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Earth Notes: Valles Caldera Opens Up

The Baca Ranch was long a landmark of northern New Mexico—a swath of high-elevation forests and open parks that sprawled across 89,000 acres. But for a long time, too, it was a landmark that was hard to get a look at because it was closed to most public access.

The gates opened a bit when the federal government acquired the property for a national preserve in 2000. Yet access continued to be a challenge for many would-be visitors. That’s going to change when the preserve officially becomes a part of the National Park Service beginning on Oct. 1.

The heart of this recreational treasure is the collapsed center of an ancient and long-dormant super-volcano in the Jémez Mountains west of Santa Fe. It’s a place known for its hot springs, huge meadows, abundant wildlife, meandering streams, gorgeous trails, lush forests, and diverse recreation opportunities.

The preserve’s new managers are already offering free shuttles, guided hikes and trout-fishing outings, van tours, and special events, including a fall elk festival. On certain days you can join a tour that showcases where Hollywood directors made movies on the wide-open landscapes.

Visitors who want to do things on their own can try fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, or hiking.

Volunteer groups have already aided land managers by conducting such service activities as removing old fencing and invasive weeds, or by serving as interpreters for visitors. For more information on what is now truly the American people’s park, visit online at

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