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The Sleeping Dragon: Valles Caldera

“Two hours. I have never waited so long for a meal. Why would it take so long?” Suzette asked me.

“I don’t know. Someone must have messed up our order. It has been a very long wait for a couple of open-faced burgers,” I said.

Suzette, her dog Bowie, and I were at the only sit-down restaurant in Jemez Spring. While we shared several theories on the- Why did our food take so long to cook? This was likely a mystery which will remain unsolved.

We’d spent the morning on several hikes in the Valles Caldera area. Suzette and I have been on many adventures together, and, while the after-hike meal was pretty sucky, the hiking was awesome!

Valles Caldera National Preserve

The drive from my current home to Valles Caldera was only fifteen minutes or so. Having lived in the area for only six weeks, one thing which continues to amaze me is the variety of micro-climates and terrain. Cutting through the tall pines we turned one way and then the other along highway four. As though we just fumbled through a closet of coats into Narnia, Valles Caldera suddenly appeared. The open grasslands covering the area makes the nearly fourteen miles across seem eternal.

We drove back to the Valles Caldera’s National Preserve visitors’ center. Usually there is a cost per vehicle and individual, however fees were wavered during our day in the ancient volcano. Actually, I guess I shouldn’t call it old. It is one of only three active calderas in the USA. Much like Yellowstone, this super volcano is only a teen and will eventually erupt again. It was a true mystery. When will this sleeping giant awake?

The area has hot springs, gas seeps, domes and other phenomena related to its formation. I’ve noted in text and in conversation, matters related to the Valles Caldera are shared via geologic techno terms which I lack familiarity with. I often have admitted I simply do not understand. Plain honesty has always been my best friend.

After parking and a short visit to the center, we hiked a loop around a dome near the caldera’s center. Suzette’s dog, Bowie, joyfully ran in circles through the tall grasses. “I bet this would be nice on horseback,” I shared. It felt like we had walked into an Andrew Wyeth’s painting—the grasses tall and dancing. The mile and one half was an easy hike and the cool of the morning kept it comfortable.

A Park Ranger directed us to our next hike, “There’s a white pick-up parked there. You can’t miss it.” Suzette drove, I navigated, and Bowie kept the inside of my left ear clean. Soon parked, we headed up the single-track.

This hike was up the side of the caldera on the Coyote Call Trail. Forest fire activity is apparent and approximately 34% of the preserve has been burnt. The Las Conchas Fire of 2011 accounts for most of the burnt areas, but the Cerro Pelado Fire of this past year also burnt southern portions of the preserve. Much of this hike was within burnt forest.

As we climbed up the trail, the awesome views of the wide expansion of the caldera appeared below. Looking across it was possible to imagine the explosive forces which formed this impressive sight. I wondered what it would be like?

I forced a few photo ops along the way. I have always slowed my pace when considering photos. Suzette and Bowie were patient and even willing to pose a little. A bit of switchback action and soon we were in the high edge of the formation.

Suzette and Bowie along the trail

Standing charred giants everywhere looked down on us. I inspected back wondering how much firewood could be had. Through the after-fire forest and a meadow or two we found a Bandelier Boundary marker. We decided to turn around. Bowie attempted to catch chipmunks, but they were too fast.

The back of the Sleeping Dragon

The hike was exceptional with good company, outstanding views and a chance to be active. While the big mystery of when will this volcano become active again? intrigued, I decided I’d like a couple of books on natural and cultural history from the visitors’ center. I mentioned this to Suzette and she agreed to drive back to the center.

Happy Hikers

Valle Grande: A History of the Baca Location #1 has some interesting parts, but the Geology of the Jemez Region II is nearly as dry to read as the rocks and dirt formations it describes to the reader. Some books are meant to be read and others are simply reference. I am only partway finished with each, so I should hold my judgement.

While the sleeping dragon of a super volcano under my feet may have another million years before it re-awakes, who knows? This mystery of when will most likely be well beyond my years on this earth. However, the mystery of the two-hour open-faced burgers may serve only to frustrate and could best be served to a dragon with such patience.

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