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

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Link to Trip Report on New South Mountain Hike at Valles Caldera National Preserve

Here's a link to a trip report on a recent hike done on the Valles Caldera National Preserve's new South Mountain hike.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Part II: Ghost Ranch - Deriving Caution From Another National Natural Landmark

There are 12 National Natural Landmarks (NNL) in New Mexico. The one most developed, privately owned Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM, was chosen in 1976 as a NNL for its outstandingly well-preserved coelophysis fossils, a carnivorous dinosaur.

Its Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology offers education and outreach about coelophysis to 2000-3000 school children each year. In addition, as "an education and retreat center of The Presbyterian Church (USA)", it offers many educational courses on diverse subjects and groups can schedule "a conference or workshop or family reunion."

Ghost Ranch has modest overnight facilities which include "bed and breakfast" style accommodations and camping. Other developments are the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology, a gift shop, a dining hall, a snack bar, a library, and the Piedra Lumbre Education and Visitor center.

Activities include hiking, horseback riding, tours of the ranch (there is a winter cattle grazing program), tours of Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch home, a ropes course, and swimming.

The Director's Update May 2009 reveals that while doing well overall, they have made changes, due to both the economic downturn and the seasonal nature of visitation at Ghost Ranch. These included job cuts and downsizing of jobs. Other economic realities are that they are losing customers because they do not have enough single rooms to meet the demand. The Director says Ghost Ranch has years of deferred maintenance and facility improvements which need to be done.

Large groups grappling with their own budget restraints have canceled meetings at Ghost Ranch this year although others were found to fill the space. As of May 2009, Ghost Ranch was "...under budget in groups and meetings revenue." The Director says that Glorieta Baptist Conference Center has gone from operating year around to a summer-time only schedule. Ghost Ranch will try to attract bookings of groups that would have gone to Glorieta in the off-season.

Despite the reality of these economic times, the emphasis on development at Ghost Ranch has always been on service to people and community. Educational outreach is very much a part of this.The Director's Update mentions that school districts' budget cuts have meant less buses bringing school groups to visit their museums. But this has dissuaded Ghost Ranch not at all - museum staff now take their programs to the school children.

Ghost Ranch is a mere 21,000 acres compared to Valles Caldera National Preserve's (VCNP) 89,000 acres yet its smaller size does not make it immune from rebound effects of present economic crisis. Think how much harder it will be to make an 89,000 acre development financially self-sufficient in these trying economic times.

Alternatives D and E (VCNP PDF download of Overview Narrative) of 5 conceptual alternatives being presented in the Valles Caldera Trust's (VCT) Public Access and Use Plan (PAUP) are quite costly over a 10 year period in capital investment needed. Each require an investment of $143 million spread out over the next 10 years and each need $12 million in annual operating costs. Even alternative C would need $88 million in capital investments with annual operating costs of $10 million. Is this the right economic climate in which to begin a costly development centered around people traveling long distances to visit and stay overnight at the Preserve?

Please visit the VCNP website for information about the different ways you can submit comments on development at the Preserve. If you feel that the comment page they have set up is daunting and can't attend either of the two public workshops (VCNP PDF download of public workshops flyer), then please email or snail mail your comments to the VCT (comments@vallescaldera.gov or surface mail to Valles Caldera Trust, P.O. Box 359, Jemez Springs, NM 87025).

The VCNP's online comment page will be up at least through the end of September and maybe until mid-October, depending on public interest. After that, the 5 development alternatives will be narrowed and refined based on public comment received. Then, the revised alternatives will be analyzed on the VCNP website.

To be kept apprised of the planning process that will determine how the public will be able to access and use the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the future, please sign up for the Mailing Lists on the VCNP website.

If you absolutely have no time for commenting but want to see reasonable and fair access by the public of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, at least consider joining Caldera Action which will tirelessly advocate for better management and protection of the VCNP on your behalf. If you believe, as Caldera Action does, that the Valles Caldera National Preserve should be managed as a National Park Preserve, please let your congresspersons know of your concerns (Senate; House of Representatives).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Part I: Valles Caldera National Preserve - Do Not Overdevelop This National Natural Landmark

Valle Grande of Valles Caldera National Preserve from Pajarito Mountain Ski Area

The Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) is a National Natural Landmark (NNL) designated in 1975 when it was then called the Baca Location No. 1. The NNL program is administered by the National Park Service (NPS).


Quoted information about the program from National Natural Landmarks Program brochure :

The National Natural Landmarks (NNL) Program was established to encourage and support the voluntary conservation of sites that illustrate the nation’s geological and biological history, and to strengthen the public’s appreciation of America’s natural heritage. The program offers participants the opportunity to share information, solve problems cooperatively, and conserve important natural areas. Since 1962, the NNL Program has involved private, municipal, state, federal, and other landowners working together to conserve natural resources. Land acquisition by the federal government is not a goal of this program; NNLs are owned by a variety of land stewards, and participation in the program is voluntary.

National Natural Landmarks are selected for their outstanding condition, illustrative value, rarity, diversity, or value to science and education. NNLs include public land and private lands with a wide variety of uses.

Ongoing Partnerships are Key to Conservation Success:
The primary goals of the National Natural Landmarks (NNL) Program are to recognize landmark resources and support their conservation. To meet these goals, the NNL Program staff assists with grant applications, publishes an annual report on the status of landmarks, and may identify specialists to advise landmark owners on how to care for their sites. While providing funding for NNLs is not the norm, the program staff has been very successful in helping NNL owners obtain grants to fund conservation work and outreach projects. Recently funded and completed projects include interpretive walkways and exhibits, mapping of significant resources, videos, books, and eradication of non-native plant species. These projects help to conserve landmark resources as well as educate people about our country’s diverse natural history.

