428-7737
Valles Caldera Trust
18161 State Highway 4
PO Box 359
Jemez Springs, NM 87025

Monday, December 8, 2008

Valles Caldera Trust Public Meeting This Thursday

Below is a copy of the agenda for the meeting of the Valles Caldera Trust. There will be a discussion of the planning process for public access and use of the VCNP. There will be a chance for public comment at the end of the meeting.


December 11, 2008

Marriott Courtyard

3347 Cerrillos Road

Santa Fe, NM 87507


1:00 PM Welcome and Introductions
  • Approval of Agenda
  • Approval of September 11, 2008 Public and Working Meeting Minutes
1:15 Board Business
  • Authorize Future Executive Sessions
  • Announce Schedule of Public Meetings - 2009
1:30 Business Operations
  • GAO Report
  • FY08 Budget Update
  • Audit Report Update
2:00 Preserve Programs
  • Preserve Manager’s/Scientist’s Report
  • Stewardship Action Planning Updates
  • Public Access and Use
  • Forage Use & Sustained Yield
  • Redondo Stewardship Project
  • Recreation and Resource Management Updates
  • 2008 Grazing Program Overview & 2009 Recommendations
  • 2008 Elk Hunt Overview
  • 2008 Recreation Program Overview
  • Preserve Scientist’s report
  • Coyote Study Report
3:15 General Public Comments

4:00 PM Adjourn

Friday, December 5, 2008

Valles Caldera National Preserve Rant

It's long been a dream of hikers in New Mexico to have a trail around the rim of the Valles Caldera in northern New Mexico. When the Baca Location became public land in 2000 and transformed into the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP), the heartbeat of hikers quickened at the thought that soon this dream would become a reality. Well, nine years later, we are no closer but the dream lives on.

New Mexicans have in our own backyard 89,000 acres of land that tax-payers are being kept from fully enjoying in the futile hope that this public land will one day become financially self-sufficient. It's not only a loss to New Mexicans but also to the many people from out of state and all over the world who stop on the parking aprons along NM-4 and wistfully imagine what it would be like to explore the vast spaces of the Valles Caldera.

It's true that in a manner of speaking, the land is open to hiking but only where they allow you to go and only on their time schedule. Within the Preserve, there are a grand total of three reservation-only paid hikes for which you are dropped off somewhere and essentially told the party line of where you must hike and when you must be done hiking. It seems unreasonable to not only limit hiking venues within the Preserve but on the Valles Caldera rim too.

You can't walk in from the Valles Caldera rim without prior arrangements. You can't walk along the portions of the caldera rim owned by the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Yet, every year, hunters, after a lecture asking them not to pot-hunt on the Preserve, are set free to roam within their assigned hunting unit for a couple of days. As a hiker, I'd love to be able to do that but 9 years later, the VCNP remains largely a citadel fortress, closely protected from hikers except those who are thrilled with re-doing the three reservation-only, fee trails (and you'd better not stray away from circling around on those old logging roads because that's not part of the program!)

Recently, a proposal was made by a seasoned, Los Alamos hiker to the management at the Valles Caldera National Preserve to allow hiking on their east Valles Caldera rim, between Cerro Grande and Pajarito Mountain. Called the Cerro Grande to Pajarito Mountain Trail Proposal, it has been dismissed by the VCNP because of fear that poachers are entering the the Preserve from the east Valles Caldera rim, specifically, from Camp May (property of Pajarito Mountain Ski Area) and that to allow a break in the fence for hikers will only encourage more poaching. (Incidentally, in November, when Pajarito Mountain starts receiving snowfall, the road to Camp May is blocked to vehicular traffic until the snows are gone in the springtime. Must be those dastardly two-legged skiing and snowshoeing bunnies dragging those trophy elk out!)

I feel the refusal to consider this proposal is a chimera designed to keep the VCNP the exclusive preserve of those who are willing to pay for lovely but expensive interpretive programs that are useless to most hikers. What hikers want to do is hike, not go on a chaperoned van ride and attend a lecture while standing in place.

Anyway, what proof does the VCNP have that poaching of elk rather than innocent poaching of outdoor recreation is occurring from Camp May? As the proposal points out, the Santa Fe National Forest already has a public trail up Valle Canyon, Trail 289. How do they know that the poachers are not coming up Valle Canyon and hopping over their inviolate barbed wire boundary fence?

I believe that poaching occurs on the VCNP but why should their inability to effectively handle that problem be used as an excuse to ban hiking along their Valles Caldera rim? This seems unfair to hikers. The message seems to be that it's more important to protect their lucrative trade in trophy elk than to allow ordinary hikers to enjoy the Valles Caldera rim on foot.

Has it not occurred to the VCNP that if people were allowed to regularly traverse year-around between Pajarito Mountain and Cerro Grande, there would be more eyes to look for poachers and even act as a deterrent? One hiker pointed out that from when the elk hunts ended in November, until December 26, when the winter recreation program officially begins, the VCNP is closed to the public. (Is this how they plan to become financially self sufficient, just close down for a month and not allow anyone to get any use out of the place?) Maybe if people were actually allowed to use the place, poachers wouldn't have such an easy job of it. If I were a poacher, I'd go in right now because it's empty of visitors who could provide more eyes to spot a poacher.

