Valles Caldera

August 27, 2023  •  9 Comments

There is a very large hole in northern New Mexico.  A circular depression in the earth that covers some 13 miles in width.  It is Valles Caldera, formerly known as Valle Grande.  Now part of the National Park Service, its official name is Valles Caldera National Preserve.  From NM Highway 4 via Los Alamos, or U. S. 550 through Jemez Springs to NM 4, at first glance, you might not even see anything other than a lower, grassy spot with volcanic plugs, cones, and other features surrounding it.  But according to the Park Service, when you stand anywhere in the middle, "you are standing in a sunken volcano.  Its eruption 1.25 million years ago was 300 times larger than Mt. St. Helens in 1980."  To say it altered New Mexico's landscape radically is an understatement.  "Ejected ash fell as far as Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming".  Not to mention what happened to the immediate area.  Cerro La Jara is a tree-covered small, broad bump (hardly the technical term) in the right middle of the photograph below.  There is an easy trail walking trail that surrounds it.  By walking it, you begin to get a feel for how big the area is, and how you really are in a huge basin.

Valles Caldera and Cerro La Jara 2023Valles Caldera and Cerro La Jara 2023  

We New Mexicans appreciate all water features.  The East Fork of the Jemez River, which some from the wetter parts of the country might call a creek, runs through the caldera.  The image below is looking east. 

Valles Caldera East Fork of the Jemez River 1 2023Valles Caldera East Fork of the Jemez River 1 2023

Looking west along the river, you will notice other volcanic features.

Valles Caldera East Fork of the Jemez River 2 2023Valles Caldera East Fork of the Jemez River 2 2023

Grasses being laid down by the water in the East Fork of the Jemez River.

Valles Caldera East Fork of the Jemez River 3Valles Caldera East Fork of the Jemez River 3

Coots and their chicks take advantage of the water.

Valles Caldera East Fork of the Jemez River - coots - 2023Valles Caldera East Fork of the Jemez River - coots - 2023

I suspect many of you reading this have hiked extensively in the caldera, whereas my experience is relatively new and limited.  But it is an extraordinary piece of New Mexico.  With luck, you will be able to visit, walk, and hike Valles Caldera at some point in the future.

Thanks to Lawrence, Victoria, Barbara F. R., Jean & Sam, Marilyn G., Earle, Lisa S., Steve, and Catherine for following along and commenting last week!

until next Monday,


a passion for the image©


Steve Immrl(non-registered)
Those are terrific shots of the Jemez River that leads the eye into the Valles Caldera. The grasses bent by the ribbon of river are somehow the stars of this lovely post. They speak to the health of the special place and to the dependence of nature's elements on each other. The whole scene is serene and symbiotic. And as Terry commented it makes me want to return to Valles Caldera and the Jemez soon.

Your history of the Valle's creation 1.25 million years ago and the ejected ash that fell as far away as Kansas, Utah and Wyoming was fascinating in a post-apocalyptic way. The immensity of the event and how long ago it happened are hard to grasp.
Terry P Thompson(non-registered)
your photos make me want to go back for a long overdue visit. Beautiful place and well captured.
Fred Barraza(non-registered)
Beautiful landscape and beautifully captured.
Lawrence Jones(non-registered)
We visited this site during one of our many trips to New Mexico. We would have driven right by had we not known that it was a an ancient caldera. One of your photos appears to have been taken from one of our camera positions. Thanks for the latest images of the caldera. Brings back many pleasant memories.
Ann Alexander(non-registered)
Daryl, You write so well. I now have a new view on VC and am eager to return to see it with new eyes.
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