Quoted information from Pacific West Region, National Natural Landmarks Program brochure:

Program Management:
The National Natural Landmarks Program does not place any land use restrictions on property as a direct result of federal designation. The NNL Program simply recognizes and encourages the voluntary, long-term commitment of public and private owners to protect an area’s outstanding values. In fact, designated sites do not even have to be open to the public. Conversely, national natural landmarks can be commercial ventures, if the integrity of the natural feature is maintained.

Concerning potential benefits to landowners, the National Park Service can provide technical assistance by advising owners on conservation practices, if so requested. In addition owners, who voluntarily agree to protect their landmark property, are eligible to receive a certificate and wooden plaque for appropriate indoor presentation or a bronze plaque for outdoor display at the site. In the case of federal ownership, agencies should consider the unique properties of natural landmarks in assessing the effects of their actions on the environment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Depending on land ownership, national natural landmark designation can in fact enhance potential funding opportunities in some instances.

This quote is from the National Registry of Natural Landmarks June 2009 and briefly explains why the Valles Caldera was chosen as a NNL:

The Valles Caldera is a large circular depression, 12 to 15 miles in diameter, with scalloped walls rising from a few hundred to more than 2,000 feet above the present floor. Located primarily within the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the site is one of the largest calderas in the world and is an excellent example of a caldera advanced in history but still retaining the essential structures. Designated: 1975. Ownership:
Federal.

The Valles Caldera is a relatively young, 1.2 million years old, well-preserved volcanic caldera which holds great geologic significance. It's diverse because in addition to the caldera, there is a resurgent dome,
ring fracture domes and geothermal activity (PDF download from Geo-Heat Center Bulletin, December 2002).

Federal agencies contemplating any development that will affect a NNL must be careful that the significant features of the property are not degraded. In the case of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the significant features would be the geology of the Valles Caldera, including its resurgent dome, its ring fracture domes and geothermal features.

The National Natural Landmark designation carries no restrictions on what development can occur but the NNL status may be lost if the significant attributes of an NNL site are degraded. An NNL designation often makes a property more attractive to visitors which could translate into increased visitation at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The federal government is available to help advise NNL property owners on how best to protect and preserve the property. Owners of NNLs can obtain Challenge Cost Share Funding to help protect and interpret its significant attributes - in this case, the uniquely intact geology of the Valles Caldera.

With the Valles Caldera Trust now actively engaging the public in a pre-scoping dialogue about different conceptual alternatives of access, activities, capacity, development, financing and values surrounding proposed development of the VCNP, maybe the question to be asked is if the Valles Caldera National Preserve was under different management, such as the NPS or the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and financial self-sufficiency was not a requirement, would the new land managers approach development and public access and use of the land differently? What parts of these conceptual development alternatives would land managers who were not expected to make a buck discard and which would they keep? What would they consider more important - protecting and preserving the Valles Caldera, while allowing reasonable public access and use, or becoming financially self-sufficient?

In the case of the Valles Caldera, this spectacular geologic treasure of the Jemez Mountains, the primary consideration should not be the almighty dollar but how best to protect and preserve the Valles Caldera, which bewitches all who see it, and to both educate the public about the Valles Caldera and study it to
benefit future mankind (PDF download from official VCNP website regarding climate change study in Valles Caldera).

The focus of any development should befit the Valles Caldera's designation as a National Natural Landmark and should heavily emphasize science and education. Public Access and Use Planning (PAUP) (PDF download from official VCNP website of all conceptual alternatives for development) on the Preserve should occur only insofar as the natural landscape of the Valles Caldera is not degraded. Development that occurs should further appreciation, understanding and scientific study of the geological wonders and natural landscape that comprise the Valles Caldera.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Valles Caldera Trust Public Scoping Information Document

The Valles Caldera Trust today posted on their website a link to the all in one file (PDF download from official
Valles Caldera National Preserve website) of the Public Scoping Information document for the Trust's "online collaboration" to involve the public in planning for public access and use of the Preserve.

You can simply download this one file which has everything you need to make your comments during this scoping period which is leading up to the issuance next year of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The 5 alternatives for development that are presented on the NEPA Master Page are not yet set in stone. It's during the scoping period that the alternatives will be refined based on public comment.

All this planning must be done by the Trust to make sure under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that any development for public access and use at the VCNP conforms to laws that protect the environment. The EIS will provide the legal framework for future development at the VCNP. Ever since the public's admittance to the VCNP in 2002, all public programs have been interim ones because permanent programs couldn't legally be put in place until an EIS is completed.

If you go to the NEPA Master page and register, you can read comments that folks like you have already left and you can leave your own.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New VCNP Hike: South Mountain!

Just yesterday, a friend emailed me that the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) has a new hike called South Mountain. It's offered every day that the VCNP is open. No reservation is required. It only costs $5 and doesn't include a van ride. It costs an additional $5 if you want a van drive along VC01 to the trailhead on VC02. Otherwise, you have a bit of a trek. I'll save the $5 and see the scenery along the way.

To get to the Valle Grande Staging Area (VGSA) where you'll park your vehicle, drive into the Valle Grande entrance off NM4. Go in 2 miles on a graded, gravel road to the VGSA and park your vehicle. Pay your money and get trekking!!

The routes up South Mountain are on old logging roads. Last year I got a peek at them when I helped out Sam Beard and the NM Cross Country Ski Club group do some trail maintenance in preparation for that season's cross country skiing. (Beard and his group are very strong skiers and routinely ski to the top of South Mountain!) I was the "lopper" - snipping off aspen saplings.

The VCNP write-up of this 8 mile or so hike says, "Once on South Mountain, hikers have a myriad of trail choices." It would be a good idea to print out the map the VCNP provides on their website (a PDF download), check the area on Google Earth and bring the Redondo Peak topo map (purchase here), compass and GPS (if you have one).

