Bandelier sees influx of visitors

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Sites reopen > Valles Caldera readies for fall activities

By Tris DeRoma

After a 16-day closure due to the government shutdown, Bandelier National Monument and Valles Caldera National Preserve have unlocked the gates and reopened for business.

According to Park Ranger Chris Judson, Bandelier’s noon opening on Thursday was greeted enthusiastically.

“We opened at noon and people just poured in,” Judson said late last week. “They were apparently just happy to be here. We had so many folks yesterday. And we had lots and lots of people today–hundreds.”

The Bandelier shuttle did not start running again until Friday. Judson reported that the small parking lot at the visitor center was full within two hours of opening on Thursday.

“People seem to be so happy and so interested and just enjoying it so much,” Judson said. “And it’s really lucky that if it had to be now —it is such a shame that we missed Balloon Fiesta — the trees down here are still golden, they’re still so resplendent. Usually there’s been a hard frost by now, and the leaves aren’t yellow any more. So visitors didn’t miss the whole terrific time of the fall.”

The park had to cancel its annual Fall Fiesta due to the shutdown.

Several key projects —such as reopening at least a rough trail to Alcove House —were also delayed. The trail is unusable due to flooding caused by recent record rainfalls.

A project to clean up a paint spill from an incident a year ago, when a tractor-trailer carrying highway striping paint veered off N.M. 4 into Bandelier lands, began Sept. 30 and was shut down Oct. 1.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do about rearranging that,” Judson said. “It was certainly something that was valuable that was totally interrupted, getting all the paint off the hillside, which you can see for miles in all directions.”

Valles Caldera National Preserve reopened on Friday with its winter schedule, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Friday through Sunday.

The trust was able to maintain hunting operations during the shutdown–largely due to help from volunteers– but all other park access was denied. The annual Jemez Mountain Elk Festival was cancelled during the closure.

“That was scheduled to coincide with the last weekend of Balloon Fiesta,” said Public Affairs Specialist Terry McDermott.

“Typically we have some excellent visitation from people out-of-town, basically from around the world that come up and take a look at booths and activities that we have. That of course, did not happen.”

The preserve’s website was also a casualty of the shutdown. The site went down during the closure.

“Because nobody was on duty, you couldn’t bring it back up because that requires work that is not within the parameters of protecting property or life,” McDermott said. “We’re in the process of bringing that back up, and hope to have it up completely within the next day or so.”

Research projects were also interrupted by the closure.

“It’s a difficult situation when you’re closed and you put the out-of-office message on your phone and on your emails, when you shut down completely and you can’t keep up-to-date because you’re not permitted to,” McDermott said. “It makes things a little bit difficult, and it’s obviously frustrating, especially when you’re in communications like I am. We just have to look forward getting the lights back on–which they are–and getting everybody back to work and moving forward with our programs and making sure that we take care of the property.

“I might add that at no time during the shutdown was the preserve in any kind of disrepair or in danger of being vandalized or anything like that, because we did have the operations manager on duty full time, as was law enforcement.”

The main flurry of activity at the park right now is catching up on administrative work such as paying bills with the newly released funds.

Visitor activities this time of year include several guided tours, such as the Magma to Magpies tour, as well as hiking opportunities. McDermott was not certain whether any fishing opportunities are available this time of year.