Sunday, January 17, 2021

Valles Caldera National Preserve

I'd seen a lot of wonderful things during my first two days in New Mexico.  But the whole reason I went was to experience winter, and instead I'd had sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s.

I had one step left.  Everything hinged on Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Valles Caldera National Preserve
To spoil the suspense right off the bat, Valles Caldera came through!  They didn't simply have snow, but they'd just gotten a fresh inch or two the prior evening.  The view at this vista was broken only by the tracks of earlier hikers.

Valles Caldera National Preserve
The hike I'd planned for myself was on the Hidden Valley Trail, which fittingly doesn't actually appear on any maps.  A helpful ranger guided me to the trailhead.  The trail has no signage, so I relied on old tracks to guide me.  The only fresh tracks as I looked back were my own.

Valles Caldera National Preserve, Hidden Valley Trail
I was mostly successful working from the old tracks, basically just looking for the most heavily trafficked paths.  That meant crossing and re-crossing a creek that wasn't exactly frozen completely solid several times, and backtracking more than once when what seemed like the right set of prints fizzled out.

Soon enough I reached the trail's namesake valley, which I was somewhat surprised showed no signs of habitation.  The valley was small and secluded yet still easily accessible, with the East Fork of the Jemez River running through it.  Seemed like a perfect spot for a homestead, but then again I'm no pioneer.

Valles Caldera National Preserve, Hidden Valley Trail
I could have hiked up the river all day.  Temperatures were only in the upper 20s, but with the sun shining brightly and not a whisper of wind it was perfectly comfortable.

Valles Caldera National Preserve, Hidden Valley Trail
The trail doesn't end at any natural landmark, but rather at a fence marking the boundaries of the preserve. 

Valles Caldera National Preserve, Hidden Valley Trail
I'm not exactly sure how the land outside the preserve is used -- ranching, maybe?  Whatever the case, anyone traveling downriver is made aware when they've reached the preserve.

Valles Caldera National Preserve, Hidden Valley Trail
There were a couple of occasions when I didn't trust the ice to hold me, especially after having sun beaming down on it all day.  I even revised my return route in one spot to cut straight across dry land rather than following the bend in the river.

Valles Caldera National Preserve, Missing Cabin
A great landmark near the trailhead is Missing Cabin, which looks like some old ruins but I believe was actually built for the 2003 movie "The Missing."

Valles Caldera National Preserve, Missing Cabin
It's apparently appeared in a couple of movies, which I can completely understand.  The setting is absolutely gorgeous.

The trail is technically less than four miles roundtrip, but I ended up covering 4.09 because I lost sight of where exactly my car was parked and ended up a couple hundred yards in the wrong direction near the very end of my hike and honestly panicking just a bit.  But I eventually retraced my steps and found my vehicle about 2 1/2 hours after I started.  Burned 460 calories in the process, too!

My short time in Valdes Caldera was the perfect cap to my trip.  It reminded me just how much I like -- and frankly, miss -- winter.  Give me cold and snow over heat and humidity any day!