Valles Caldera

Take a scenic drive west of Los Alamos New Mexico on NM Rte 4 and you’ll come to Valles Caldera National Preserve. This 89,000 acre expanse is sitting inside a collapsed crater. Interestingly enough, this area was the well known Baca Ranch until the year 2000.

The Creation of the Crater

valles caldera

Valles Caldera in New Mexico

A “caldera” is a cauldron-like volcanic feature that’s usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. This is a bit different than a crater. A crater is sometimes caused by celestial bodies colliding with the earth. At the same time there are craters caused by volcanic activity. The difference is that a crater is a bowl shaped depression. A crater can be made by an impacting meteor, an underground land collapse, or it could be found at the top of a volcano. With a caldera there was an eruption after which the magma chamber collapsed and then was filled in. Another explanation of the difference between the two is that a crater is a steep walled depression located at the top of a volcano.

The Valles Caldera which is sometimes referred to as the Jemez Caldera, is twelve miles wide. It is quite unique, being only one of six known land based supervolcanoes. Native tribes roamed the caldera over 11,000 years ago. The tribes hunted on the caldera land  and spear points have been discovered dating back to that time. The tribes in this area collected “obsidian” which is a volcanic glass used back then for spear points. The obsidian was in demand and trading went on for it between the tribes of the southwest.

Special Photographic Tours Scheduled for 2013

Two three day photographic excursions of Valles Caldera crater will be offered during 2013. 
Visitors for these events will be chosen by lottery. Camping will be allowed at a designated location. Officials say the lottery closes April 24 for the first photography event, which is scheduled for May 24-26. The second events is scheduled for Sept. 20-22, and the lottery closes on Aug. 21. Anyone can apply by calling the preserve at 1-866-382-5537.

valles caldera in new mexico

NM Rte 4 passing Valles Caldera

The U.S. Congress passed the Valles Caldera Preservation Act in the year 2000. The act states that Congress established the Valles Caldera Preserve in order “to protect and preserve the scientific, scenic, geologic, watershed, fish, wildlife, historic, cultural, and recreational values of the preserve, and to provide for multiple use and sustained yield of renewable resources within the preserve. This Congressional act authorized the federal purchase of Baca Location No.1 and established the Valles Caldera Trust as the manager of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Science projects are a big part of what is currently happening at the preserve. There is a project in it’s third year to create a new geologic map of the preserve. The new map is intended to replace the 1970 USGS map of the same area and provide greater details to help geologists better understand the formation of the caldera and the Jemez Mountains region in general. A core sample taken in 2004 will provide details on the lake bed sedimentary history of the Valle Grande.

Driving Scenic New Mexico Route 4

valles caldera in jemez mountains

Historic marker at Valles Caldera

When you take a western road trip into the Jemez Mountains on NM Rte 4 west of Los Alamos, there are many fascinating sites to see in the vicinity of the Valles Caldera. This includes Battleship Rock directly on Route 4.

Battleship Rock received it’s name because the rock high colorful rock resembles the bow of a battleship. There’s also an excellent hiking trail head at Battleship Rock which will take you to Jemez Warm Springs and Jemez Falls. The trail is rated moderate and takes about three hours round trip. Drive a bit further on NM Rte 4 and you’ll arrive a beautiful Jemez Springs which is home to the Jemez State Monument. The Jemez State Monument features the ruins of a pueblo Indian village and mission dating back to the 1620’s.

Two additional sites we’ve written articles on are Jemez Springs in the Jemez Mountains and Bandelier National Monument.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)

Scenic Byways / Copper Harbor Scenic Highway In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula is a summer paradise. The peninsula is surrounded by Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan to the south. The northern woods scenery is spectacular and a road trip through the Copper Country and the scenic routes through the western section of upper Michigan is a perfect addition to any  vacation planner.

copper harbor michigan bridge

Upper Michigan's Copper Scenic Highway bridge

Make special note of the Copper Harbor Scenic Highway. This is a 27 mile stretch of highway, U.S. Hwy 41, running from Phoenix Michigan to Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Much of this scenic route was first traveled by the pioneers to the region. Today, it’s one of North America’s most scenic byways.