Believe me, it can get really ridiculous in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Cows are allowed to trample about in the summer (bathing themselves in the streams to the horror of fisher-people) while volunteers this summer in Alamo Canyon, who only planned to camp on disturbed well pads overnight to implement a project designed to help restore the wetlands in Alamo Bog, almost weren't allowed to because the VCNP nearly "had a cow" at the wildly imaginative thought of unbathed volunteers despoiling the already highly disturbed soil of Alamo Canyon. This is, after all, where Pat Dunigan had invited intensive commercial exploration for geothermal energy in the past.

Then there's the whole issue of how selling lift tickets in the summer to those who want to make the trip over to Cerro Grande would help the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. The ski hill already provides a wonderful program in the summer whereby hikers and bicyclists can take the lift to the top and then go down the jeep roads and volunteer-built bicycle trails on Pajarito Mountain. Why not let them expand this program and allow people to travel up the ski lifts and then walk over to Cerro Grande? This would allow the local ski hill in Los Alamos to make a little money. Why shouldn't the VCNP be nice to its neighbors?

Isn't it time to throw the hiking community another bone by allowing hiking from Pajarito Mountain to Cerro Grande? This would help to make the upcoming glacially slow National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning process more bearable (more on that here).

I'm thrilled and grateful for the two unscheduled hikes that are available - the free Coyote Call and Valle Grande trails but it's so tremendously unfair to not allow people to make the trip over from Pajarito Mountain to Cerro Grande (or, for that matter, up Valle Canyon to either mountain). What would it hurt? People have been doing it for years anyway!

Why not, under the aegis of adaptive management and the umbrella of achieving financial self-sufficiency, start a whole new paradigm of interim hiking programs during the interminable NEPA process that allow hiking along the rim of the Valles Caldera or even hiking in from the rim? The VCNP's hiking program is badly in need of some variety in their offerings.

The VCNP remains for the meantime a sacred cow that tantalizes with its life-giving flesh but never allows anyone to sit down at the table to eat. Obviously, the desires of ordinary hikers like me who want a more spontaneous experience hiking along the Valles Caldera rim or even into the caldera from the rim will never be considered. The DOE land outside of White Rock is not treated like a sacred cow. Hiker's can freely walk there (and probably poachers hang out there too). There are loads of cultural sites and artifacts; yet, I'm trusted to walk that land.

I know there's a lot going on in the world that's a loads more important than gaining more hiking access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve, but maybe, just maybe, some of you could write or email your congressperson about what you would like to see happen regarding public access and use in the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Another idea is to join an advocacy group like Caldera Action which will lobby on your behalf for sensible public access to the VCNP.

You may already be a member of a hiking group that's appalled at the present limited, reservation-only system of hiking access to the Preserve. What do your members feel about this situation? What do you feel about the present limited hiking access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve?

Quote from a visitor from Montana: "Why have they locked up the public land? Why isn't this place open?"

Give Your Feedback on Public Access and Use in the Valles Caldera National Preserve

Below is a copy of a November 24, 2008 email that Lucia Turner, Acting Executive Director, Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP), sent to update the public about the Preserve's continuation of the planning for "public access and use" that was begun on December 6, 2006 (here, under Visitor Use and Access, December 6, 2006) and will continue in 2009. This planning is a part of the VCNP's upcoming National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process that is required by federal law. The letter gives a brief outline of the planning process and a rough idea of how long it will take. It tells the public how they may participate and includes exact details on how to submit comments. It is an informative letter that is respectfully cognizant of how long the public has waited for this NEPA process to begin.

A planning team, Enterprise Technical Services (ETS), that "will include engineers and landscape architects who have expertise in designing multi-use facilities on public lands and incorporating innovative techniques in planning" has been commissioned by the VCNP Board of Trustees. ETS is part of the United States Forest Service. This team will use the information gathered during public meetings in 2007 as well as a business plan being developed by ENTRIX Inc. and additional public feedback to "draft a reasonable set of alternatives" for the Preserve's NEPA process (here, under National Environmental Policy Act Procedures, July 17, 2003).

The "planning and decision-making process" required by NEPA is expected to extend into 2010-2011 before any action on public access and use is taken. Not long after that, by 2015, the VCNP is constrained to prove that they have the potential to become financially self-sufficient. The Preserve is required to have actually attained financial self-sufficiency by 2020 or become a land unit of the forest service. (Some of us who have observed the tumult of the VCNP's constant turnover of staff, administration and board members believe that financial self sufficiency will only happen with divine intervention.)

What worries me is that in the interest of forcing the VCNP to prove that they can become financially self-sufficient, the true desires and needs of the public to re-create on this public land will be lost in a welter of ill-advised money-making schemes that won't allow fair access to the Preserve except for those who have the big bucks (and I don't mean elk!) required for admission.