It's gratifying to have this hike appear on the VCNP calendar and most fortuitous that it occurred just after I had written this letter to the editor on Monday in response to an opinion piece by Ed Tinsley that had recently appeared in the Albuquerque Journal and Los Alamos Monitor. I have since rescinded my letter but reproduce it here for your amusement:

Give Me Freedom to Roam

Dear Editor:

Vice Chair Ed Tinsley of the Valles Caldera Trust recently presented an invitation to look at the "list of activities at http://www.vallescaldera.gov/comevisit/ and the daily calendar of attractions at
http://www.vallescaldera.gov/calendar/ViewCal.html" He intimated that people who complain of lack of public access really don't know what they are talking about because public access is plentiful at the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP).

I'm a hiker who took his challenge and looked on the Preserve website for unguided hikes of more than a few miles. For the remaining weeks in August, I saw 2 unguided hikes listed and for September, I saw none.

If the Valles Caldera National Preserve doesn't offer me what I want, they are in effect offering me no access. It's not like I'm able to buy an annual pass and make up my own hikes in the Preserve. No, I'm offered a menu of recreation opportunities but they are not the ones I want. I'll keep my money for the meantime!

This week, I walked up Pajarito Mountain Ski Area's jeep roads to the top (a free activity!) and I looked longingly over the VCNP boundary fence at all that land I'd love to hike and explore but am not allowed to. Hiking opportunities in the Preserve are of their time and choosing.

Sincerely,

Here is a link to Ed Tinsley's piece in the Albuquerque Journal. Let me know if it doesn't work. It's sometimes difficult to link to newspaper articles because the links may change as time passes. Click on Trial Premium Pass (FREE!), watch the brief commercial and then enter the Albuquerque Journal website to read Ed's opinion piece. (It also appeared in the Los Alamos Monitor but their website archive is extremely problematical to search and I wasn't able to find the article.)

This new hike addition has me excited and eager to give the VCNP my money!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Website Launch: Valles Caldera Trust Public Access and Use Planning

View into Valles Caldera National Preserve from Pajarito Mountain Ski Area

The notice below was emailed to me yesterday, August 13, 2009, via the Valles Caldera National Preserve's (VCNP) email lists that anyone can sign up for. The two public meetings will be on Monday, September 14, in Albuquerque, NM, 5:30-8:00pm, at the Hilton Garden Inn on 5320 San Antonio Dr. NE and Tuesday, September 15 in Santa Fe, NM, 5:30-8:oopm., Santa Fe Community College, 6401 S. Richards Ave.. For directions, either contact the Preserve or try any of the free online map services.

In the email notice below, the Trust makes it clear that you can comment in many ways - at the two public workshops, on the Preserve's NEPA Master Page, via snail mail or email. Please explore the links in the email below to decide which way you would like to comment.

The Trust says there is a way to download all the documents at once but I have not been able to find it. I ended up individually downloading a total of 25 files, including commenting guidelines, a glossary, movies, maps, an overview summary of the five alternatives and detailed explanation of each alternative. This seems excessive to expect the public to do this in order to become informed about the future direction of public access and use of the Preserve.

Regardless - this process is important to participate in because this is the official beginning of the National Environmental Policy Act process for the Trust's planning for public access and use of the Preserve. The comments you give now in this scoping process will determine what alternatives will be seriously considered in the official NEPA Environmental Impact Statement that will surely affect and alter the future of the Preserve and your access to it. In otherwords, the Environmental Impact Statement that the Trust will prepare is not created in a vacuum and your comments have huge potential to influence the future of your access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

If you don't comment, your voice regarding the various alternatives won't be heard. Hint - if you like horses a whole lot, you'll like two of the Alternatives, C and D, that provide for a focus on equestrian activities, including a developed equestrian center. (I wonder if they did a market study to determine how many equine enthusiasts there are in the surrounding areas before they devised this alternative? Perhaps there are a lot and this would be popular.) This is just one example of something you may want to provide your input on. There are others like Alternative D that includes "luxury lodging, restaurants, a bar, snack bars, a conference center, and an RV Park". The clever strategy used by the VCNP is that the maps of the various alternatives are filled with symbols denoting the location and type of the various developments planned. No narrative is provided on the map. You need to read the separate narrative to fully understand the full scope of development of each alternative.

Unless you take the trouble to become part of this process at some level, your voice WILL NOT BE HEARD:


Valles Caldera Trust
Public Access and Use Planning

Website Launch August 13, 2009

Dear Friends,

We are very excited to announce the Public Access and Use website launch and two upcoming public workshops (PDF download from official Valles Caldera National Preserve website)to support collaborative planning and decision making on the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Planning for public access and use of the Preserve will be the first effort to engage stakeholders in an online collaboration. Be aware - this planning effort considers developing permanent facilities and infrastructure as well as access to and through the Preserve. It is an extremely important planning effort and quite complex. Reviewing the available information and providing substantive comment may require an hour or more.

This phase of our planning is considering alternative levels of development. Elements being considered include: Access, Capacity, Activities, Development, Financing, and Values. The website uses detailed narratives, maps, and videos to provide you with an understanding of these elements and the alternative levels of development for each.

After you review the narratives and maps, open the element tables. These pages present a graphical summary of each element as a reference for providing your comments and feedback. You will also be able to view and reply to the comments of others in our collaborative forum (you must register under the "Register" page before entering your comments in the forum).

This online collaboration is being supported by two public workshops (PDF download from official Valles Caldera National Preserve website). Your online and in person contributions will be used to formulate a range of alternatives for the development of infrastructure, facilities, and programs for public access and use of the Preserve.

If navigating websites or attending a workshop is not your thing - not to worry! You may download all the information as a single document and send your comments by email: comments@vallescaldera.gov, or surface mail: Valles Caldera Trust, P.O. Box 359, Jemez Springs, NM 87025.



