Valles Caldera is the newest designated National Preserve in the US. Protecting 88,900 acres, it was originally established in 2000 and passed to the National Park Service for administration in 2015. The primary feature of this site is the 13+ mile depression (or caldera) created by a series of volcanic eruptions over a million years ago.
This area is primarily grasslands with some coniferous forest in the upper elevations which range from 8,000 to 11,254 feet. There are several natural water sources, and this is a popular site for trout fishing. It’s a native habitat to more than 800 plant species including Ponderosa pine and bunchgrass. Not only is it home to the second-largest elk population in New Mexico, it is also home to many other types of wildlife, from mountain lions and badgers to black bear and bobcats. More than 100 species of bird nest here, and the Audubon Society has designated the Preserve and the nearby Jemez Mountains as an Important Bird Area.
I first found this site by chance in June 2017, on a drive of NM State Route 4 between Taos and Jemez Springs. The Night Crawler and I dropped by again via the same route in April 2019. In doing further research on this unit, I’m looking forward to returning to explore the interior further.
There is a $25/vehicle or $10/horse, bike, foot entrance fee. This site honors the America the Beautiful pass. The Preserve is mainly day use only, although there are a couple of campgrounds nearby on the Santa Fe National Forest. There are a wide variety of use opportunities here year-round, from cross-country skiing to hunting to hiking to exploring archaeological and historic ruins. Permits are required for many activities within the Preserve, but none of them cost further than the original entry fee.
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