Do we have to wait until this tortured "Experiment in Public Land Management" mercifully ends to be allowed to enjoy this beautiful, tax-payer purchased land? Do we have to wait until then to hear no more excuses like that allowing people to hike along the rim of the Valles Caldera will only encourage poaching and trespass (more on that here)? Are you tired of this long process of waiting to be allowed to explore the land that your tax dollars purchased? Is it unreasonable to have expected greater access nine years after the VCNP became public land? How many of you feel this way? What can we do together to change this experiment in public land mis-management?

Will you please give your comments to the VCNP on what you would like to see happen in relation to your use and access of this great public land.

VCNP Letter to the Public
Valles Caldera Trust
18161 State Highway 4
P.O. Box 359
Jemez Springs, NM 87025

T 505-661-3333
F 575-829-4614

Date: November 24, 2008
File Code: VCVCPN

Friends of the Valles Caldera,

In December of 2006, the Board of Trustees authorized Trust staff to “collect data and information (Phase 1) to support planning (Phase 2, NEPA) to develop programs, facilities and infrastructure for public access and use of the Valles Caldera National Preserve” This Proposed Stewardship Action (PSA) can be viewed on our website,; a link is available on our homepage, From our Home Page, select “Get Involved” from the menu on the left; then select “Stewardship”, scroll down and select “Proposals”, on the left; select "Visitor Use and Access" ‐ the document is titled Proposed Steward Action, dated December 6, 2006.

One of the elements identified in the PSA was to, “Complete a socio-economic and market analyses at various scales to look at current and future trends as well as potential markets and niches.” Towards this end, we have recently acquired a draft Business Plan from ENTRIX Inc. That effort started in March of 2008. While we refer to it as a plan, the purpose of the ENTRIX document is to suggest alternatives under which financial self-sufficiency is possible. We do not consider it as a plan in the sense that any decisions have been made, or any actions have been proposed, on its contents. It is to be used as a reference to continuing the information gathering efforts as described in the PSA. In the outreach and subsequent award of the contract to be fulfilled by ENTRIX Inc., the Trust emphasized the consideration of alternatives that could lead to financially self-sufficient management of the Preserve. As suggested in the State of the Preserve, public use of and access to the Preserve is likely the key to achieving this benchmark established by Congress.

The Trust has put together a planning team, Enterprise Technical Services (ETS), who is using the information collected through the public workshop series held in 2007, the business planning document being completed by ENTRIX Inc., as well as additional analysis and public feedback, to draft a reasonable set of alternatives in support of Phase 2 (NEPA), of public use and access planning as described in the PSA. The team being developed will include engineers and landscape architects who have expertise in designing multi-use facilities on public lands and incorporating innovative techniques in planning. In the upcoming year, this team will be focused on completing phase one and will be calling on our interested public for their participation and feedback.

Phase 2 will represent the planning and decision-making process as defined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This process begins with a Notice of Intent (NOI), published in the Federal Register that identifies the proposed action, the purpose and need for action as well as any alternatives being considered. It is our intent that when the Trust publishes this NOI, our stakeholders will clearly see the values and goals put forward in the public work shop series and their feedback provided to our planning team this year, represented in the alternatives put forward.

We expect to publish the NOI late in 2009. Planning and decision making under NEPA is expected to take from 12-18 months following the publication of the NOI. NEPA mandates a period for public comment following the NOI and another period of review and comment for a draft Environmental Impact Statement. Opportunities to comment through meetings or workshops will also be provided during this process. Of course the public is welcome to comment at anytime by:

• selecting the “feedback” option on our website,

• sending an email to,

• sending surface mail to P.O. Box 359, Jemez Springs, NM 87025 to the attention of “Public Use and Access Planning” or,

• providing verbal comments any of our public meetings of the Board of Trustees, held three or more times throughout the year.

As previously stated, the PSA authorized in December of 2006 can be viewed on our website, In addition, all the posters and materials presented at the 2007 public workshop series are also available. From our home page, select “Get Involved” from the menu on the left; then select “Public Meetings”, “Planning Meetings”, and “Virtual Meetings”; the complete link is: .

We recognize that the length of time required for planning is frustrating. The development of programs and facilities for use and access represents an important array of decisions regarding the management of the Preserve. The time and resources required for planning typically reflect the importance and complexity of the decision to be made. We appreciate your patience as well as your participation and are looking forward to your continued participation as we begin this phase of planning.

/s/ Lucia Turner
Lucia Turner
Acting Executive Director

“An Experiment in Public Land Management”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Valles Caldera South Rim: Las Conchas Peak

A group of hikers from Los Alamos, NM went up Las Conchas Peak on July 7, 2008.

View west from Las Conchas Peak, looking at Los Griegos Mountain. Both Las Conchas Peak and Los Griegos Mountain are on the south rim of the Valles Caldera but are not part of the
Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP). Instead, both are in Santa Fe National Forest which, unlike the VCNP, is freely open to the public. Las Conchas Peak and Los Griegos were formed before the Valles Caldera. The view here goes all the way to the cliffs above San Diego Canyon and beyond to the Nacimiento Mountains on the horizon.