Marie E. Rodriguez
Natural Resource Coordinator
Valles Caldera Trust
"An Experiment in Public Land Management"



Quick Links
Public Access and Use
Activities
Web Calendar
More About Us

Contact Information

1 866-382-5537
comments@vallescaldera.gov

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fraser Goff's Valles Caldera: A Geologic History

I appreciate Fraser Goff's book, Valles Caldera: A Geologic History. The book gives solid, science-based information on the creation of the Valles Caldera 1.25 million years ago as a result of the awakening of the Jemez Volcanic Field, at the intersection of the Rio Grande Rift and the Jemez Lineament. He gives reliable geologic dates for the creation of the Valles Caldera and the eruption between the resurgent dome and caldera wall of subsequent moat rhyolites, such as Cerro del Medio. (Quite interestingly, Goff says that Cerro del Medio, which erupted 1.23 million years ago as the first of the ten moat rhyolite complexes, may have been created in six different eruptions.)

Fraser's book, published May 2009, wasn't out when I posted a photo narrative on selected trail segments of the Valles Caldera Rim in late 2007 (see VCR Blog Archive, November 29-December 3, 2007). For geological dates, I relied on a publication of the New Mexico Geological Society, Geology of the Jemez Region II, Fall Field Conference, Volume 58, 2007 and any abstracts of geologic research papers that I could find online.

While I enjoyed immensely the opportunity to explore the Valles Caldera Rim, the fact remains that I'm no geologist. Frankly, unless it's painfully obvious, like a rockslide, I struggle with trying to understand the story behind the rocks and landforms I see. It's as though it is hidden from me albeit in plain view. Also, the geology research papers that I read, well, it's debatable how much I understand because of the technical language used. That's why it's such a delight to read Fraser Goff's Valles Caldera: A Geologic History because he intelligibly interprets the geological underpinnings of the landscape of the Valles Caldera yet doesn't over-simplify or over-whelm.

The beautifully designed book has 114 pages and 52 figures, including many attractive color photos taken by Fraser Goff, sketch maps, charts, etc.. The figures are plentiful and do a great deal to increase understanding. The book is information dense yet concise. Goff includes the most up to date geologic information on the Valles Caldera, including some of the research done since 2000 when the United States government purchased Baca Location No. 1 and it became the Valles Caldera National Preserve. A brief, helpful glossary of geologic terms used and a bibliography for those who want to read more is included.

Recent research highlighted in the book includes a study of South Mountain lake deposits in the Valle Grande that may help climate change researchers to better understand climate variability in the Southwest. Dating of the 2004 core sample of the lake deposits revealed that South Mountain Lake persisted in the Valle Grande for over 200,000 years and this period spanned "...two complete glacial-interglacial cycles in the late Quaternary."

Goff says that new geologic mapping of the four USGS topographic quadrangles that cover the Valles Caldera - Bland, Redondo Peak, Valle San Antonio,Valle Toledo - is being done and will be completed in 2009 or 2010. This was done at the behest of the Valles Caldera Trust, in cooperation with federal and state agencies. In addition to being useful to the Trust for planning purposes, the new geological mapping has revealed more information about lake history in the Valles Caldera. Goff outlines the various caldera lakes that existed over four periods, beginning immediately after collapse of the Valles Caldera 1.25 million years ago and up to the most recent, 55,000 years ago, a short-lived lake caused by the El Cajete pumice eruption that blocked the East Fork of the Jemez.

I haven't even begun to do this book justice. It's worth reading and rereading. Chapter titles like The Next Valles Eruption and Where Does the Magma Come From and Is There More? give an idea of just how intriguing the book is.

Basically, Goff's book, written by a retired Los Alamos National Lab geologist who is currently an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico, is an excellent source to find the most accurate, enlightening geologic information on the Valles Caldera, located in Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico. To meet the man in person, sign up for a Valles Caldera National Preserve geology van tour, which Fraser gives, alongside his geologist wife, Cathy.

Under Acknowledgments, Goff thanks Robert Parmenter,Preserve Scientist, Dennis Trujillo, Preserve Manager, and "...other members of the Valles Caldera National Preserve for their support and funding on this project...". It's wonderful to have a book like Fraser Goff's Valles Caldera: A Geologic History that reveals some of the science that is taking place at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The Valles Caldera Trust is to be commended for their role in helping Fraser Goff to bring this book to the public. It's especially valuable because it makes clear what a treasure we all have in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Goff calls the Valles Caldera "...perhaps the world's best example of a resurgent caldera, a giant circular volcano with an uplifted central floor." The geological wonder of the Valles Caldera National Preserve rises far above any importance it may have as a mere cow pasture and working ranch.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Valles Caldera West Rim: Virgin Mesa Above Battleship Rock

This is FR (Forest Road) 607 (Santa Fe National Forest, Jemez Ranger District). It looks benignly flat where we parked to begin the hike but don't believe it. Dorothy's Honda CRV got quite a workout on a steeply downhill, wretchedly rutted, rocky stretch just before this. My gasps were no help; I suppose it was more helpful when I excitedly pointed out boulders that studded the road's side wall.

Dorothy's objective was to finish the Valles Caldera west rim by doing this last short section, all on national forest land, to an overlook of Battleship Rock from high up on Virgin Mesa. The views from the rim made me want to shout "Hallelujah!" I was grateful to get to tag along!


That tiny, insignificant peanut of a volcanic rock formation (looking like an alligator's snout) approximately 1,600' below the rim of Virgin Mesa is Battleship Rock, nearly 7,000' in elevation. Standing beneath it down below, it's a behemoth!

That's Cat Mesa in the background, the south rim of the Valles Caldera. The bulgy peak on the east horizon is Cerro del Piño, 9,030'. The East Fork of the Jemez River snakes around between Cat Mesa and Battleship Rock to conflue with San Antonio Creek, coming from La Cueva, and becomes the Jemez River flowing in San Diego Canyon.


I took a lot of photos of Lord Redondo, 11,254', (OK, I added the "Lord" but believe me, it does lord it over the entire Jemez Mountains!) but this one turned out the nicest.

By the end of the day, the clouds over Redondo were looking frankly monsoonal and we even heard distant thunder once or twice but saw no lightning nor even a single rain drop.


