As I said in yesterday’s post, Kim (see previous post A Very Mini Artist’s Colony in New Mexico) and I decided we simply had to get out of town. Even living in a place as beautiful as Truchas, where many people come as part of their vacations, it’s important to get out and be in the world around us. And that’s exactly what we did.
Our destination was Valles Caldera National Preserve which is situated about 45 minutes from Truchas in the Jemez Mountains. For those of you unfamiliar with the Preserve, I highly recommend William deBuys’ book, in partnership with Don Usner, titled Valles Caldera: A Vision for New Mexico’s National Preserve.
Here is what deBuys has to say about it, “If you drive, say, from Los Alamos, New Mexico, to Jemez Springs, you will cross a high mountain ridge, which is the rim of the caldera, after which you briefly descend through forest. Then suddenly, rounding a long, sweeping bend, the forest ends and the space before you bursts outward into a giant, grass-carpeted mountain bowl. The bottom of the bowl, unbroken grassland with a river meandering down its center, is easily four miles across, to say nothing of its forested sides. So abrupt is the change, so unexpected the sudden abundance of space and light and visual detail, that you are left wordless. Or you swear, invoking all the impact four letters can provide. Then you fall silent. Maybe, like many travelers, you feel a sudden need to pull over and get out of the car. You want to make sure you are seeing what you think you are seeing. A seemingly misplaced prairie lies before you, a tawny sea of grass miles deep and broad, which has been dropped into the top of a heavily forested mountain range. This stunning grassland bowl is the Valle Grande.”
This is precisely where Kim and I ended up. We parked not far from the lookout point deBuys references, at a trail head Kim knew, and took off hiking.
The Valle Caldera, a circular volcanic basin more than 12 miles across, now an 89,000-acre National Preserve, was formed by the collapse of land following a series of volcanic eruptions about one million years ago. It is, in fact, the interior of the volcano’s crater. And the Valle Grande is just one of its valles (valle, as used here, does not connote strictly a “valley,” but refers, rather, to the Spanish term meaning openness). Valle Caldera is made up of many valles or open spaces, separated by the mountains that rise within it, each having its own name. The Valle Grande is simply its largest valle.
There is evidence that Valles Caldera was in use dating back to prehistoric times. In fact artifacts found there have been carbon-dated to 11,000 years ago. As recorded in oral histories, the caldera drew the ancestors of the Jemez, Zia, Santa Clara, and San Ildefonso pueblos who, “…from the start, recognized within the caldera some of their holiest places,” so says William deBuys. They came to the caldera for spiritual reasons. They came for hunting. They came because of the land.
But the caldera has been severely abused over the course of its human history. Here is what Wikipedia says about the previous use of the land: “Eventually, Spanish and later Mexican settlers, as well as the Navajo and other tribes, came to the caldera seasonally for grazing with periodic clashes and raids. Later, as the United States acquired New Mexico as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the caldera became the backdrop for the Indian wars with the U.S Army. And it began to be used for commercial purposes such as ranching and logging. During this period in 1876, the caldera became part of the Baca Ranch. The Bacas were a wealthy family given the land as compensation for the termination of a grant given to their family near Las Vegas, in Northeastern New Mexico… Since then, the land has been through a string of exchanges between private owners and business enterprises.
Most notably, it was owned by Frank Bond in the 1930s. Mr. Bond, a businessman based in nearby Espanola, ran up to 30,000 sheep in the caldera, significantly overgrazing the land and causing damage from which the watersheds of the property are still recovering. The land was purchased by the Dunigan family from Abilene, Texas in 1963. Pat Dunigan did not obtain the timber rights however and the New Mexico Lumber Company logged the property very heavily, leaving the land scarred with roads and removing significant amounts of old growth douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Mr. Dunigan bought out the timber rights in the 1970s and slowed the logging.”
On July 25, 2000, the Valles Caldera Preservation Act created the Valles Caldera National Preserve, Santa Fe National Forest. Long in coming, the fight to reclaim and preserve the caldera, resulted in a model of land management. The Preserve is dedicated to exploring new ways to manage public lands and the environment. It takes into consideration and endeavors to balance diverse uses such as forestry, ranching, wildlife management, financial management, local government, conservation, and the cultural and natural history of the region. No small task.
On this day, because people have fought hard for this wonderfully rich part of our country, of New Mexico, I was able to hike in solitude, experiencing the abundance this land seems to offer. I quote William deBuys again here because I just can’t say it any better: “What lingers from the experience is the sense of the land’s animation and abundance… and the sense of that abundance flowing across the land as a kind of living and breathing tissue, a cloak upon the land that was as tangible as the land itself and yet also ethereal, like a spirit of the night. It was as though we had peeked behind the screen of our own senses and glimpsed a dimension of the caldera that human eyes are rarely privileged to see… The land seems inviting. The invitation casts a spell.”
Love to you all,