Valles Caldera; NM’s gorgeous national preserve

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

The silence!

Only broken by….the squeaks of dozens of prairie dogs, the first time I’d ever seen one.

 

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A caldera is the bowl-like depression in the landscape after a volcanic eruption — in this case 1.25 millions years ago, 300 times larger than Mount St. Helens in 1980. Valles Caldera is one of the world’s best examples of an intact volcanic caldera.

 

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Since then, of course, the land was inhabited by natives and later (after 1500) by Spanish settlers.

 

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The site contains a few log cabins, from 1915 to 1963, but no one is allowed to stay in the park overnight although hiking and skiing in winter are allowed.

 

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It’s a stunning place in its scale and also gave me my first sightings of wild iris and elk — we could only see a large herd of elk thanks to a telescope offered by the park rangers.

The caldera is about a 90 minute drive northwest of Santa Fe.