NM4 is down below as well as San Antonio Creek; a big apron of Banco Bonito lava flows forms the cliffs you see. I've always studied topo maps of this section of the Valles Caldera Rim where the south rim adjoins the west rim but admit I didn't truly understand it until today. The Banco Bonito lava flows, the youngest volcanic activity of the Valles Caldera, occurred between 45-35 thousand years ago and constrain where things are placed. San Antonio Creek, NM4 and the East Fork of the Jemez River all are forced to go around the Banco Bonito flow. It seems a jumble to me on a topo map but so startlingly clear when you are on top of Virgin Mesa looking down on it all.


View from lunch of Virgin Mesa cliffs - what a hard life! This can give an idea of why there is a discontinuity in following the Valles Caldera Rim at the southwest corner. It's difficult to hike up or down Virgin Mesa's lofty 8,600' heights without ropes and a belayer.

If anyone knows of a trail or route from Cerro Colorado, 7,789', on the south rim of the Valles Caldera (we'll even settle for Battleship Rock picnic area, 6,760'), up to the continuation of the west rim on Virgin Mesa, please let us know.

If you would like to hike to a viewpoint above these particular cliffs, please check out this great book by Joan and Gary Salzman, Hiking Adventures in Northern New Mexico. A hike called Virgin Mesa Road takes you out to above these cliffs.


Looking south toward beautiful Jemez Springs where Valles Caldera National Preserve Headquarters is located. Cat Mesa is on the left side of San Diego Canyon and Virgin Mesa on the right. Sierra Nacimiento Mountains are on the western horizon, above Virgin Mesa.


Dorothy hiking on way back to FR 607 on green gladed path.


To get here, from NM 4 at La Cueva, take NM126 and turn left on FR 376. Go to FR 604 and turn left. Don't forget to stop, near where the road makes a hairpin turn to the right, to look down on the awesome tent rocks above La Cueva. Go to FR 607 and turn left. When you get to any ruts, stop and park if you are squeamish. Walk on FR 607 to waypoint 1 which is where we parked. The abandoned road (last photo above) is about a half mile or less beyond waypoint 1, on the left.

Basically, we went up that abandoned road to a stock tank and then worked our way uphill, gently southeast, into and out of Virgin Canyon (easy to do) and over to waypoints 2 and 3 for the almost-aerial views. There's a lot more to be seen than I've taken photos of. We could even see the north rim (a pinch), San Antonio Mountain, Cerro Pelado, Los Griegos Mountain, Las Conchas Peak and South Mountain.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Valles Caldera National Preserve Volunteer Training on Saturday, May 2!

This email below from Kimberly DeVall, Supervisory Recreation Specialist at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, announces Volunteer Training Workshops for volunteer opportunities at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The first workshop took place last Saturday, April 25, 2009 and the next one is upcoming this Saturday, May 2. The workshops are held at the Valles Caldera Trust Headquarters in Jemez Springs:

2009 Volunteer Workshops Announced!

The Valles Caldera Trust would like to thank you for your interest in volunteering on the Valles Caldera National Preserve. In an effort to improve our volunteer program and coordination, we are offering volunteer orientation workshops. These workshops are designed to give you a brief overview of the Preserve, Trust policies and guidelines, safety, and volunteer opportunities. To become a volunteer on the Preserve, you will be required to attend one of these workshops each year.

We currently have two workshops available, with more to come based on interest. The workshops are scheduled for Saturday, April 25, 2009, and Saturday, May 2, 2009. Both workshops will be held at the Trust offices in Jemez Springs, NM, from 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM. Lunch is on your own so bring a lunch or enjoy one of the restaurants in Jemez Springs. Remember, to become a Preserve volunteer, you only need to attend one workshop. Previous volunteers are also required to attend. Each workshop will be limited to 70 participants and reservations are required. Please fill out the reservation form and return it by email or my mail at Valles Caldera Trust, P.O. Box 359, Jemez Springs, NM 87025.

We look forward to seeing you at the Preserve!


Kimberly DeVall
Supervisory Recreation Specialist


The reservation form gives a list of volunteer opportunities available on the Preserve. They include:

  • Van Tour Guides (a 45‐minute brief overview and history of the Preserve)
  • Highway 4 Pullout (a roving guide who helps bring visitors from the highway)
  • Van Drivers (transports hikers to trailheads and anglers to San Antonio)
  • Banco Bonito (roving guides/support for equestrian and mountain bike trails)
  • Special Events (such as Run the Caldera, Cruise the Caldera, Star Gazing, etc.)
  • Visitor Center and Gift Shop (assist staff in providing information to visitors)
  • Guest Services (assist with facility rentals, group tour requests, etc.)
  • Ranching (fence work, monitoring, etc.)
  • Hunting (assist with hunter check in/out)
  • Science (assist with monitoring, collections, restoration, etc.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Valles Caldera Trust Short Three Members

According to the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000, the Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) that manages the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) is supposed to have nine members.

Two of the VCT members are ex officio - the Superintendent of Bandelier National Monument and the Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest. They are fully voting members and are on the Trust by virtue of their position in the agencies which are neighbors to the VCNP.

The other seven of the members, who hold expertise in specific areas, are to be appointed by the President in consultation with the New Mexico congressional delegation. As of right now, only four of these seven presidential appointees are on the Trust. Those four were all appointed by former President Bush.

There are currently three vacancies in the areas of Forestry, Cultural and Natural History and Nonprofit Conservation Organization.

I am hoping that President Barack Obama, in consultation with New Mexico's congressional delegation, will soon appoint the remaining three members to the Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) to fill these vacancies. It seems obvious to me that the Valles Caldera Trust can more effectively do its job if it has the full complement of members on board.

If you feel this is important, please contact your United States senators and representatives to ask that this be done soon. If you are unsure who your Representative or Senator is, you can look up their names on these websites:

U.S. Senate/ Senators Home

Write Your Representative - Contact your Congressperson in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Valles Caldera National Preserve Volunteer Training

Today I drove up into the Jemez Mountains to the Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) Headquarters, across from the Jemez State Monument. The Valles Caldera Trust rents office space, near Jemez Springs, from the Servants of the Paraclete. I attended a first ever Volunteer Training workshop for the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP).

