Valles Caldera National Preserve

Did you know that I live in the neighborhood of a supervolcano? I had never heard of the Valles Caldera until I came to New Mexico but it is a geologic cousin to Yellowstone. Both are classified as supervolcanos since they are capable of spewing volumes greater that 1,000 cubic kilometers during a volcanic eruption. As a comparison, the 1980 Mount Saint Helens eruption was a mere 1 kilometer cubed.

Yellowstone is much larger and considerably more active than Valles Caldera: at least on the metric of sulphur stink. The caldera is 12 miles in diameter. It is so big that I would not have recognized it as a volcano. When considering magma filled mountains, I think of the sharp peaks of Washington state, not the large, sprawling fields that compose the inner rim of the quietly resting caldera. Valles Caldera remains active and is the source of the numerous hot springs in the region.

My friend Ryan agreed to accompany me into the park on Saturday morning, even though I insisted we catch the early hiking shuttle. The preserve maintains shuttles to protect the park and minimize traffic on the narrow gravel roads. We were concerned that the shuttle would be crowded, or even full, since we had not reserved a spot a head of time. Instead we had one fellow passenger on the hour long trip to our hiking spot.

Look at Ryan’s socks! He was running late and didn’t have time to match.

If I had known it was such a long trip to the other side, I would have insisted we take an earlier stop. It worked out for the best. We wound through the green fields and grass, seeing herds of wild elk, cattle raised as part of “high altitude experimental work,” and coyotes. The shuttle driver pointed out a dilapidated movie set, explained the history of the preserve (a former ranch that was dedicated to the government about 20 years ago), and told us about the effects of the wildfires.

The wildfires of last summer badly damaged parts of the caldera.

Ryan and I hiked up and up a dirt road at the far end of the Caldera. We were rewarded with lovely views and amazing sites of animals. We saw a yearling bear, wild turkeys, interesting insects, lovely butterflies, and elk.

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Unfortuately, Ryan and I had to run the last two miles to catch the return shuttle AND WE MISSED IT!!! We were 5 minutes early, but unfortunately the shuttle had been earlier. We spent an hour and a half waiting at the stop while practicing our yoga poses. It was the best missed bus experience I can recall.


About mcddanielle

nature loving geek
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