The western section of Michigan’s upper peninsula is steeped in the history of copper mining and iron ore mining. Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is another small land area that represents the very northern tip of the upper peninsula. Stretching into blue lake Superior, the Keweenaw Peninsula itself is quite a historic site. The scenic byways through this peninsula are one of a kind.

Iron ore was found in Michigan’s upper peninsula about 1840 and copper was discovered in Michigan’s upper peninsula in 1841. Copper was to become a major export of Michigan. At first, the iron ore usage was fairly small, some being found in swamps and used in charcoal furnaces to produce pig iron. While the first deposits were small, beginning in 1844, iron ore was found in large deposits and the country started taking it more seriously. In fact, the U.S. thought it important enough to establish Fort Wilkens on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to protect the resource.  Fort Wilkens was no doubt one of the army’s more frigid outposts during the winter months. While quite a lot has been written about America’s wild western frontier, much less has been publicized about this part of Michigan which represented the northern frontier. As it turned out, the economic necessity of gaining access to and the transportation of iron ore would eventually lead to the construction of the Soo Locks on the eastern end of Michigan’s upper peninsula and would usher in the era of the Great Lakes ore carriers.

copper loaded on steamer

Steamer loading copper at Houghton Michigan in 1905

The Copper Harbor Scenic Highway is an all weather blacktopped roadway. While you drive this route you’ll be able to view an 1850’s era general store, a blacksmith shop, historic churches and ghost towns from the old mining boom days. A underground copper mine tour is also available. The Copper harbor Scenic Highway in upper Michigan offers motorists the chance to really see the heart of Michigan’s copper mining country. Another added Michigan vacation adventure while on the Keweenaw Peninsula is a ferry ride to the Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale National Park  is a rugged island in Lake Superior, northwest of Copper Harbor, with abundant wildlife. It’s very popular during the summer months with backpackers, hikers, boaters, kayakers, canoeists and scuba divers.

Visitors to Fort Wilkens will get a good idea of what it was like for the troops that manned this very northerly outpost. Having Lake Superior bordering both sides of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the weather, particularly during winter, could be trying. Tourist to the Fort Wilkens State Historical Park can take advantage of both camping and day use activities. It also features one of the very first lighthouses on Lake Superior. The Copper Harbor Lighthouse, a round tower built in 1848 and put into operation the following year, was replaced in 1866 by the current structure.There is a Copper Harbor excursion that starts out from the marina and includes a boat tour and a visit to the lighthouse museum. At Fort Wilkens, interpreters will explain the history of this Keweenaw Peninsula fort.

copper harbor michigan sign

Sign at the terminus of the Copper Scenic Highway east of Copper Harbor Michigan

The Estivant Pines, a stand of virgin white pines, and The Delaware Mine, an old copper mine with guided tours, are located near the park. The Keweenaw Peninsula also offers a challenging nine hole golf course layout. Plenty of fun things to do and add to your Michigan vacation planner.

Two articles on scenic byways in the western U.S. are the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway just to the northeast of Yellowstone National Park and the Beartooth National Scenic Byway in Montana.

Anyone taking a summer vacation to northern Michigan will also pass by several other very scenic and historic sites. One of them of course is the Mackinaw Bridge which connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. Another is the fascinating Soo Locks at Saoult Ste.Marie  Michigan on the border of Ontario Canada. The locks connect Lake Superior with Lake Huron and allows for the traffic between the two Great lakes. The Soo Locks were completed in 1855. It’s estimated that the Soo Locks handle about 10,000 vessels per year. Connecting the United States to Canada is the International Bridge which spans over the locks. The map below shows the location of Copper Harbor and the Keweenaw Peninsula.

(Photos are from the public domain)

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A Scenic Santa Fe To Taos New Mexico Road Trip


santa fe to taos road trip

Truchas New Mexico during High Road Art Tour

A popular and very scenic drive while vacationing in New Mexico is called “The High Road to Taos”. This route is often taken while driving Santa Fe to Taos. The route is 56 miles in length and winds through the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The trip is listed as an official New Mexico scenic by-way and you’ll pass by many unique art galleries which are home to the local artists who make this part of New Mexico their home. The Santa Fe to Taos route goes through deserts, mountains, forests and farmland. This route probably represents the best area of New Mexico where the Spanish heritage is still somewhat untouched. From Santa Fe to Taos, this scenic byway is one of the most impressive road trips in New Mexico. It’s also the perfect road trip to combine a Santa Fe and Taos vacation.

