Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Skiing the Valles Caldera

There's some winter trekking to be had up at the Valles Caldera National Preserve but until now I hadn't had much luck capitalizing on it. The Valles quietly offers a large selection of groomed nordic trails and snowshoeing throughout the western end of the vast Valle Grande (weather permitting). The Desert Babe and I made it up this last weekend for the moonlight-ski. Surprised to see how many people were up there although most were snowshoeing, for shame. The snow was in good shape and it was a clear cold windless magnificent evening, stars ablaze in a moonlit valley of snow.

A large bonfire was burning outside the Staging Area Cabin for folks who were returning or just setting out. Skiers were asked to check-in inside and log what route we were taking in the case we didn't return! Yessir, I think I could grow to like this kind of skiing. In reality, it would have been mighty hard to get yourself lost out there. The trails were flagged and groomed for classic skiing. Some skating was possible but the track was chewed up and uneven from multi-use. We followed a two mile loop around Cerro Jara, with side trails leading out to Missing Cabin as well as anywhere-you-might-care-to-venture seeing as there were few immediate features or trees to contend with. Maps show 37mi of trail mostly limited to day-access of which 'almost 80%' are groomed for skiing and snowshoeing.

At the staging area

winter ghosts

The Desert Babe with stars

Desert Babe in light
Apres-ski warming hut

Our time was spent mostly star-gazing. Another skier told us that five planets were visible in the sky that night. One great big snow park, hemmed in by mountains and the heavens above. Looking west we could make out crispy treelines on the hills above Conchas where last summer's historic fire burned south toward Cochiti and Los Alamos. It all seemed very temporal from the caldera of an ancient volcano staring up at balls of gas and fire tracking slow orbits through our universe.

Los Alamos area Nordic Trails:
Valles Caldera - Valle Grande Staging Area:  Four miles of groomed trails in the Preserve. Fri-Sun 9am-5pm and special events. Fees are $10, $8 for children or seniors. Maps available at sign-in. 37 miles of trails track throughout the Valle, although snow conditions are best on the west side. The Staging Area is two miles north of the Main Gate at Highway 4 mile marker 39. (Caldera Map .pdf)

Coyote Call Trail:  Four miles of non-groomed skiing overlooking Valle Grande from the south. Trailhead and parking on the east side of Highway 4 at mile marker 41 (~1.5mi east of the Main Gate). No fees.

Canada Bonita Trail at Pajarito:  Six miles of classis and freestyle ski track adjacent to the Pajarito Ski Area, feverishly maintained by the Southwest Nordic Ski Club. Also known as SWNSKI trails and Guaje Canyon Trail, these trails are specially permitted by the National Forest during the winter for nordic skiing. Nearby track accommodates miles of snowshoeing and multi-use activity. Donations or club membership suggested (at the trailhead).

See also:   
 - Area Nordic Trails Listing


  1. Does your wife know about this Desert Babe?

  2. She knows and is quite jealous of all the fun the Desert Babe seems to be having.



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