DISCOVER OUR SECRETS: Valles Caldera: Feeding body and soul

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By Roger Snodgrass

One of newest and most fascinating pieces of public land in the country is an 89,000-acre wonderland called Valles Caldera National Preserve.

At the center of volcanic convulsions that began forming the Jemez Mountains, more than a million years ago, the property is not only a geological marvel but it is also the center of growing schedule of outdoor activities and recreational opportunities.

Located 20 miles west of Los Alamos, the preserve feeds body and soul, not to mention the mind and the planet.

Known for its beauty, the landscape features dozens of microenvironments, from Ponderosa Pine forest to mountain meadows and bogs, with a diversity of flora and fauna to match.

It is especially known for its now-thundering, now-quietly-grazing herds of elk, as well as its predators, its birds and fish and its endangered species, like the meadow jumping mouse.

There will also be a private allotment of more than 2,000 yearling cattle moving from valley to valley over the course of the summer. A former livestock operation, the preserve has a mandate to become self-sustaining within the next seven years.

Valles Caldera National Preserve is the focus of intense scientific investigations, including meteorology, hydrology, biology, ecology, archeology, wildfire studies and adaptive management programs – and that’s just a few of the main categories.

The summer fishing program, offering the angler’s dream of challenges in solitude, is very popular. Although many slots are available only by lottery, the program has been expanded into new areas of the preserve, with a few spaces available on short notice.

Spend a day hiking, self-guided or with a tour guide. You can now have a sudden notion and take a hike. However, some hikes still require advance reservations.

Book a night at the lodge for a group, go camping (under fairly restricted circumstances) or enjoy van tours of wildlife and wildflowers and many other topics. Horse-back riding and photography workshops can be arranged. Larger events like marathons and biking events are also part of the summer scene.

Begin your visit by prowling the preserve’s website (www.vallescaldera.gov) for the summer recreation program. Under “Activities” on the home page you are encouraged to browse the “Come Visit” link for descriptions of individual program, the “Calendar” for dates of van trips, guided hikes and other programs, and “Reservations” for a seasonal list of what to do.

Read more DISCOVER OUR SECRETS articles in the May 14, 2008, print edition of the Monitor.