The drive up was beautiful - going through astounding country. Up until past Battleship Rock, you're actually driving within the Valles Caldera on NM4. This website, VallesCaldera.com, illustrates well that a great deal of the Valles Caldera can be enjoyed without ever setting foot on the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) and can actually be accessed from within the Santa Fe National Forest.

As I turned into the parking lot at VCT Headquarters, I could see colorfully picturesque Cat Mesa, down San Diego Canyon, towering over the Jemez Valley. It's a different world in Jemez Springs - tall mesas with indescribably colorful rocks and the willow and cottonwood lined Jemez River making a mockery of the phrase "the arid Southwest".

The Valles Caldera National Preserve, as of last July, hired a new Supervisory Recreation Specialist, Kimberly DeVall. Kimberly said that she is number five in as many years to hold this position. Before coming to the Preserve, she worked the last four and a half years on the other side of the fence, for the Santa Fe National Forest. She seems earnest and enthused and really wants to do right by the volunteers. A majority of attendees expressed a feeling that volunteers hadn't been appreciated in the past and were even ignored. I can attest that before Kimberly came on board, my inquiries about volunteer positions went unanswered. I've heard the same tale from others. I honestly think that Kimberly will change all that. For more information on Kimberly, read the Fall 2008 La Ventana en los Valles, Welcome to New Staff article, (page 2), which can be downloaded here as a pdf file.

Kimberly said that they had had snow the past two weekends and how lovely the weather was today. It truly was a sparkling day in the Jemez Mountains. No one else from Preserve Administration or Management or the VCT attended the meeting. Meeting facilitators included Kimberly's recreation assistants, Emily Blumenthal and Joyce McHugh and interpretative assistant, Stacy Urich. Rob Dixon, Preserve Outdoor Research Planner, had planned to attend but took ill.

People came from Santa Fe, Pojoaque, Española, Los Alamos, Vallecitos de los Indios, the Jemez Valley, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.

The meeting started out pretty lively and Kimberly was really a good sport and very patient with us. One man asked why the locked gate into the Valle Grande Staging Area and why not allow year around admission. A woman who volunteers with the equestrian program at Banco Bonito made a compelling case for equestrian volunteers having been unappreciated in the past. Overall, the audience and Kimberly agreed that in the past, many volunteers have been lost because of deplorable lack of communication. Kimberly suggested ways to remedy that such as setting up a page on the official VCNP website to communicate with volunteers. She's even considering Twitter!

Volunteers will need to attend one of these orientation sessions each year. Those who attended this year can take a refresher course next year that will focus on some continuing education aspect of volunteerism at the Preserve.

To get on the email list to be notified of upcoming volunteer workshops, please contact Kimberly. To contact Kimberly DeVall to let her know of your interest in volunteering for the VCNP, please use this Employee Directory which gives her email address. Kimberly feels that volunteers are important and says she plans to treat us that way.

Also, the VCNP website has a helpful new feature this year whereby you can sign up for a mailing list, specifying your interests. To do this, go to the VCNP home page and click on Mailing Lists in the upper left hand corner.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just Another Valles Caldera National Preserve Conundrum

On page 44 of the Valles Caldera Trust 2008 Report to Congress, the Trust admits that:

Public use and access to the Preserve for its recreational, scenic, cultural, scientific, educational, and spiritual values is likely the cornerstone for financial self sufficiency.


But on page 41 of the report, the Trust really wishes that there weren't quite so many people at the public meetings who express such strong desire for the very condition the Trust admits will allow the Preserve pay for itself:

Expand attendance and participation at public meetings of the Board of Trustees
Objective
Ensure participation by a broad spectrum of stakeholders

Metric

Number and affiliation of attendees

Narrative

Public board meetings are attended by a contingent of groups and individuals with an avid
interest and passion for the management of the Preserve especially for access and recreation.
The Board would like broader representation from stakeholders with interests in the
environment, science, ranching, education, and other areas of interest and management
concern.


So, on the one hand, the Valles Caldera Trust admits that allowing the public to use and access the Preserve is the key to financial self sustainability; on the other hand, they'd truly prefer not to hear so much about the public's deep desire to finally be allowed more freedom to use and access the Preserve.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Valles Caldera Trust Needs More Congressional Oversight

Dear Representative Ben Lujan and Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall:

I'm very frustrated with the current management system at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. It has been almost 9 years since the Preserve was created in July 2000 and the hiking public is still no closer to having freedom of movement within the Preserve. There are only a limited number of fee hikes that are available in the interior of the Preserve, for which hikers must make a reservation, be driven in a Preserve van to the trailhead and given a time by which they must end their hike.

Due to deteriorating snow conditions, winter recreation ended March 1 this year, making it only a two months long season because the Preserve closed its gates the whole month of December. Checking the VCNP calendar, no recreation programs are scheduled until May 21. In the meantime, hikers in Los Alamos are enjoying hikes in the Santa Fe National Forest and Bandelier National Monument but we must remain locked out of the Preserve until the end of May. Why can't I buy an annual pass to hike on the Preserve? If they are afraid that private vehicles will do damage to their roads, why not let us hike in from the edges of the Preserve, displaying proof of an annual pass in our parked vehicles like they do in Bandelier?

The Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) in their Annual Report to Congress 2008 claim that they have already fulfilled various requirements of the Valles Caldera Preservation Act 2000. The Trust asserts that the requirement for a comprehensive management plan mandated in Section 108 (d) of the Preservation Act was fulfilled with the July 2003 publication of the Trust's NEPA procedures. NEPA procedures provide a legal framework within which to develop plans but publishing NEPA procedures and calling it a comprehensive management plan seems a semantic ploy so the Trust can say it has fulfilled that requirement of the Preservation Act. The proof that the Trust doesn't truly have a comprehensive plan is that since 2002, the public has only been allowed on the Preserve on an interim basis. We don't yet have a permanent right to enjoy recreation on the Preserve. The Trust promises planning this year for public use and access but, truthfully, I don't hold out hope that much will change to fulfill the public's desire for more freedom to explore this beautiful land. If the Valles Caldera National Preserve were under the forest service or the national park service, we would by now have more freedom to access it.

