Day 14 – Valles Caldera

Image from the Los Alamos Nature Center


May 5, 2017

This part of New Mexico has some pretty spectacular views and geology due to the eruptions at Valles Caldera about 1.6 and 1.25 million years ago.  Both of these eruptions ejected about 300 cubic kilometers of magma across the surrounding area. The tuff at Bandelier National Monument formed from these two eruptions.

Image from the Los Alamos Nature Center

The volcanos were both emptied by these eruptions. The second one formed the Valles Caldera. Initially there was a lake in the center of the caldera. 

But between a number of peaks that have emerged in and around the caldera and the San Diego Canyon, the caldera now consists of a series of small peaks and grassy valleys.

Image from the Los Alamos Nature Center

Most of the caldera is now part of the Valles Caldera National Monument.

NM 4 follows along the southern side of the caldera. You get some beautiful views. 

http://www.jemezmountaintrail.org/Site_Map.html

We stopped at Valles Caldera National Monument, but the facilities are very limited and only allow daytime visits.

We did follow the Cerro La Jara hike that goes around a small peak near the Visitor Center. It turns out that it had points of interested that talked about the area, but we didn’t find that out until we were out on the hike at a sign labelled 2. Even though I had talked with the Ranger, she didn’t mention or offer a guide.

We left to find camping nearby, but after checking out the area, we decided to head down to Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It, too, was formed from the Valles Caldera eruption. It is just much further south. To get there,  we took National Forest Road 289 (Dome Road) through Santa Clara National Forest. 

We didn’t find out until later that the road was designated “4-wheel drive road. Impassable at southern end. Closed in winter.” It was an interesting drive with views of the geologic results of the volcanic eruptions. There had been a large forest fire that had burned a significant portion of the trees.

The road did end in what was basically a stream, but it wasn’t really muddy and we had enough clearance to get through it.

We camped at Cochiti Lake, a COE site. It was a little odd for a recreation area. There was a lot of fencing around it. We passed a large area with picnic tables, but of the vintage that I can’t imagine it gets used very often.

To get into the campground, you have to stop at an office that seemed more like a security facility than a campground. The woman at the office assigned us a campsite without giving us any options after we told her what we drove. 

We wound up in the older campground area which seemed to have been built around the same time as the picnic area. It was really exposed at the top of a hill. Fortunately, we had long enough hose and electric lines to be able to plug in. 

It was really hot, especially compared to being up at altitude. And it was really exposed. 
So we had a quiet evening. But, since no alcohol was allowed at the campground, we didn’t do much walking around. Plus, it had been a long day. 


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