2016 Trip Four, Southwest Discoveries, May 27-29

Flagstaff Arizona. May 29

Driving to Valles Caldera

Driving to Valles Caldera

Southwest US scenery has been the focus of the last few days. Friday we drove to Valles Caldera northwest of Los Alamos, NM. We received our first backcountry permit. Before you get too excited, it was still primarily driving over rutted dirt roads instead of backpacking and camping in the wilderness.

Entrance area of Valles Caldera National Preserve

Entrance area of Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera was made a national preserve last fall. Prior to that time, it was a managed by a trust and was supposed to generate enough fee income to cover its costs. It did not. The post Native American history of the area goes back to Spanish land grants and includes over grazing by sheep and over timber cutting of old growth trees. The trust was supposed to be a means to preserve the land without costing the US any money. Eventually Congress approved purchasing the land for $101,000,000. Part of the land reverted to the Santa Clara pueblo.

View from the back country of Valles Caldera

View from the back country of Valles Caldera

The National Park Service control is so new, there is no park brochure yet. The preserve covers a 13 mile depression created by a volcanic eruption over a million years ago. The backcountry permit allows one to traverse 12 miles into the preserve to view the mountains and meadows. Only 35 permits are allowed per day.

A portion of the area burnt by the 2011 fire

A portion of the area burnt by the 2011 fire

The preserve is also home to over 2,000 elk-none of which we saw. In 2011 there was an enormous fire in this area, threatening the buildings at Las Alamos Lab and the town of Los Alamos. The fire was eventually stopped short of the town and the lab but thousands of acres at Valles Caldera, Bandelier National monument, and Jemez Mountains were burnt. The fire created more open area, which provides grasslands for the elk to feed. More options for feeding means less concentration of elk in Valles Caldera. Ergo, no elk did we see.

Driving to the back country

Driving to the back country

The drive goes through a series of valleys surrounded by mountains. The highest in the preserve is at 11,250 feet. The road is dirt, passable by regular cars at slow speed. We made our way towards the end of the road and had a picnic lunch. The wind was strong so we ate in the car, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Ed and Jude at her home in Santa Fe

Ed and Jude at her home in Santa Fe

Driving to Flagstaff

Driving to Flagstaff

Driving to Flagstaff in Arizona with BNSF train near base of mountains

Driving to Flagstaff in Arizona with BNSF train near base of mountains

San Francisco Mountains at Flagstaff, AZ

San Francisco Mountains at Flagstaff, AZ

Saturday we left Jude’s and drove the 400 miles to Flagstaff to Lou and Joyce’s home. This drive was completely on Interstates so the ride was easy. There is a small forest fire burning south of Flagstaff which affects air quality and visibility but it does not appear to be serious.

Dinner at Lou and Joyce's house

Dinner at Lou and Joyce’s house

We are relaxing in Flagstaff before we enter the last phase of this trip: brunch this morning, a walk this afternoon, Italian dinner tonight and star/planet viewing with Lou’s telescope tonight. The planned highlight of the next 10 days will be visiting the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but who knows what else will occur?

Ed and Chris

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