Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valles Caldera a Wonderful Winter Adventure


The winter is a great time to visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve especially when it's blanketed in a sea of gleaming snow.

“Anytime is a good time to visit the preserve,” says Kimberly DeVall, Chief of Interpretation and Education for the National Park Service’s preserve in the Jemez Mountains. “But when we have all this snow it’s really special, simply serene.”

The 89,000-acre preserve off N.M. 4 near the village of La Cueva between Jemez Springs and Los Alamos is a great place to go cross country skiing, snowshoeing or just sightseeing when winter delivers snowy weather.

And it’s made even better because the preserve isn’t charging its usual $25 entrance fee again this winter.

Those seeking the kind of quiet solitude only a wide expanse of snow-covered pasture and deep forest can provide will find just that at the preserve.


During a recent visit one could see people on skis and snowshoes dotting the huge snow-covered pasture formed by a collapsed volcano.

Inside the visitor center, found a couple miles off the highway, volunteers answered questions and handed out maps to guests while a stack of logs blazed away in the fireplace. The center offers snacks, beverages, books and gifts as well as snowshoe and ski pole rentals.


Visitors can ski or hike to the nearby “cabin district” where the park’s headquarters, employee housing and several rustic log cabins are nestled among the trees. Numerous movies and televisions shows have been shot at the Caldera including “Longmire” which features these iconic cabins.

A visit here provides the opportunity to listen to the breeze in the trees, enjoy the scent of pine in the cold crisp air and take in some spectacular views.


During warmer months visitors will find herds of elk, soaring bald eagles and other wildlife to view at the preserve. There’s plenty of wild brown and rainbow trout to fish for in several creeks and rivers as well as hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation to be enjoyed.

For more information about the Valles Caldera National Preserve please their website at https://www.nps.gov/vall/index.htm.

The preserve was formerly the private Baca Ranch purchased by the federal government in 2000. It was originally operated as a trust overseen by a board appointed by the president of the United States. Public use was very limited under the trust and the National Park Service was later chosen to take over its operation in October 2014.


DeVall, who worked with the original trust as a recreational program manager applied for and was hired to work for the incoming National Park Service administration. She has since helped implement changes to provide greater public access to the many outdoor recreational opportunities available at the preserve.

If You Go:

From Santa Fe head north on US84/285 to Pojoaque and take State Road 502 to White Rock and then follow State Road 4 up through the mountains and upon emerging into a great, open area look for the entrance to the preserve on your right, further down the road, about 65 miles. Make a round trip of it by continuing on State Road 4 through Jemez Springs and Jemez Pueblo to State Road 550 for a quick drive down to Bernalillo and then back up to Santa Fe on I-25. Great green chile cheeseburgers and cold beer can be had in a classic New Mexico bar, the Los Ojos, in Jemez Springs.

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