Lovely, elusive (elusive because the VCNP won't let anyone hike to the top) Redondo Peak, the resurgent dome of the Valles Caldera, can be seen from Las Conchas but the view is compromised by trees.

Redondo again with El Cajete being the slice of meadow that you see on the shelf below Redondo (above the larger meadow). El Cajete is part of the most recent volcanic eruptions in the southwest moat of the Valles Caldera. El Cajete erupted approximately 60,000 years ago. El Cajete can be reached from the Banco Bonito staging area of the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) where horseback riding and mountain biking are held.

Hiker taking photo of view of the Valle Grande. On the far horizon is the east rim of the Valles Caldera. In the right middleground, the tall mountain mass is Rabbit Ridge which towers above NM4 and the Valle Grande. Rabbit Ridge is on the south rim of the Valles Caldera. It can be hiked from the VCNP's free Coyote Call Hike and has splendid views into the caldera.

I have to admit that I talked up the Las Conchas Peak hike as though the views were very grand but I had forgotten how blocked by bushes and trees the views are to the northern Valles Caldera. The views from Rabbit Ridge to the northern caldera are better.

Having just now bad-mouthed the views of the Valles Caldera from Las Conchas Peak, you will see in the next photos that the views to the southeast are not blocked.

In the immediate foreground, the bushy, brushy, rock pile is Las Conchas Peak itself and on the left skyline is Peralta Ridge, home of the Electronic Site with its impressive array of antennas and signs warning you'll be microwaved if you venture too close.

The day was overcast with heavy clouds hanging around but it didn't rain a drop. Bearhead Ridge runs to the southeast with Aspen Peak being the tallest peak at the end of the ridge. Peralta Canyon runs along the base of Bearhead Ridge. In my youth, I walked with a group all the way down Peralta Canyon to the tent rocks that are now the Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Cochiti, NM.

Hikers love maps! The hiker on the left is searching in her pack to pull out yet another map! This photo shows the bushes and trees that block the northern view from Las Conchas.

We parked right before the locked gate to the Electronics Site on Peralta Road, FR281. The Peralta-Paliza Trail runs west from near the locked gate. We got on the trail and wound around to the north of Las Conchas Peak. One branch of the Peralta-Paliza Trail goes around the west side of Las Conchas Peak but we took a left turn-off that took us around the east side of the peak. There's no real trail up Las Conchas; just various disturbed areas where it's obvious that people or animals have blundered up. I had us go up a brushy, cliffy place from the south and, while it was a nice challenge to wrestle with the bushes and scale the rock faces, it really wasn't the best way up.

This map shows Aspen Peak at the end of Bearhead Ridge (lower right side of map). The Electronic Site on Peralta Ridge is called Radio Facility on this map.

Fortunately, an experienced mountaineer suggested a much better way to go down! We easily traversed down the northeast shoulder of Las Conchas Peak, going through the woods and coming out on the Peralta-Paliza Trail. Rather than following the trail back around the way we came up, we simply oozed down a a meadowy slope to Peralta Road. We walked the short distance back to the locked gate and parked car.

This was only my second time on Las Conchas Peak and I hope to go back some day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Paradigm for Hiker Visitation in Valles Caldera National Preserve?

Valle Canyon-Valle Grande Hike

Is a new paradigm being established for hiker visitation in the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP)? One that would involve no gas-hogging van rides and no private vehicles being driven into the Preserve? One that goes off the beaten path of the usual line-up of structured, time-driven, reservation only VCNP hikes? One that would include a knowledgeable guide provided by the VCNP and would result in visitors who are ecstatically delighted by the whole experience while being very respectful of the land?

On Wednesday, June 25, 2008, I was privileged to go along on a trip, arranged by a local Los Alamos-Santa Fe hiking group, that went up the Valle Canyon Trail (appears on all maps as Cañon de Valle but the common usage is Valle Canyon), crossed the VCNP boundary fence, and walked down historic Cañon de Valle Road into the Valle Grande. A group of 21 hikers was allowed to traverse the hillsides above the grasslands of Valle Grande and trek up out of the caldera on the VCNP's Valle Grande Trail. All this was done without fear of getting caught and having to pay steep federal trespassing fines.

This wonderful hike in an awe-inspiring place happened because a patient, persistent group of hikers who love the outdoors persevered in arranging for people to hike in as legal paying customers on VCNP land. The VCNP charged $12 a head and provided a guide who clearly loves the place and was a joy to hike with.

At lunch in Valle Pass, our guide gave an excellent primer on the volcanic events that led to the formation of the Valles Caldera and Redondo, its resurgent dome. As we listened, we could actually look across Valle Pass at Redondo and Redondito sailing high above the caldera.

