Valles Caldera – A Super-Volcano Weekend of Spectacular Riding
Dazzling experiences that share a common bond – the love of horses and trail riding.
According to Wikipedia, New Mexicans enjoy one of only 3 Super-Volcanos in the United States, and there are only 6 in the world. Old Faithful in Wyoming and Long Valley, east of Mammoth Lakes in California, are the other two in the USA.
One September weekend, horsemen traveled from East Mountains, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Abiquiu, Alcalde, Lamy, a couple from Arizona, and one local gal from Fenton Lake, to ride in the Valle Grande on Saturday and Sunday on the dense, pine-covered, old logging roads in Banco Bonito. Trail riding horsemen are a diverse group with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences that share a single common bond: Our love of horses and trail riding.
Some riders were new to the Valles Caldera National Preserve while others had been to The Preserve riding the horse trails at Banco Bonito, but had never ridden in The Grande, which was usually off-limits to horses. Three groups took advantage of camping which they thoroughly enjoyed. One gal said, “I have lived here since I was a little girl and always dreamed of riding in The Grande. I am leaving the United States in 2 days, and here I am riding The Grande.” Her dream came true.
There was an option to ride only one day, but many rode Saturday and Sunday taking advantage of the different perspective and scenery each area has to offer. About 48 riders participated Saturday and 37 on Sunday, including 3 trailers of High Desert Mountain Riders that arrived unexpectedly Sunday morning.
A spur of the moment decision to ride on a glorious Sunday was possible because one prepared wrangler had a spare Valles Caldera Waiver that the High Desert Riders could all execute. That same wrangler, Jeff Kennedy, rescued us all from lack of stock water when we discovered the stock tank, which is normally full, had been drained with no means to refill it. Jeff carries a giant water tank in the bed of his truck, which he shared with everyone.
Typically, several small groups ride out independently which is what happened on Saturday in the Grande, but Sunday a large group of 21 people gathered together to ride The Duke Trail up and around to El Cajete. The Duke is a 9 mile loop using the old logging roads from the last century. As we rode The Duke, we passed old log pole cattle pens built long ago when cattle ranching was big business on the Baca Ranch. For the first time I can recall, there is a pond in El Cajete; a result of the powerful rains we have had this year. There are also thigh high pines growing in Cajete meadow where there had been none before the Las Conchas fire.
At lunchtime at El Cajete, the group split with some continuing on fearing possible rains, while others lingered behind munching lunches and chatting with other riders. Returning to the trailers, riders gathered around the picnic tables for snacks and drinks to share the day’s highlights before departing in different directions; all headed for home.
October 1, 2015, the National Parks Service formally assumed management of the Valles Caldera. All trails in the Preserve have been re-defined “multi-use” and are open to all users all days that the Preserve is open. A 7 day pass is $25 per vehicle; free admittance to the holder of a Senior National Park Pass. 24 permits Back-Country permits will be issued per day, with 12 permits reservable in advance. Horse trailers can park at the Horse Barn in the Grande without having a Back-Country permit. The future plans for Banco Bonito are unknown at this time and may not allow camping or riding in that area in the near future.
Photos courtesy of Nico Harrison, Joe Bob Kinsel and Bri Cimino