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

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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Valles Caldera South Rim: Rabbit Ridge Snowshoe

Rabbit Ridge Snowshoe in
Valles Caldera National Preserve

Bandelier National Monument

Coyote Call Trailhead in Valles Caldera National Preserve

Rabbit Ridge Road is accessed from the Coyote Call Trail, a free trail in the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP), which is open during daylight hours year around.

Looking Across NM-4 into the Valle Grande from Coyote Call Trail

Redondo is the resurgent dome of the Valles Caldera. Redondito is the small protuberance on the right side of Redondo's ridgeline. Left of Redondo is South Mountain, a rhyolite dome of the Valles Caldera. The tiny forested dome to the right of South Mountain is Cerro la Jara, another rhyolite dome. Both South Mountain and Cerro la Jara formed around the actual outer margin of the collapsed Valles Caldera. Cerro la Jara is where the Valles Caldera National Preserve Valle Grande Staging Area is located.

Rabbit Ridge
Rabbit Ridge, with a large, snowy rockfield or felsenmeer. The south side of the ridge is owned by Bandelier National Monument (BNM) as part of their Alamo Boundary Trail section. The north side, facing NM-4, is owned by the Valles Caldera National Preserve and affords beautiful views into the Valles Caldera.

Unnamed Knob That Anchors Far Eastern End of Rabbit Ridge

Felsenmeers of Rabbit Ridge

Coyote Call Trail-Rabbit Ridge Road Intersection
Take the right turn and follow the road up to the top of Rabbit Ridge. It's almost 2 miles up but gradual and easy walking.

Logjam on Rabbit Ridge Road
When I visited, the road was well cleared with this being the only blockage. It didn't really pose an obstacle, though, since at this point, you're very near the top of Rabbit Ridge. The logjam is basically right where you turn right to go up onto Rabbit Ridge on a cross country ski trail. Volunteers maintain the area.

1940's Dendroglyph at Intersection of Rabbit Ridge Road and Blue Diamond Cross Country Ski Trail
It's hard to read the date--perhaps 1944 or 1949. The Bond family then owned the Baca Location No. 1, now the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Craig Martin has written an informative book on the Baca Location No. 1 called Valle Grande: A History of Baca Location No. 1. The book is in short supply but the Valles Caldera National Preserve still has copies for sale at the Valle Grande Staging Area's Welcome Station in the Preserve. I couldn't read the name on the tree; perhaps it was carved by someone from El Rito, New Mexico .

Rabbit Ridge Road Deadends
This is the continuation of Rabbit Ridge Road beyond the logjam pictured above. Bandelier National Monument land lies beyond. You can continue on the road. It will deadend in the woods near a beautiful meadow informally dubbed Misty Meadow on the south side of Rabbit Ridge.

From Bandelier National Monument Boundary on Rabbit Ridge Road
This is looking back north toward the logjam pictured above.

Close Up of Orange Sign for VCNP Boundary on Rabbit Ridge

Bandelier National Monument Boundary Line Markers on Rabbit Ridge

Cross Country Ski Trail in the Woods on Rabbit Ridge
The north (left) side of the trail is on VCNP property while the south (right) side is in BNM.

Misty Meadow on South Side of Rabbit Ridge in Bandelier National Monument
It's easy to go down from this meadow and connect in with old logging roads in the Alamo Boundary Trail area.

View South of St. Peter's Dome in Bandelier National Monument's Back Country

Redondo from First Felsenmeer on Rabbit Ridge

The cross country ski trail takes you to the first felsenmeer and ends there. After that, keep close to the ridgeline--there's no real trail. You'll be walking in meadows and woods and have great views into the Valles Caldera to the north from Rabbit Ridge's felsenmeers and, on the south side, from the meadows of Rabbit Ridge, you'll see into Bandelier National Monument, all the way to Sandia Peak, east of Albuquerque.

Far Off View of Valles Caldera North Rim from First Felsenmeer

In the foreground, an arm of Cerro del Medio, east (right), reaches out to the lower reaches of Redondo, west (left), in the Valle Grande. On the right horizon is Cerro la Garita (splotchy bare areas) on the Valles Caldera north rim.

Cerro del Medio (Foreground) and the Valles Caldera North Rim and Northeast Rim (Background)

That's Cerros del Abrigo rising up just behind and to the left of Cerro del Medio. Both are ring fracture rhyolite domes that rose up all around the Valles Caldera after the volcano collapsed 1.2 million years ago.

The tallest peak, on the far right horizon, with the triangular bare meadow, is Tschicoma, at 11,561' elevation, the highest peak in the Jemez Mountains. Oddly enough, it's not on the topographic rim to the younger, approximately 1.2 million years old, Valles Caldera. Instead, Tschicoma is on the topographic rim of the older, approximately 1.6 million years old, Toledo Caldera. Some geologists deem the Valles and Toledo calderas, where two calderas collapses occurred 400,000 years apart, not as overlapping , separate calderas but as "multiple collapses" of the same caldera.

Hoarfrost at Edge of Felsenmeer
Lots of images of lovely hoarfrost are found on Google.

Distant View of Cerro Grande Peak and Pajarito Mountain

Cerro Grande Peak (right) and Pajarito Mountain (left) are on the Valles Caldera east rim. Here is more information on Cerro Grande and Pajarito Mountain in relation to the proposed Valles Caldera Rim Trail.

South Mountain from Second Felsenmeer
That's Redondo to the right of South Mountain.

From Third Felsenmeer, Clockwise: South Mountain, Redondo, Redondito, and Cerro la Jara in Valle Grande
NM-4, the access route to the Jemez Mountains, runs along the edge of the Valle Grande far below.

Close-up of Sierra de Toledo on Valles Caldera Northeast Rim

I wonder if Cerro Toledo is the far right baldspot? The Valles Caldera Northeast Rim boundary is shared between the Valles Caldera National Preserve and Santa Clara Pueblo. Until public access and use issues are discussed between Santa Clara Pueblo and the VCNP, most of the northeast rim is off limits to the public.

Close-ups, (Clockwise, Foreground), Cerro Santa Rosa (Left) and Cerros del Abrigo (Right) and a Tiny Portion of Cerro del Medio (in Front of Abrigo) and, Background, Cerro de la Garita (Left) and Garita Ridge-Hunter's Point (Right)
Bandelier National Monument Boundary Line Marker at Third Felsenmeer

Continuation of Rabbit Ridge From Third Felsenmeer, My Turnaround!

It was late afternoon and time to turn around--it would have been all downhill and then all uphill from here to Rabbit Mountain's summit and I was plumb out of pluck so I saved it for another day.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States