After lunch, we hiked down from Valle Pass into the caldera on the steep, historic Cañon de Valle Road. It was also how sheepherder's brought their flocks to the caldera for a summer of grazing on the vast grasslands. The road ended when we got to the edge of the caldera and no real trail continued beyond. We were easily able to navigate among the hummocks of grass while gaping at the stunning views of the Valles Caldera Rim and the intracaldera wonders like the resurgent dome, Redondo, and one of the caldera's ring fracture domes, Cerro del Medio.

Later, when we rested in a shady grove overlooking the Valle Grande, our guide told us a story about the wild and woolly days in the Valles Caldera when in 1851 a scheme was hatched to make loads of money. The plan was to take mules down the Cañon de Valle Road into the Valle Grande to pack hay back to the Army at Fort Marcy; instead the mules ate all the hay and the men were attacked by Navajos. Our trip ended on a happier note with no injuries!

Late afternoon, when the hike ended and the car shuttle brought me back to my car, I found myself enthusiastically repeating "WOW, WOW, WOW!" on the drive home. What a wonderful day in the Preserve it was!! I hope this new paradigm spreads to other hiking groups who would like to do something different and more unstructured than the present line-up of tightly scheduled hikes and tours offered by the VCNP (in the 89,ooo acre VCNP, only 2 hikes are free and spontaneous, both located on the caldera's south side). I am grateful to all who arranged the trip, to all the drivers who shuttled us back to the Valle Canyon trailhead, and to our VCNP guide who helped us to greater understanding of what we saw along the way.

Some say the grasslands of the Preserve are hardly pristine - very true. It is a land that people have been trying to make financially self sufficient for well over a hundred years - grazing, lumbering, using the caldera's thermal power, and running a resort spa are among schemes tried. Hopes were high and dreams were grandiose as people thought they could make their millions on this land. Most ended up making their money by selling it at a higher price to the next owner waiting in line. Dunigan did manage to extract profits from the Baca Location No. 1 by running thousands of cattle on the land.

Fortunately for us, the caldera is a big place and its grasslands still shimmer an intoxicating green and gold in the late afternoon sunlight which makes it looks pristine even if it isn't. To me, as a hiker, the real value of the VCNP lies in the beauty and spaciousness of the land. When I stand on a hillside above the grasslands of the Valle Grande and study the play of shadow and light that delineates finely the tiniest hillock and the hugest mountain, an uncontrollably primal yearning is enlivened within me - something that feels like a deep connection to this land. I would advise all hikers who want more access to the VCNP to ask and continue to ask. The Valle Canyon-Valle Grande hike that the group did was such a soul-satisfying experience.

Here are a map of our trip and some photos:

I didn't start taking waypoints until I reached the old bridge (photo below). We began hiking at the Valle Canyon trailhead parking, located on NM501, 2.5 miles past NM501's intersection with Diamond Drive, per Craig Martin's Los Alamos Trails hiking book. The hike from the Valle Canyon trailhead to the Valle Grande trailhead was 8 miles long.

The hiking group assembled for a snack in Valle Canyon.

Old bridge in Valle Canyon. It's waypoint 1 on the map above.

Hiker at lunch in Valle Pass with Cerro Grande to the south - probably at waypoint 2 on the map above. In Valle Pass, we were enclosed on the north by the lower slopes of Pajarito Mountain, 10,441', and on the south by Cerro Grande, 10,199', both of which are located on the Valles Caldera East Rim.

Our view of Redondo, 11,254', (the "little" knob is Redondito, 10,898') from our lunch spot.

Through the opening in the trees, there is a back way up Cerro Grande Peak that follows a hand-cut fireline used to fight the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire. A well-worn trail follows the handline down from the top of Cerro Grande into Valle Pass but it's not legally open to the public so you would be liable for big trespassing fines if caught. This situation effectively throttles any attempts to legally hike that portion of the Valles Caldera Rim.

Hiker walking toward Cañon de Valle Road. The hillside to the north is the lower slope of Pajarito Mountain.

As we walked in Valle Pass, one hiker commented wistfully that he had forgotten how beautiful it was. Many hikers long to be able to hike in Valle Pass again. I wish that the VCNP would consider allowing hikes up Valle Canyon to the pass on a regular basis. It's sad that beautiful Valle Canyon remains a dead end hike 8 years after the Valles Caldera became public land!

We all gathered around after lunch to listen to our VCNP guide tell us the story of how the caldera and resurgent dome formed and of the boom and bust days of the great lake in the Jemez Mountains which formed in present-day Valle Grande after the Valles Caldera collapsed 1.2 millions years ago. The lake, every bit as flamboyant as its parent caldera, eventually catastrophically burst, forming San Diego Canyon.

Hiker on historic Cañon de Valle Road that crosses from Valle Pass, between Cerro Grande Peak and Pajarito Mountain, into the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The road is steep but in surprisingly good condition with no deadfall that I remember.

I felt like a pilgrim entering the promised land when I first caught sight of the caldera through the trees! Ahead is Cerro del Medio, 9848', one of several ring fracture domes that formed after the caldera collapsed.