The journey on the High Road to Taos begins in the Espanola area about twenty miles north of Santa Fe. This Scenic Byway takes you through an authentic remnant of Old Spain. To start your journey, take U.S.285/84 north from Santa Fe and turn east on N.M.503. This will take you to the village of Nambe. You’ll drive by several adobe brick churches and chapels. These structures represent the early Spanish influence on the entire New Mexico region. The Byway then turns north on N.M. 520. The Byway next follows N.M. 76, heading northeast. N.M. 76 will turn into N.M. 75 eastbound. You’ll reach an intersection with N.M.516 going north and this road will take you to Rancho de Taos. The roads are posted with appropriate signs to help your journey. There are of course several short scenic detours that you can take before getting back on the scenic Byway. One such short detour is when you reach the village of Truchas. Truchas is situated on the side of a canyon and is very picturesque. Many people take a short ride east of the town toward Truchas Peak which is quite scenic.

gallery on the santa fe to taos road

Truchas New Mexico art gallery

An added treat along the way is a stop in Chimayo. Chimayo New Mexico is home to the Sanctuario de Chimayo which is a noted shrine. This church was constructed between the years 1811 to 1816 and is visited by thousands of people annually from throughout the world. The Santuario de Chimayo is believed to have healing powers and one of the most visited chapels in the entire American West. Chimayo is also home to several weaving studios that are operated by descendants of the original Spanish settlers. One very good stop for the hungry traveler is the Rancho de Chimayó. This popular restaurant is located in a restored, century old adobe home and is surrounded by three beautiful mountain ranges. The restaurant serves some of the finest Native New Mexican cuisine you’ll find in New Mexico. Diners can enjoy the garden terrace on sunny summer days, and cozy fireside dining as you watch the snow fall during the winter months. I’ve been to this restaurant during all seasons and I know you’ll enjoy it.

sangre de cristo mountains

New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains

The last two weekends of September is the traditional time for the High Road to Taos Art Tour. This is a very fun event and allows you to attend gallery open houses and have a chance to meet and greet local artisans. The High Road Art Tour offers the opportunity to deal directly with artists as well as visit the small, historic Land Grant villages in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Among the towns you’ll drive through on The High Road to Taos include Nambe, Truchas, Las Trampas and Cordova. In Truchas you’ll have wonderful views of the Rio Grande Valley and Truchas Peak. Great for picture taking. In Las Trampas be certain to stop and visit the San Jose de Gracia Church. This church is considered by historians to be one of the most beautiful colonial-era churches in the United States.

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San Francisco de Asis Church in Rancho de Taos

Your High Road to Taos drive will end at Ranchos de Taos which is about four miles southeast of Taos. Here you will see the magnificent San Francisco de Asis. Many believe that this is the most photographed church in all New Mexico. The church faces a plaza which is surrounded by adobe structures, some that are quite old. Rancho de Taos also offers some great photo taking opportunities. It is also thought that this church provided the inspiration behind many paintings by New Mexico’s own Georgia O’Keefe. OKeefe spent a good deal of her time in nearby Abique which is southwest of the Taos area on the west side of the Rio Grande and Chama Rivers. The San Francisco de Asis Church was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970 and has also been designated as a World heritage church.

Another very interesting article related to the Spaniards and the colonization of Nuevo Mexico is the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. This was the seat of government for all of Nuevo Mexico. Another good article relating to your New Mexico visit is the story of the La Fonda Hotel and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.

When on a Taos vacation make it a point to explore the Kit Carson Home and Museum, the Charles Bent Home and Museum which is two blocks north of the Taos Plaza and also the Taos Pueblo or often referred to as Pueblo de Taos which is just a few miles northwest of town. The Taos galleries are also great places to view local southwestern art. This part of New Mexico combines some of the finest western scenery there is with very interesting historic sites. If you plan on spending the night in Taos there are several unique hotels and bed and breakfast locations. One popular historic lodging site is the Mabel Dodge House just a very short drive east of the Taos plaza.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)