The Valles Caldera crater exists due to volcanic activity. Over time a lake formed in it, the water level rose, then it broke through weak spots in the rim and began to flow downhill. Those streams eventually etched canyons, and yesterday I drove up one, Jemez Canyon, via Hwy 4. Today’s plan is to follow that same road as it continues into the crater, which is 14 miles across. A map of the region is here, the NM Museum of Natural History and Science explains Valles Caldera here.
The Jemez people migrated here from the Four Corners area around 1200 AD. They were a powerful nation when Spanish explorers came through in 1540, with at least nine large villages plus smaller settlements on the mesas, but then their population dropped to a small fraction of that – likely affected by European diseases, as were other tribes. In the 1800s a related group from the Pecos river moved west to join them, leaving their old home due to Apache raids and Settlers encroaching.
While driving, my mind drifts to the people who live here now. The altitude is 8500-ft, the air is crisp and clear and it’s hard to imagine a better spot. There are turn-ins with 80-100 mailboxes clumped together, so houses exist unseen off in the trees. There are people on horseback, and horses grazing in pastures next to modest homes. This is probably heaven for horseback riding. The land is rugged and jagged, but the trails flow with the contours, are cushioned by sand and pine needles, and offer nice views.
A gravel road leads in a few miles to a museum building. I stopped a half-mile in, and walked a short distance to see this cabin – built in 2003 for Ron Howard movie: “The Missing”
The pics above and below are from the same spot. It’s tough to grasp the scale. This meadow is probably eight miles across.
Thought these were beetle-kill, but it’s due to a 2011 fire that burned 30,000 acres here and over toward Bandolier.
The road down into Los Alamos is exciting – narrow, winding and steep. Visited the public library, but not much else. Am heading to Santa Fe, to sleep tonight in the hills north of town and then deliver my car to the Toyota dealership for repairs by 8 am tomorrow.
The Fuller Lodge Art Building below caught my eye. Built in 1928 as a boys’ school, 771 giant pines were selected specifically for its construction.
It’s a clean town, with a large proportion of people possessing advanced degrees and probably has great schools. For retirees or families raising kids, it probably has a lot to offer.
Santa Fe, at 7000-ft and founded in 1607, is the highest and oldest capitol in the US. It’s dark when I arrive, and since a proper campground isn’t needed, I opt to find my own spot. Kept driving up into the hills north of town, past two campgrounds and multiple turn-ins with signs that forbid camping until finally reaching one that doubles as parking for a tent campground, and stayed there, above 9000-ft.
Awoke at 3:30 am, cold, and thinking about my appointment. Couldn’t get back to sleep, so drove down to the dealership, told the security guy I would be snoozing in my car in the parking lot, and did so until a transport unloading vehicles woke me at 7am.
Crazy night, but a delicious breakfast. I knew the upstairs waiting room had good wifi, but it also had great donuts for us early-birds. I ate two!
Dusk found me an hour north of Santa Fe, near Abiquiu, at a church ruin that dates back to the 1730s and the first Anglo settlers here.
Am back on the road soon, but for only a little while as it was getting dark and I don’t like missing scenery so usually stop when the sun goes down. Parked for the night next to Abiquiu Reservoir and ate dinner by the light of my LED candles.
The next morning, am heading north to Chama and then Colorado. The motorhome belongs to a sweet couple from Texas – retired schoolteachers. They pulled in shortly after I did, we visited and it made for a nice way to end the day. Two miles up the road is Ghost Ranch. I wheel in and pause a minute, thinking of five years earlier when I met this guy here.
I’d just finished driving 13-miles down an icy gravel road to an off-grid Benedictine Monastery, pulled into Ghost Ranch afterward, saw him, opened my car window to speak, he came over and stuck his whole head in the window – almost honked the horn with his nose. Here he’s backed away and is laughing at the bug-eyed look on my face.
Am not sure why I even pulled in. Need to get to Colorado. It’s late in the season, getting colder. I can return to southerly locales later if desired, but Colorado will not be much of an option starting soon. When sleeping without heat, it’s wise to travel with the seasons. But for some reason I drove in a half-mile to visit an old cabin, then farther in to the reception center, then took a stroll around the campus – and three days later I was still hanging around.
Next time I’ll share why, today we’ll close out with cabin pics.
The little room has planks for a ceiling.
Pedernal, in the distance.