Another view of Cerro Grande but from within Valles Caldera National Preserve. You can't really appreciate what a massive mountain Cerro Grande is until you walk around it. It looks to me like a huge, gently rounded flying saucer hovering above the Valle Grande.

This is looking west across the grasslands of the Valle Grande. Going around from east to west (left to right), is the slope, just to the southwest of Cerro Grande, of an unnamed mountain, 9743'; Scooter Peak, 9701'; Rabbit Ridge with Rabbit Mountain, 9938'; Las Conchas Peak, 9934'; Los Griegos Mountain, 10,117'; and South Mountain, 9795'. All but South Mountain are on the Valles Caldera South Rim.

Across the Valle Grande is an arm of Cerro del Medio (middle foreground, beyond the trees) which encloses the Rincon de los Soldados, a tiny meadow nestled into a corner of the Valle Grande. The VCNP offers a guided hike called Rincon de los Soldados which searches for traces of an old army fort from the mid-1800's and includes a jaunt on the Cañon de Valle Road into Valle Canyon. Beyond Cerro del Medio is the emblematically distinctive profile of Redondo, the caldera's majestic resurgent dome,and Redondito. South Mountain, another ring fracture dome that burbled up from the leftover magma of the collapsed Valles Caldera, is on the far left horizon.

Warm blooded primates hurrying to huddle in the shade!

This is from the Valle Grande looking back at the tree-speckled south meadow on Pajarito Mountain. Valle Pass is the low area between Pajarito Mountain and the heavily treed northern slope of Cerro Grande (left middle foreground).

Hiking sticks came in handy for going around the grass hummocks. Looking west over the Valle Grande, you really get the feel that you are looking out over the lake it once was. The East Fork of the Jemez River is meandering through the grasslands to the far western Valle Grande (photo's horizon) where it will continue on to San Diego Canyon.

This is looking toward the northeast corner of the rim of the Valles Caldera. In the middle foreground, an arm of Cerro del Medio meets an arm from the Sierra de los Valles to form a low ridge. The small peak in the shadows is the eastern and smaller of the two Cerros de los Posos which overlook the tiny Valle de los Posos. The large baldspot on the far right is Cerro Rubio, 10,449'. Shell Mountain is the mountain complex to the left of Cerro Rubio. After that (or maybe even before that!), my knowledge of what the peaks are becomes murky. If anyone can set me straight, I would be most grateful!

To provide context, here's a far off view of the zoomed in view above. The head of the East Fork of the Jemez begins on the low, treed pass between Valle Grande (foreground) and Valle de los Posos beneath Cerro Rubio.

The tiny hikers help to understand the huge scale of the Valle Grande. The two mountains here are Scooter Peak (middle foreground) and Rabbit Ridge (background) which can both be hiked from the VCNP's free Coyote Call Trail or from Bandelier National Monument's Alamo Boundary Trail. The Jemez Mountain's paved access road, NM4, part of the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway runs along the base of these peaks. Drivers regularly stop to gasp and gape at the stupendous views of the Valle Grande from pullouts all along NM4.

A seemingly infinitely long grazing fence runs along the Valle Grande. To a hiker, the time it has taken for more independent access into the caldera seems infinitely long as well. Perhaps there is still hope that the Valles Caldera National Preserve Trustees, charged with making the VCNP "financially self sustaining" by 2015, may one day allow for more varied and spontaneous hiking in the Preserve and on the Valles Caldera Rim owned by the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The Valle Canyon-Valle Grande hiking trip was a very positive movement toward that long-awaited goal.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Valles Caldera National Preserve Public Appreciation Day Snowshoe

Public Appreciation Day (Free!!) January 21, 2008

Pretty Little Cerro la Jara, 8745'

This dome is near the check in station for the winter recreation program at the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP). This is the dome's east side and was very easy to snowshoe up. The winter recreation program runs through March and is held every Saturday and Sunday. See the VCNP's calendar for exact dates and times. One more free public appreciation day will be held this winter on February 18, 2008, 9am to 4pm, President's Day.

Two Snowshoers Breaking Trail

But you don't have to break trail if you don't want to because the VCNP has a groomer which prepares a large swath of trails around the western Valle Grande. That's an arm of Redondo in the background.

Valle Grande Staging Area Check-In and Parking

I drove in on a 2 mile long plowed road from NM-4, in the Jemez Mountains. I managed in a Suburu. The road was OK in the morning but by afternoon, despite the never-ceasing plowing by the Preserve staff, drifts were forming over the road. I had to keep strictly to the tracks of the vehicles ahead and not get stuck in the deeper snow in the middle of the road or at the sides. Even NM-4 was drifting over. If you drive a passenger car, prepare for possibly getting stuck on the way out. The Preserve recommends four wheel drive or chains and I believe them because even an all wheel drive Suburu was marginal on the way out of the Preserve. In fact, a passenger car that was several vehicles ahead of me got stuck on the side of the road on the very last hill before NM-4. People pushed her out of the snow bank and she was good to go. The Valle Grande is a great, big snow bowl!!

