Column: Valles Caldera National Preserve Suspends Open Hiking

‘Temporarily Closed’ signs atop barb wire fences greet the public at the top of hiking areas on Pajarito Mountain. Photo by Greg Kendall


Los Alamos Daily Post

It was incredibly disheartening news to read that the Valles Caldera National Preserve Trust Board had suspended open hiking before it even began. I looked forward to hiking up to the Caldera Rim of Canada Bonito without having to stop at the sharp barbed wire fence that carries the “Valles Caldera National Preserve – Temporarily Closed” signs. Alas, it is not to be. The staff and Trust Board that run the Valles Caldera have apparently come up with yet another excuse to keep the public that owns this land from hiking freely in this truly magnificent wilderness.

The Valles Caldera will remain a virtual private dude ranch for scientists, Valles Caldera staff and well-off hunters, while continuing to ignore the fact that the Caldera happens to be owned by the American people.

I am disgusted with the whole mess and will boycott the Caldera until the Trust develops a reasonable plan for unstructured access to the interior of the preserve. I am praying every day that the National Park Service takes over management of the Valles Caldera.

I would have been pleased if the Trust had said they had a concrete plan to open up limited parts of the Valles Caldera. It would have been progress, but the “closed gate” attitude has gone on far too long.

The motto of the Valles Caldera appears to be “Just Do It … somewhere else!” I’ve actually heard a high ranking Valles Caldera staffer voice this very notion in public and on record during an official Trust Board meeting.

I do totally respect the need for the Pueblos to have off-limits, closed, sacred areas and to have days where the public is not allowed into particular areas so that the Pueblo may conduct private activities in solitude. But, to keep the entire place under lock and key is criminal in my book. I suspect the Valles Caldera staff, to a large degree, is using this latest excuse as a red herring in order to keep the public from roaming their virtual private dude ranch. 

The gullible Trust Board apparently fell for the staff’s canard and so the Caldera will remain a place mainly for a privileged few to hunt or to do high profile research projects for glory and recognition. The pesky free roaming public would just interfere with all that, I suppose. There must be a way that the Pueblo, scientists, wranglers, staff and the public can ALL use the vast acres of the Valles Caldera in a cooperative way. 

But really, how long can this go on? Poor Dorothy Hoard has waited many decades to get started on her rim trail plan. I am quite certain Dorothy will never see an inch of it ever started. 

Marty Peale (former director of the now defunct Valles Caldera Coalition) and I once joked that we should sew together a cow suit, pay the grazing fee (very low cost per cow) and then spend an entire glorious summer roaming freely about the Caldera while mooing!

Jason Lott (superintendent of Bandelier National Park and member of the Valles Caldera Trust Board) gave it that old college try. I wish the staff had come up with some sort of plan, instead of rushing to barricade the door with piles of desks and chairs. Please bring a new motion to the next Trust meeting, directing the staff to open some subsection of the Preserve’s interior without delay.

Jason, you’re pretty much the only hope we have to break this log jam open. Don’t give up!

Greg Kendall is a former founding board member and former vice president of Los Amigos de Valles Caldera (Friends of the Valles Caldera), a group that he continues to support.