Valles Caldera acquires site with volcanic features

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

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

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

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 such as mudpots 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.

Sulphur 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 the site.

Wednesday’s announcement said public access and visitation to Sulphur Springs will remain limited 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 (NPCA). 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.

“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 sulphur 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. Google Earth identifies parts of the site with such colorful names as “Lemonade Spring,” “Laxitive Spring” and “Kidney and Stomach Trouble Spring.”

The property later 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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