The mountain with the tree-speckled meadow is Pajarito Mountain where Pajarito Mountain Ski Area is located in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Orange Lichened Boulder Pile on Cerro la Jara

When I walked into the Preserve during the August 2006 Drive and Discover Day (I breathed in a lot of car exhaust fumes!!), I wanted to walk up Cerro la Jara then but the public was only allowed a limited distance up the east side to see an archeological site. The Preserve has decided it's OK to go up Cerro la Jara in the winter because all the obsidian artifacts are protected under several feet of snow but it's off limits during the summer because the area would have to be NEPA-ed before it could be opened up to rabid, obsidian-heisting (NOT!!) hikers!! Yet, hunters in the fall are allowed more free rein within their hunting unit in the Preserve after attending a mandatory orientation where they are instructed not to pick up artifacts!!

Looking Down from Cerro la Jara toward the Valle Grande Staging Area

Pajarito Mountain (left) and Cerro Grande (right), on the Valles Caldera east rim, are in the far background.

Rabbit Ridge from Cerro la Jara

The thin, gray line is the Valles Caldera National Preserve's entrance road. Across NM-4, Rabbit Mountain is at the right (west) end of Rabbit Ridge and can be accessed from the VCNP's free Coyote Call Hike. The Sierra Club's Northern New Mexico Group mentions the hike up Rabbit Ridge, as part of the Coyote Call hike, in the 6th edition of their book, Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area.

Cross Country Skiers Glide Beneath South Mountain (Left) and Redondo Peak (Right)

The distances in the Valle Grande are vast. The day I was there, though, an extremely strong party of cross country skiers made the all day trip to the top of the almost 10,000' South Mountain!! I believe they were led by Sam Beard, who wrote Ski Touring in Northern New Mexico, which includes helpful information on cross country ski trails in the Jemez Mountains.

Rocky Southwestern Slope of Cerro la Jara

Redondito is in the background. I was truly surprised at how steep little Cerro la Jara is. It's easily accessible from the east, near the Valle Grande Staging Area, but going down on the southwest side was steeper than I had imagined. From the pullouts along NM-4, set against the backdrop of massive Redondo and in the huge space of the Valle Grande, it looks like such a tame, rounded, little dome!!

Two Views of West Side of Cerro la Jara

Redondito Erupting

Not wishing to start any rumors, I hasten to affirm that it's only wafting clouds!!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Valles Caldera East Rim: Cerro Grande Snowshoe

Official Cerro Grande Route

Cerro Grande Trailhead - Bandelier National Monument

The snow was dirty brown near the trailhead--maybe due to snow plowing that happened during the preceding week's big January 2008 snowstorm in the Jemez Mountains.

Start of the Official Cerro Grande Route

This is the flat part. Note the cross country ski trail beside the snowshoe trail. A lot of people had enjoyed the trail before I got out on it which worked out well. Even though the trail was well-broken the temperatures had stayed so cold that it wasn't at all icy.

Looking Southwest from Cerro Grande Route at Scooter Peak

If you want to travel on the true Valles Caldera East Rim, Scooter Peak is the part between Cerro Grande and Rabbit Ridge. The northwest quadrant of Scooter is owned by the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP). The rest of Scooter is part of Bandelier National Monument (BNM) . There are no formal trails up Scooter but there is possible route that has been scouted by Valles Caldera Rim Trail  volunteers (here is the link to that trip report by Dorothy Hoard on Google Drive). It involves following game trails to the top from Scooter's eastern side, off Dome Road-FR-289. Once on top, there's an old logging road which goes down to Scooter Pass, between Scooter Peak and Rabbit Ridge, and intersects the Coyote Call Trail.

I've also read of Scooter being called Sawyer Dome--maybe because it's at the head of Sawyer Mesa (where Obsidian Ridge is located).

Elk Exclosure East of Cerro Grande Route

Elk exclosures have become endemic to the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos--especially after the Cerro Grande Fire.

Cerro Grande Route Marked by Yellow Diamonds
The route is beginning to go uphill here.

Looking Down into the Frijoles Canyon Drainage at a Piece of NM-4

NM-4, coming from Los Alamos and White Rock, New Mexico, crosses Frijoles Canyon at a sharp curve and then heads uphill to the parking for the official Cerro Grande Route and the Upper Frijoles Trails. After your visit to Cerro Grande, if you are driving toward Los Alamos, look up briefly to catch a view of the summit of Cerro Grande as NM-4 goes downhill to dip into Frijoles Canyon

Along the Route

Looking up at the eastern arm of Cerro Grande. The actual summit of Cerro Grande is not tall as mountains go--10,200'-- but it's a truly massive mountain complex in terms of acreage and viewsheds because it has a number of connected ridges like this one. It's not pictured here but, in this section the route does something very cruel!! : ) It goes down into a side drainage of Frijoles Canyon and then you have to work mightily to regain the lost elevation up to the high pass. This also means that on the way back home, you have some uphill when you had bargained for all downhill!!

