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

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 PiƱo, 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.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States