After spending the morning at Bandelier National Monument, Tom and I headed to Valles Caldera National Preserve. The Preserve is 18 miles further up NM 4 with some interesting switchbacks and great views of the valleys on all sides. Surprisingly, there was also excellent cell service thanks to the Los Alamos National Laboratory all around us.
Valles Caldera National Preserve is the caldera of an ancient supervolcano that erupted 1.25 million years ago. The Caldera is 13 miles in diameter, which is impressive and deceiving from a distance. To get there you drive along the perimeter of the rim until you reach a dirt road that takes you into the huge, open meadow of the caldera.
The Preserve was established by President Clinton in 2000 and administered by a public trust board until 2015. In 2015, President Obama designated one of 19 National Preserves and transferred it to the administration of the National Park Service. As such, it is one of the newest National Park sites.
The newness was apparent in the Visitors Center, a log cabin at the end of the dirt road in the middle of the caldera. Two volunteers from the town of Los Alamos staffed it the day we were there. Despite the newness, they had a stamp and restrooms and were happy to answer our questions. We took a hike around Cerro la Jara, one of the mounds of dirt and trees in the caldera.
Valles Caldera National Preserve preserves the natural wildlife and plants in the caldera. The caldera is home to the largest herd of elk in New Mexico. Elk and turkey hunting are allowed in season and so is trout fishing. Lots of backcountry trails crisscross the caldera and rim.
The historic Baca ranch also sits about a mile from the Visitors Center. The owners of this ranch sold the property to the Federal government in 2000. There are cabins, a commissary, a barn, and an office at the ranch.
We enjoyed our visit to Valles Caldera National Preserve very much. During our short hike we didn’t see another person. It is a beautiful and unique place and I’m glad the National Park Service is taking care of it for the future.