Thursday, May 1, 2014

Bandelier, Vias Caldera and ELK!

Santa Fe, the state capital, offered us a place to restock, get medicines, perform routine service on the RV and eat some great New Mexican Food.  We found an RV park on the south side of town.  First day we arrived, the weather was balmy 70ish with slight breeze.  
Los Alamos with Wheeler Peak in background (highest point in NM)
The next day, Friday, we expected decent weather so we day tripped up to Bandelier National Monument in the deep Frijoles canyon southwest of Los Alamos National Laboratories. 

This area provides evidence of human habitation as far back as 10,000 years and was home of a large population of Ancient Pueblan People (aka Anazasi) upwards of over 2,000 during its heyday back in 1200 AD.
Porous Cliffs
We hiked through the ruins set both on the canyon floor and high up in the porous cave walls, 

Huge Kiva and circlular downtown area below
Yes, I made the climb also
eventually climbing up 130 ft of ladders to reach the highest Kiva in the park.
So did Sraddha
We hiked an additional half mile up the canyon to see a kiva which overlooked the canyon.
Kiva overlook
Unfortunately, as with Guadalupe Mountains National Park canyons, the canyon floor had been decimated in many places during the big floods August of 2013.  Same storm which we all heard about in Colorado.  Nature can display an amazing force when she wants to.
Flooded out canyon floor
We ate lunch in nearby White Rock at this newly opened organic healthy coffee/lunch place.  Yum  Very nice young people trying to eck out a living in the pumice rocks on the edge of the Caldera.

We drove higher up the Caldera in the Jemez Mountains. About 160-200 million years ago this Vias Caldera blew its top with a force over 200 times that of Mt St Helens back in 1980. 

The resultant ash fallout, or “tuff” was, in some places, over 1,000 ft deep.  It is what formed Frijoles Canyon in Bandolier with the porous walls. 

We drove through Los Alamos National Laboratories area seeing many laboratories, satellite dishes, and offices where not only weapons research continues but many other research activities.  Along the trail in Bandelier, I struck a conversation with a mathematician who works at Los Alamos on the mathematics and statistics behind nuclear proliferation treaties and also climate control treaties.  These are some of the positive sides of Los Alamos.
Vias Caldera Valley
Venturing further up the road we eventually crest the pass at 9600 ft elevation.  We can feel this elevation in our bodies.  Much different than even 9,000 ft as we descend into the Vias caldera wherein a large grassy valley has formed with mountains on all sides.  12,000 ft peaks surround the caldera.  This is the sister Caldera to the one in Yellowstone, both having their same roots deep in the earths core. Amazing what the scientists have been able to deduce.

We drive a few miles past this high valley to Jemez river.  More like a creek at this early stage, the east fork of the Jemez cuts through leftover rock which hadn’t been blown out during the previous volcanic eruptions.  Spruce, fir, pine, juniper trees line the canyon with great climbing rocks all around.  We are mesmerized with this little mini canyon as we walk along the quite creek, crossing several times as it meanders downwards towards the Rio Grande 100’s of miles south.
East fork of Jemez River
We return along the edge of the valley where the Elk are grazing in the evening light.  A local told me that these elk were originally transplanted here from Yellowstone back in the 1950’s.  We find a small herd grazing near a spring and stop to take some photos.  the herd has grown to over 100,000 elk in the state and sometimes, near dusk, you can see 1,000’s of elk out on this valley floor.  Today we saw only this handful but I let my imagination roam as to what  this valley would look like filled with elk herds in the fall, the Bull Elk bugling, and fighting for dominance.
 It's spring.  Elk without antlers. Wait til Fall for the big racks
A truly amazing place we never explored before.  Nature sure has a lot of interesting surprises for us.  Today was no exception.

Amazing cliffs

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