After learning about volcanic tuff during my visit to Bandelier National Monument and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, how could I skip the place responsible for creating these geologic marvels?
“Valles Caldera began erupting 1.25 million years ago. Once the eruption ended, the massive pyroclastic flow material inside and outside the caldera began to cool and solidify, forming a rock geologists refer to as tuff. Solidified pyroclastic flow materials from the Valles Caldera and Toledo Caldera comprise the Upper and Lower Bandelier Tuffs. Much earlier, 7-6 million years ago, Bearhead Rhyolite erupted in the southern Jemez Mountains sending debris flows over the area now known as Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.” Source: Valles Caldera National Preserve Guide and Map by High Desert Field Guides
At the time of my visit, this park was touted as the “Nation’s Newest National Preserve.” The Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 signed by President Bill Clinton on July 25, 2000, created 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve. By the way, valles is pronounced VIE-yays or va-yes.
Little did I know a reward for my timely arrival was a road filled with hundreds of crazed prairie dogs racing back and forth creating a death-wish obstacle course. I wish I would have thought to video this frenzy. The rangers said it was the first time they had witnessed such an event. When I left later in the day all was quiet.
As I looked around I noticed these porta-potty looking buildings. I learned they are used by grad students studying prairie dogs as part of John Hoogland’s Prairie Dog Project, which he began in 1974.
Many roads had not been opened for the season so my options for exploration were fairly limited. Experienced anglers brought bikes as a way to reach more distant water features. Adjacent to the Visitor Center is the 1.6 mile trail around Cerro La Jara, one of many hills left behind after the caldera collapse.
- April 23, 2018
- The Park doesn’t open until 9am.
- With an elevation in excess of 11,000 feet, many roads don’t open until later in season.
- Be sure to borrow the interpretive guide.
- If interested in geology, buy the Valles Caldera National Preserve Guide and Map by High Desert Field Guides
- Highway 4 through the Jemez Canyon is a WOW beautiful drive.