Sunday, August 24, 2008

Valle Grande Walkabout

This weekend Schlepp and friends drove up into the lovely Jemez Mountains north of Albuquerque and hiked the Valle Grande. The Valle Grande is the largest of the huge high mountain calderas in the very center of the Jemez. They mark the site of what was once a lake in the center of a collapsed volcanic uplift, much like modern Crater Lake in Oregon. The lake drained 11,000 years ago into the East Fork of the Jemez River, leaving wide grassy bowls surrounded by mountains up to 11,500'.

In the panorama above you can see the expanse of the Valle Grande from the roadside viewpoint at the east end. Taking the gravel road out to the Valles Caldera National Preserve visitors center gives one a much better vantage.

Most hikes require reservations and a scheduled van ride to and from the trailhead, but three shorter hikes are available without prior arrangements. The scenary is superb and our short flower walk around Cerro la Jara was a joy, even if short. Its rare to come across a hike at a park site where one is instructed to strike out across the grassland without a trail.

Valles Caldera is a jewel. As a unique "national preserve," they are attempting to be economically self-sufficient by 2015. Currently they are at 20%. Every lesson they learn can be eventually applied to our other National Parks, Monuments, and Historical Sites. They deserve your support.

Visit their website (even if a bit awkward to use) and then visit the Valles Caldera. If you sign up for one of their scheduled events, note that Albuquerque to the Staging Area for meeting your van will take 2 hours. This gives you a little leeway for unexpected delays, getting you to the parking area 15 or so minutes ahead of time for administrivia and loading gear.

Schlepp plans on going back soon. He's signed up for the Heart of the Valles tour on Sept. 21. This will get him into the Redondo Border, an area that is not visible from any vantage outside the preserve and said to be extremely scenic.

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