National Park Getaway: Valles Caldera National Preserve

Among the newest additions to the National Park System, the 88,900-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve is a surprising gem at the top of the Jemez Mountains in north-central New Mexico that helps earn the state its motto—“The Land of Enchantment.”

Valles Caldera National Preserve enchants visitors with its stunning natural beauty and rich human history. Recreational activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, scenic drives, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.

The preserve encompasses a dormant “supervolcano” that illustrates and interprets massive explosive volcanic eruptions, caldera formation, and the functioning of active geothermal systems. Its distinct topographic mosaic of expansive valley meadows—or valles (vah-yes) in Spanish, lush forested volcanic domes, meandering valley streams, and old-growth Ponderosa pine groves are in striking contrast to the arid New Mexico landscape at lower elevations.

Patient observers can spot numerous wildlife species such as elk, coyotes, prairie dogs, black bears, bald and golden eagles, wild turkeys, and other migratory birds. History buffs can travel back in time and experience the pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer heritage and learn how the legacy of early Spanish and Mexican settlements in the region transformed the present-day American Southwest.

Active for over 14 million years, the current 13-mile wide circular caldera depression was created by a spectacular volcanic eruption about 1.25 million years ago. Since that time, additional eruptions and magmatic intrusions have created numerous volcanic domes within the caldera. The caldera is presently dormant (but not extinct) and still displays signs of volcanic life with hot springs and boiling sulphuric acid fumaroles. The unusual geologic and landscape characteristics of Valles Caldera led to its designation as a National Natural Landmark in 1975.

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