Now is a good time to visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve, while it’s still blanketed with gleaming snow.
“Anytime is a good time to visit the preserve,” says Kimberly DeVall, chief of interpretation and Education for the National Park Service’s preserve in the Jemez Mountains. “But when we have all this snow, it’s really special, simply serene.”
The 89,000-acre preserve, off N.M. 4 between Jemez Springs and Los Alamos, is a great place to go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or just sightseeing when winter delivers snowy weather.
And it’s made even better because the preserve isn’t charging its usual $25 entrance fee again this winter.
Those seeking the kind of quiet solitude only a wide expanse of snow-covered pasture and deep forest can provide will find just that at the preserve.
During a recent visit, people on skis and snowshoes could be seen on the huge snow-covered pasture formed by a collapsed volcano.
Inside the visitor center, a couple miles off the highway, volunteers answered questions and handed out maps to guests while a stack of logs blazed away in the fireplace. The center offers snacks, beverages, books and gifts, as well as snowshoe and ski pole rentals.
Visitors can ski or hike to the nearby “cabin district” where the park’s headquarters, employee housing and several rustic log cabins are nestled among the trees. Numerous movies and television shows have been shot at the preserve, including “Longmire” which features one of these cabins.
A visit here provides the opportunity to listen to the breeze in the trees, enjoy the scent of pine in the cold, crisp air and take in some spectacular views.
During warmer months, visitors will find herds of elk, soaring bald eagles and other wildlife. There’s plenty of wild brown and rainbow trout to fish for in several streams, as well as hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation.
For more information about the Valles Caldera National Preserve, go to nps.gov/vall.
The preserve was formerly the private Baca Ranch, purchased by the federal government in 2000. It was originally operated as a trust overseen by a board appointed by the president. Public use was limited under the trust, and the National Park Service took over its operation in October 2014.
DeVall, who worked with the original trust as a recreational program manager applied for and was hired to work for the incoming National Park Service administration. She has since helped implement changes to provide greater public access to the many outdoor recreational opportunities available at the preserve.
Karl Moffatt is a longtime New Mexico journalist and avid outdoorsman who posts regularly on his blog, outdoorsnm.com.