Friday, October 24, 2008

Valle Grande Trail

Today I went on the short Valle Grande Trail hike. This is one of two hikes in the Valles Caldera preserve that are "spontaneous" hikes, meaning you just show up and hike. You know. Like most of the hikes you ever do. The rest of the hikes require reservations and a van ride to trail heads elsewhere in the park.

So I will digress for a moment to go on a small rant. I have never liked how this park is managed and it is no surprise to me that they don't make much money. This is a beautiful area, but it is ridiculously hard to enjoy. There are only two trails that one can simply hike on without going through through a reservation and van pooling process, neither of which are great hikes (although the Coyote Call trail is much better than Valles Grande trail, but that is because you can climb to an elevated position to clearly overview Valles Grande to the west and the entire Rio Grande Valley to the east -- I will blog about this hike sometime in the future). They could be great hikes, and in this 89,000 acre park there are many hiking possibilities that are unfortunately unavailable to the public. Maybe someday the National Parks Service will take it over and perhaps that will improve matters. I don't know. Enough ranting, I guess. Despite what I consider to be a poor management and access process, this is a beautiful area worthy of exploration. I have not yet attempted to go on one of the reservation hikes, but I will someday as they are probably superior hikes. Despite the fact that I prefer solitude which you don't typically get in a van full of other hikers.

The Valles Grande hike is a very short 1 mile out and 1 mile back hike, leaving from State Road 4 just outside the boundary of Bandelier National Monument (at the top of the area of SR4 known as the "chute" for those from this area). Most of the hike is rather boring, through the forest with little in the way of views. It drops down to close to the floor of the valley, and offers no views of the valley until you are near the end of the hike. The trail is surprisingly rocky, so despite the short distance, a good pair of hiking shoes is recommended (preferably with ankle support). The trail map is shown below. I did not include a profile because this is a short hike which descends only 200 ft in 1 mile.
The view of the valley is beautiful, but frankly only slightly different from the view along the roadway a mile or so from the trail head. The difference is that this trail takes you down to more of a view level with the valley floor than elevated along the road. However, this trail offers the possibility of seeing elk closer than one might from the road. There were probably O(100) elk in the valley today that I could see through binoculars (too far for my 500mm lens). However, on some mornings there is a good chance they would be closer to the end of this trail. It would be worth hiking this trail at night or in the early morning and sit down there and listen to the elk bugle.

The map above marks the apparent end of the trail, but I wandered around a little bit as it was not precisely obvious where the trail ended. It is disappointing that the trail did not go farther, as it would be easy to construct the trail to continue to the north around the rim of the valley and offer different views unobtainable from the road (and perhaps even connect to trails in Los Alamos County). See rant above. The photograph below was taken at the turn around point in my wanderings after the apparent end of the trail.

This valley is a wetland which wildlife use. Cattle are also run here during the summer.

The Valles Grande is certainly one of the most beautiful areas in New Mexico and I highly recommend a visit there. It is a short drive from my backyard. For more photographs from this hike, including a panoramic of the Valles Grande, see my gallery for this hike.