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Valles Caldera preserve acquires site with volcanic features


The 40-acre site known as Sulphur Springs has been added to the Valles Caldera National Preserve. It contains volcanic features like sulfuric-acid hot springs, volcanic fumaroles and steaming mud-pots. (COURTESY VALLES CALDERA)

SANTA FE – A 40-acre site that includes volcanic features like steaming mudpots, sulfuric-acid hot springs and fumaroles — openings which emit steam and gases — has been acquired by the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains.

Valles Caldera officials said the acquisition of Sulfur Springs “was critical to preserving the breadth of geothermal features” in the preserve.

The property also supports a range of “extremophile” algae and bacteria living in high-temperature acidic pool and stream environments.

“As the only place in the State of New Mexico with geothermal features like mud-pots and fumaroles, this site has the potential to become a primary location to educate the public about Valles Caldera’s geologic origins and status as a dormant, but not extinct, volcano,” said preserve superintendent Jorge Silva-Bañuelos in a news release.

Sulfur Springs is on the western edge of the preserve, northwest of the visitors center off N.M. 4. It’s in a remote location on Sulfur Canyon, but maps show U.S. Forest Service or hunting route roads that run to or near the site.

Wednesday’s announcement said public access and visitation to Sulfur Springs will remain limited for now, while the National Park Service conducts formal surveys of natural and cultural resources, restores the site from previous mining activity, eliminates safety hazards and develops visitor-related infrastructure.

In 2016, the property was purchased by the Heritage Partnership Trust in a deal facilitated by the National Parks Conservation Association. The Heritage Partnership held the property pending sale to the Park Service.

Funds for the final $500,000 purchase were provided by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Park Trust, the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, the Cornell Douglas Foundation, an anonymous donor, and Frances H. Kennedy, whose contribution was in honor of her late husband, former National Park Service Director Roger G. Kennedy.


One of the mud pots at the Sulfer Springs site, which is now part of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. (COURTESY VALLES CALDERA)

“My wife, Kathryn Mullen, and I are pleased we could provide protection of Sulphur Springs from development until the U.S. government could purchase this unique ecosystem,” Russell Scott of the Heritage Partnership Trust said in a statement. “We are dedicated to protecting wildlands and its wildlife and welcomed the opportunity to be of service to the future of the preserve.”

Sulphur Springs was patented in 1898 as a mining claim by New Mexico businessman and politician Maríano Otero, who mined sulfur there from 1902 to 1904. The Otero family then developed the site as a health resort spa, which operated until it burned down in the 1970s. The property then passed to several private owners.

In the late 1980s, Los Alamos National Laboratory established an experimental geothermal well on the site, and a few residents occupied the property into the early 2000s.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said in Wednesday’s news release that public access to Sulphur Springs “will help cement Valles Caldera’s reputation as ‘New Mexico’s Yellowstone.'”

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