Valles Caldera National Preserve near Santa Fe, N.M., sometimes described as "the Yellowstone of the Southwest," may become the latest addition to the National Park Service system, reports National Parks Magazine.
Valles Caldera, adjacent to Bandelier National Monument, is a grass-covered volcanic crater 14 miles wide circled by mountainous terrain, including 11,254-foot Redondo Mountain. It lies about 40 minutes northwest of the REI store in Santa Fe, which explains why REI Santa Fe outreach specialist Kerry Peavey knows it well.
"It is an amazing expanse of open lands," Kerry says. "The ring of the volcano has created some fantastic mountains for biking or hiking, and the center is this huge open, flat expanse that you can see across for miles. It's fantastic for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and viewing elk.”
Sales specialist Gerardo Garcia says the area is suited to beginning and low-intermediate mountain biking. "It's not technical," Gerardo says. "It's mostly dirt roads with some good inclines. You can do several loops in the caldera. The longest one takes more or less 5 hours. You can really get a good workout there."
One of its big draws? "The wildlife," Gerardo says. "On one ride there I saw 30 elk and 4 foxes. Very impressive."
Since 2000 the preserve has been managed by a 9-member board, the Valles Caldera Trust. A switch to Park Service administration would make recreation opportunities more accessible. Hikers, for example, must reserve a time to hike many trails within the preserve and pay a fee ($10 per adult).
The article explains that if management is transferred to the Park Service, the area will be managed like other national preserves, such as Mojave National Preserve in California and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas. Recreational access will expand while traditional activities such as hunting and fishing would be permitted.
For anyone not familiar with the area, REI's Kerry Peavey says it's worth a visit any time of year. "In winter, the flat, snowy area looks so pristine and stunning," she says. "It's just calling to you to come and play."