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Recently I spent time at the Carson National Forest’s Valle Vidal unit. In addition to an interesting and progressive land management approach, it offered excellent access. I drove in on dirt roads to McCrystal campground, paid $5 a day, and camped 3 days while mountain bike exploring some of the area.
Now I ask myself, since I live in Los Alamos, why is it that I almost never access the Valles Caldera?
I’m really not interested in hunting or fishing or grazing cows in the area. I’m not interested in a half-day sled ride, I’m not interested in hiking a few “designated trails,” I’m not interested in viewing elk from a car in a safari, I’m not interested in having a “guide” and I’m not interested in any “event.”
I am very interested in spending time on and getting to know the wilderness by multi-day (unescorted) backpack trips, by extended mountain bike rides and by wandering around with my binoculars and camera.
However, I find that kind of access is strictly prohibited in the Valles Caldera Ranch. I am not a member of the Sierra Club or any “special interest” group, just a Los Alamos local who happens to love being in and exploring the outdoors. The Valles Caldera seems to have moved from being a working ranch with public access to being a more-than-national-park-like piece of land to be protected down to the last twig from an irresponsible public, except those who are willing to pay steep prices for short slices of very controlled access or hunters.
There are several models involved: the “protect beyond a national park” model; the “This is about science” model; the hunt and fish model (is it true that the Valles Caldera does not get the revenue from hunting?), the “graze-it” model.
The last two are fine with me. The need to raise money as a working ranch is a clearly spelled-out mandate for this land experiment.
However since the Valles Caldera has excluded people with my interests – wandering around exploring with camera, binoculars, mountain biking and backpacking, I not only avoid it but am disappointed in it. Should the Valles Caldera move to improve access for people like me and yes even the “special interests” mentioned in Mr. Tinsley’s Aug. 12 Monitor “Guest Column,” I think they would be astounded how much support they would get and how much it would move the Valles Caldera forward in the realm of public appreciation and enjoyment and support.
Some other suggestions: hold rodeos (it is a working ranch, right?); work like crazy to champion the bike/hike loop around the property (or even just the parts on land), including camping areas; and change the access model to allow backpacking, mountain biking and general “wandering around.”
Sound risky? Charge a fee for a half-day “Leave-no-trace” Valles Caldera specific course before granting wandering around access, including hiking, backpacking and mountain biking the area, and have participants sign an agreement to so abide and sign in before and out after their trek. This might even be a good idea for hunters and fishers and grazers accessing the ranch, if not already done.
For those who want national park land access, the 32000-acre Bandelier National Monument (www.nps.gov/band) adjoins the the Valles Caldera Ranch, and runs clear down to the Rio Grande. For those who want more unfettered access, the Santa Fe National Forest also adjoins the Ranch. Could the Valles Caldera Ranch not improve it’s access and fill a niche between the two, rather than moving beyond both?
George Jennings Jr.