We left Abiquiu COE campground and headed to White Rock, New Mexico, elevation 6,365, just outside Los Alamos. This was a short two night stopover, mainly to visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve, one of three super volcanoes in the United States. The 89,000 acre Preserve is one of the newest additions to the National Park Service in October, 2015. The Valles Caldera supervolcano erupted 1.2 million years ago and the center of the volcano collapsed, creating a volcanic caldera 13.7 miles wide.
Since they only allow thirty cars a day to drive around the backcountry of the Preserve, we got up earlier than we normally do to make the thirty minute drive there in order to arrive when they opened at 8:00 A.M. It was a good thing we did because archery hunting season has begun and by the time we arrived fifteen of the passes had already been given out to hunters looking for elk.
We received our car pass from the ranger at the Valle Grande Contact Station and began our drive around the Preserve. We were at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet and the car thermometer registered 28 degrees! Can’t remember the last time we were in weather that cold. As we began the drive in the Valle Grande Valley, we saw a couple prairie dogs. We drove on unpaved roads around the dormant volcano caldera with expansive valley meadows, lush forested volcanic domes and streams where we saw an occasional fisherman. Even though herds of elk and black bear also live in the Preserve, we only saw deer, cattle and prairie dogs. Scenes from the 2013 movie “Lone Ranger” were filmed here.
Los Alamos is famous as “The Secret City”, site of the top secret Manhattan Project during World War II which focused on atomic bomb design and testing. When we were here in 2015 we toured the Bradbury Science Museum and the Los Alamos History Museum Campus. You can read the blog about that visit here: Los Alamos, NM May, 20 2015
This visit we wanted to see the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park operated by the National Park Service. It is one of the few national parks that focuses on American science, technology and industry during World War II. We watched the movie about the Manhattan Project and looked at exhibits in the Visitors Center which focused not only on science but also the social and cultural life of the people who lived and worked in the “Secret City”. Located in the Historical Park are life size bronze statues of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie R. Groves, leaders of the Manhattan Project.
The two days went by quickly and it was time to head to Cochiti Lake, outside of Santa Fe.