Sunday, August 24, 2008

Valle Grande Crop Circles

Kent, Ric, and I went up to the Valles Caldera National Preserve yesterday (23 Aug) and had a splendid time.

While circumnavigating Cerro la Jara, we came across indisputable evidence of extraterrestrial visitations: crop circles. See photo above. About 4' in diameter, we came across these three first. Within a hundred yards we found dozens more.

Actually, these are elk "beds," areas where elk have bedded down for the night. During our visit there was a large herd of perhaps 200 elk further out in the middle of the caldera. With binoculars or Kent's 600 mm lens one could see the big bulls acting as guards around the perimeter of the herd.

The Valle Grande and its surrounding smaller valleys are the remnants of a volcanic uplift that collapsed a million or so years ago. The dramatic grasslands outline what was once a lake, much like Crater Lake in Oregon. 11,000 years ago the East Fork of the Jemez River cut into the lake via headwall erosion and drained the caldera.

Until 2000, the Valle Grande was within Baca Location Number One, a large private ranch. Cattle and lumber industries took their toll on the land. But at the turn of the millenium, it came into government hands for everyone to enjoy.

Today the Valles Caldera is an experiment in land-use management. As a "National Preserve" it is unlike any other BLM, Forest Service, or Park Service unit. Their aim is to be economically self-sufficient by 2015. At the moment they are at 20%.

So if you're in northern NM, take the time to drive up into the beautiful Jemez Mountains and visit this unique and special place. Many of the remote hikes require advanced reservations and a scheduled van will take hikers to and from the trail head. Although that seems an awkward restriction on the freedom hikers and anglers typically enjoy, its worth the effort. There are at least three short hikes that don't require reservations and they are very worthwhile.

The Valles Caldera website needs reworking for usability, but if you persist with it, you'll be able to make your reservation. One drawback is the online maps that show the locations of the hikes--they don't show the larger context within the entire preserve. Unless you're a local, you won't have much of an idea of what you are signing up for. This may improve when they get their dynamic maps up and running. Contact this blogger if you would like more details on specific areas.

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