Also in their 2008 annual report to Congress, they state that they have fulfilled the requirement found in Section 111 (b) of the Preservation Act to submit a plan for annual decreasing congressional appropriations toward the goal of achieving financial self-sufficiency. But the so-called plan that they refer to, found in Appendix B of the 2005 Framework and Strategic Guidance for Comprehensive Management, does not even mention specific dollar amounts! That they could assert this in an annual report to Congress and no one has called them to account for it shows that they have not had careful oversight.

This year the final GAO Report on progress at the Preserve will be released. In the November 2005 interim report, Valles Caldera Trust Has Made Some Progress, but Needs to Do More to Meet Statutory Goals, the GAO stipulated that the Trust should take steps to come into compliance with the Government Corporation Control Act which mandates annual independent financial audits of government corporations. It is only this year that the Trust says it will finally release independent financial audits for 2004-2007 and 2008. The Trust's finances are another area in need of more congressional oversight to ensure that they have not been reckless with the public's money.

Recently, the New Mexico Legislature passed Senate Memorial 32 which calls upon New Mexico's congressional delegation to hold hearings to reconsider the present management system at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. I hope that you will soon do that. The present system isn't working.

Respectfully and sincerely.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Valles Caldera National Preserve and the Presidio: Not Much in Common

The Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) is often compared to the Presidio because both are managed by trusts created by Congress. Other than that, there are few other similarities. The VCNP has an expansive 89,000 acres while the Presidio consists of a puny 1,491. The VCNP has a few decaying buildings which badly need infusions of cash to make them ready for visitors while the Presidio has 768 buildings they inherited from the National Park Service as well as plentiful parking and roads. The VCNP is land-rich but, other than the stunning scenery, amenity poor while the Presidio burgeons with money-making assets on its strikingly green piece of oceanfront property in highly urbanized San Francisco.

The management of the Presidio is unique because the Presidio Trust in July 1998 took over management of Area B, which is the non-coastal interior 80% of the Presidio while the NPS retained management over the shoreline of the Presidio, the remaining 20% which is called Area A.

The May 2002 Presidio Trust Management Plan divides Area B into different planning districts, each with a slightly different focus such as educational, cultural and lodging. Crissy Field, for instance, is pure recreational open space while the Main Post, "Heart of the Presidio", functions as an area to orient visitors.

In the VCNP's upcoming planning for public use and access this year, would it be possible for the Valles Caldera National Preserve to also establish different use areas within the Preserve? Some of these areas could be purely for making money - perhaps a resort destination in an area of the caldera that is easily accessible from the main highway, NM4. Other more isolated areas of the Preserve could be reserved for uses that are more primitive like dispersed camping.

Perhaps the VCNP could even have different areas of the Preserve under different management like in the Presidio. What if, for instance, the Santa Fe National Forest managed the perimeter of the caldera, including the Valles Caldera rim, for primitive, wilderness uses while the Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) managed the interior, more developed areas of the Valles Caldera for intensive tourist use?

Looking at the Presidio's website, it appears that open space recreation is free. Since they have other lucrative venues that make beaucoup bucks - rent and lease of residences (1,147 housing units) and office space - they can afford not to charge.

The problem for the Preserve is that there is no ready source of the annual, large amounts of cash that are required to attain financial self sufficiency without first making a huge investment to build a destination resort with a visitor center and parking and all the amenities that top-paying tourists require. One worry is that such a development would spoil and endanger the natural beauty and natural resources of the Preserve. In the 2009 session of the New Mexico Legislature, Senate Memorial 32 has been introduced by Tim Eichenberg. This calls upon the New Mexico congressional delegation to hold hearings to reconsider the present management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve because it is not allowing people fair access to the Preserve; because of this, recreation and economic opportunities are being lost to New Mexicans.

One characteristic that both the VCNP and the Presidio have in common is no lack of dissatisfaction among the public. There is controversy over decisions of the Presidio Trust just as much as there is dissatisfaction about how things are going at the Preserve. The Los Alamos Monitor is running a two part article by Dave Menicucci, Albuquerque based freelance writer, on frustrations of New Mexicans with the current regime in place at the Preserve. Part one, cleverly titled Frustrations with Valles Caldera erupt into public debate, appeared on Sunday, March 1, 2009. Part two is slated to appear on Tuesday, March 3, 2009. It makes very interesting reading for those of us who have waited so long (if impatiently!) for untrammeled access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve!

I hope in the future that the situation at the Valles Caldera National Preserve changes and allows wider and fairer access to people but, for the meantime, I truly envy the people of San Francisco because the Presidio welcomes people to use its open spaces and the Presidio Trust is well on its way to achieving independence from federal appropriations by 2013.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valles Caldera National Preserve Needs More Action, Less Excuses!


On Sunday, February 1, 2009, a Los Alamos Monitor article, "Caldera reboots under new management", (written by Roger Snodgrass), gave highlights from a group interview with Stephen Henry, Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) board member; Gary Bratcher, the Trust's new executive director; Dennis Trujillo, the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) Manager and Bob Parmenter, VCNP Scientist.

It's interesting when Bratcher is asked to comment about the perception of the public that the VCNP is behind schedule in providing more public access to the Preserve and in becoming financially self-sustaining.

Bratcher, the fourth official director of the Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico, attempts to explain away what he calls "misinformation" about how long the trust has to meet its goal of financial self-sufficiency. He cites a section of the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-248) (Preservation Act), the enabling legislation (PDF download) that created the Preserve. This section, Section 110, Termination of Trust, mandates that in 2014 if the Trust has


...met the goals and objectives of the comprehensive management program under section 108(d), but has not become financially self-sustaining...


the Trust can ask Congress to continue further appropriations for another four years and delay the final decision on whether or not to terminate the Trust until 2018.