Aspen Trees Chewed by Elk

Almost to the high pass. I first learned about the high pass from a wonderfully informative, unpublished October 2004 report, Feasibility of a Perimeter Trail in the Cerro Unit, by Dorothy Hoard. The high pass is between the summit of Cerro Grande and an unnamed summit to its south.

Elk Tracks West of Route at the High Pass

The tracks came from the conifer grove to the west, crossed the route and then went into an aspen grove to the east.

Area of the High Pass

If you've made it this far, might as well go to the summit!! My technique is to walk until my legs or my lungs protest; rest and repeat!! Better to do this hike in cool weather!!

Still Going Up

Views of Redondo Open - Looking into the Valle Grande

On Cerro Grande, you're in Bandelier National Monument but looking into the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Looking Down on the High Pass and the Valle Grande

In the background, encircling the Valle Grande (left to right), are Rabbit Mountain, Las Conchas, Los Griegos, the Nacimientos (far distant western horizon), South Mountain, Cerro la Jara (postage-stamp-sized dome in front of South Mountain), and Redondo Peak.

Eastern Arm of Cerro Grande

The heavily forested, unofficial Cerro Grande Route goes up the eastern ridge of Cerro Grande and breaks out into the open where you see the skinny patch of snow. It follows this eastern arm around to the summit of Cerro Grande.

All the Way to the Sandias in Albuquerque

On the blue horizon is Sandia Peak in the Sandia Mountains, east of Albuquerque, NM. In the middle foreground in Bandelier National Monument are the Frijoles Canyon drainage (right) and St. Peter's Dome (left), in the San Miguel Mountains. The long, straight strip of snow above Frijoles Canyon is Sawyer Mesa, where Obsidian Ridge is located.

False Summit Builds False Hope

Real Summit Dead Ahead

Literally Dead Ahead!!

The rock pile, turkey feather, and elk skull mark the Cerro Grande summit. You have made it!!

From Cerro Grande Summit: Full View of Redondo in Valle Grande

With South Mountain and Cerro la Jara lurking on the left.

From Cerro Grande Summit: View to Northwest into Valles Caldera National Preserve

Lot of stuff here!! Basically, in the immediate foreground, you're looking down at a part of the Valle Grande with Cerro del Medio rising behind. On the right middle, poking up above Cerro del Medio is Cerros del Abrigo. They are rhyolite domes that rose up around the edge of the original volcano that collapsed and formed the caldera approximately 1.2 million years ago.

Even after the volcano had collapsed, it wasn't dead. There was still movement of molten lava underground. A ring fracture zone had naturally formed around the edge of the caldera when the caldera's collapse cracked the overlying rock. This ring fracture zone formed a passageway for the rhyolitic lava to squeeze up to the surface and form domes like Cerro del Medio and Cerros del Abrigo. A series of these rhyolite ring fracture domes arose in a circular pattern around Redondo, the resurgent dome of the caldera.

One could perhaps explain a resurgent dome this way: After the caldera collapsed, it wasn't really inactive. There was enough movement of magma underground, underneath the caldera floor, that the magma was able to very slowly uplift the overlying rock, mostly the very same Bandelier Tuff that had previously spewed out of the Valles Caldera, thus forming massive Redondo. Some other ring fracture domes, to the west (left), are viewed in this photo including Cerro San Luis, Cerro Seco, and San Antonio Mountain. The Nacimientos in northwestern New Mexico are on the furthest horizon.

From Cerro Grande Summit: Toward North and Northeast Valles Caldera Rim

On the far left horizon, the snowy patch is Garita Ridge-Hunter's Point on the north rim of the Valles Caldera. The snowy patch in the middle is Cerro Toledo which is on the northeast rim of the Valles Caldera.

This Is the Way to Start Down the Unofficial Cerro Grande Route

A car shuttle can be arranged allowing hikers to go up the longer, gentler unofficial Cerro Grande Route and down the shorter, steeper official one. Hiking Adventures in Northern New Mexico, by Joan and Gary Salzman, gives directions for this hike. There is limited parking for the unofficial Cerro Grande Route along both sides of NM-4, about 1 mile east of the parking for the official Cerro Grande Route.

Somewhere on the higher reaches of the unofficial route is the location where a BNM prescribed fire was ignited in May 2000. It tragically got out of control, starting the Cerro Grande Fire. Oddly enough, when you're on the high reaches of Cerro Grande, it looks undamaged but strong winds, the norm during springtime in the Jemez Mountains, caused the fire to spot and eventually become a raging fire which destroyed and damaged hundreds of homes in nearby Los Alamos, New Mexico.

In Autumn 2007, Bandelier conducted a successful prescribed burn in a different part of the Upper Frijoles area, south of Cerro Grande and above Frijoles Canyon. It went off without a hitch except for some heavy smoke a few nights in the town of Los Alamos.

On the distant horizon are the Sangre de Cristos, the southern extension of the Rocky Mountains. Santa Fe Baldy is to the far left. Ski Santa Fe is to the right of Santa Fe Baldy.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States