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

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.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States