Valles Caldera National Preserve is an ecologically rich 89,000-acre swath of land in New Mexico, one with a long human history and with a spectacular history of volcanism. And it's an area that National Parks Conservation Association officials believe would best be served as a unit of the National Park System.
“The Valles Caldera National Preserve is an incredible cross-section of human history and impressive geological features, and, as a new economic report on the site states, with proper management by the National Park Service it can be preserved for future generations while also providing an economic boon to local communities and New Mexico," said David Nimkin, the NCPA's Southwest Region director, the other day when the organization released a report on the preserve and how best to manage it.
“The report from Caldera Action gives a detailed analysis in comparing the current private-public management of the site, which has failed to become sustainable, with multiple other scenarios," said Mr. Nimkin. "And, unsurprisingly to those of us who treasure historic and natural sites, the report determines that the background, expertise, and workforce of the NPS is best suited for both preserving the site and using it as an anchor of local economic growth."
Tom Ribe, a long-time public land and national park advocated based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, described the landscape for Traveler readers in January 2010. This is how he put it:
The Valles Caldera is a circle of 11,200-foot mountains that cradle vast valleys full of grass and wildlife and rippled with hot springs and clear creeks. Its rim mountains are cloaked in fir, aspen, pine and spruce. The Valles Caldera stands at the center of the Pueblo Indian world of the Southwest with many living Pueblo communities a short distance from its flanks and the great “Anasazi” (ancestral pueblo) ruins at Bandelier National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and various state parks nearby.
Complementing its expansive wild beauty is the rich, colorful history of the area. Hispanos from centuries-old villages to its immediate north ventured into the caldera warily before the American army drove Apache and Navajo raiders from its forests in the 1860s. Pages from the Valles Caldera’s rough past tell of sheep ranchers grazing its valleys nearly to dust during the Depression, and loggers spiraling many of the mountains with logging roads until the 1970s.
But it's the rugged and spectacular scenery that most draws visitors. The Valles Caldera is a huge, dormant field of volcanoes that erupted between 1 million and 20 million years ago. The volcanism sculpted a magnificent and well-preserved complex of landscape features. The Pajarito Plateau (where the National Park Service’s Bandelier National Monument lies just east of the Valles Caldera) reveals orange and pink volcanic cliffs, rich with archeological sites. Many of the high Jemez Mountains formed by massive volcanic ash-spewing eruptions are contained within the Valles Caldera National Preserve and excite geologists, many of whom have called for the preserve to be declared a World Heritage Site.
On Monday the NPCA released a report (attached) touting the value of the preserve and how it could best be protected within the National Park System.
This report finds that NPS management would provide more stable long-term local economic benefits, more reliable resource protection, and superior visitor experiences. Further, the report concludes that National Park Service management would better fulfill the primary purposes of the Preserve: protecting and preserving the resources of the historic Baca ranch, and providing opportunities for public recreation.
“In addition to preventing incompatible uses from marring Valles Caldera’s incredible landscapes, the report shows that NPS management will make it more accessible to visitors and give a major boost to the local and New Mexico economy, including increasing economic benefits by more than $110 million in the first 15 years," Mr. Nimkin noted. "The report also points out that NPS management will also be able to eliminate current administrative inefficiencies by consolidating the management of Valles Caldera National Preserve and the adjacent Bandelier National Monument."