This is perfectly true but if you bother to read Section 108(d) Management Program, of the Preservation Act, it says that two years after the Trust assumed management of the Preserve, a comprehensive management program which included "public use and access for recreation" was to have been completed. The Trust took over from the forest service in August 2002. However, it was not until 2007 that public workshops (PDF download) were held to gather feedback to begin the process of comprehensive planning for "public use and access for recreation".

After this hopeful beginning, that process was largely forgotten by the Trust in 2008. It did resurface briefly at a Trust meeting in December 2008. Supposedly, the plan is for more public workshops to be held in 2009 and to have the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process for public use and access completed by late 2010 or mid 2011. That's a long time to wait when it was supposed to have been completed in 2004. This is now seven years after the Trust first assumed management of the Preserve and it is now only 5 years away from the 2014 deadline that Bratcher refers to.

What Bratcher terms "misinformation" is not that at all. The perception of people that time is running out for the Trust is based on the reality of the situation that at this late in the game, there is still no real plan in place to allow more fair and open access for all people to explore and enjoy the Preserve. The public sees it as an exclusive "pay to play" enclave.

Bratcher and the Trust need to realize that an important deadline has already passed - to win the support and goodwill of all of us who once were optimistic that one day we'd be allowed to enjoy the Valles Caldera National Preserve! Now, most of us are talking about how maybe our grandkids will get to enjoy it! We feel that the only way we will ever get onto the Preserve is if the Trust finally goes away. Telling us we are misinformed won't get our support.

Also in the article, Bob Parmenter points out that originally when Congress mandated financial self-sufficiency, it was believed that grazing, timbering and hunting could be used to attain this. Parmenter eliminates each one from consideration - the Preserve is already overgrazed from all the cattle run on it when it was privately owned, the timber is over-cut from intensive logging in years past and the hunting is tightly controlled by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department. (An aside: In the early days, the Trust had hoped to make loads of money auctioning off elk licenses to the highest bidders but ordinary hunters protested and a lottery system was put in place to provide fairer access to local hunters. This year, HB 11 has been introduced in the House of Representatives of the New Mexico Legislature to bring back a modified system to auction off a limited number of deluxe hunting packages.)

Waiting until after they have given up hopes for lucrative economic returns from grazing, timbering and hunting before they seriously consider allowing larger numbers of us unwashed masses onto the Preserve shows how highly they value recreation. Do you think perhaps it's our wallets they value?

Now, as the Preserve finally acknowledges that there's gold in our pockets, they are powerless to do much about it because they know that their facilities and infrastructure are not adequate to receive visitors on a larger scale than that of their present interim recreation program. Their roads and accommodations are sub-par and they don't even have a visitor center let alone adequate visitor parking. In their Annual Report to Congress 2008, they spell out that they will need $15 to $50 million dollars over the next ten years to upgrade their aging, inadequate buildings and infrastructure in order to make money off recreation.

In closing, I almost discounted one telling remark by Bratcher which belies his agribusiness background. He offers the excuse that the Preserve can only operate five or six months out of the year and implies that it's unfair to hold it to the same standards as other places that have "twelve months of Augusts".

Mr. Bratcher, the Preserve can produce productive income year around if you allow more access to the people. In the winter, it could be a snow lover's paradise on more than just Saturdays and Sundays, January to March. Also, don't shut the place down to hikers at the end of September. Leaf peepers and elk watchers would love to be allowed on the Preserve in October. As it is now, only hunters may use the Preserve in those months. Preserve scientist Bob Parmenter has dismissed hunting as a money-maker so why should one group of recreationists have exclusive use of the whole Preserve for two months? Furthermore, why in the world do you lock your gate and completely shut down the month of December? Hikers would love to pay to use the Preserve until it becomes snowbound and then a myriad of winter activities like snow camping and snow shelter building, in addition to cross country skiing and snowshoeing, could take place. It's purely an agribusiness oriented point of view to assume the Preserve can only make money during the growing season. When it comes to recreation, it's a year-around proposition. It works for Bandelier National Monument and Santa Fe National Forest so why wouldn't it work for the Valles Caldera National Preserve?

The Preserve is a stunning landscape and it's sad that this geologic wonderland, a young caldera, the circular shape of which is still clearly visible, needs to become a mere working drone, a means to an end, a cash cow and will not be allowed to exist just for visitors to enjoy, scientists to study and students to learn!

This page on the VCNP website has Reference Documents and Annual Reports which can be downloaded in PDF format. You'll find the annual reports to Congress here, the Valles Caldera Preservation Act, the Trust's NEPA procedures and documents created by the Trust to guide its actions.

This
page has Stewardship Action Proposals. The Stewardship Actions are proposed by the Trust to manage the VCNP. The Trust seeks public comment on the proposals.

This is the home page of the VCNP website. Check here for news of upcoming public meetings. Click on Mailing Lists in the upper left hand corner to have the VCNP put your name on an email list to receive news about the VCNP, including notices of public meetings and stewardship actions.


All PDF downloads are from the VCNP website.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Neat, New Feature on VCNP Website!

The Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) now has a new feature on the home page of their website where you can subscribe to receive email updates on topics of your choice.

On the VCNP home page, look for the clickable Mailing Lists link in the upper left hand corner.

When you click on it, you are taken to a page that prompts you to enter your email address. Once you click Submit, you can create your profile and indicate which topics you'd like to receive updates on.

Here are the topics:

· News & Newsletters
· Volunteer Opportunities
· Recreation Events
· Special Events
· Fishing
· Hunting
· Contracting with Valles Caldera Trust
· Project Planning & Decisions
· Cultural Resources

I welcome this new addition to the VCNP website as it will help more people to stay informed about news of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The more informed people are, the more they will care about what happens to it.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States