Monday, June 02, 2014

Earth, Fire and Water

Valle Calderas - Grand Valley
What to do on our second week of vacation? Flexibility is very important. We had two choices near each other around Los Alamos. To pass through Los Alamos, we had to show ID at a guarded gate, and promise not to take any photos. Valle Calderas National Preserve is actually the remains of a super volcano that erupted about 1.25 million years ago, spewing pumice, ash and rocks into the air, then collapsing into a valley approximately 12 x 14 miles in size. It filled with water during the
Pleistocene, and this magma dome was an island in the middle of the large lake.
Somehow, we envisioned something like Yellowstone's caldera, since it is another super volcano along with Long Valley in California. After winding up and down the finger canyons (I've become much better at driving in the mountains on this trip, without going all white knuckle), we crested the rise to view a large meadow with cattle and elk, but nothing in the least volcanic looking. In fact, the whole valley is suffering from drought the last couple of years, plus forest fires. In other words, it looked like what it has been for the last 200 years - a cattle ranch, cowboys on horseback and all.
Fire Damage
Our van guide told us lots about its history and ecology, as well as the many movies filmed here, which we enjoyed. But after taking a few short hikes around, we decided we didn't need to spend much time here.
Savannah Sparrow
Not many birds. Despite all the prairie dogs, we did not see any raptors at all, which surprised me. Some sparrows flitted across the fields, along with Say's Phoebe and Mountain Bluebirds. Our guide said that Lewis' Woodpeckers sometimes stashed their bugs in the wooden fence posts for later consumption, but we found none in today's trip. He did recommend that we see Bandelier National Monument while we were in the neighborhood, so we headed back across the mountain again.
Ancient Cliff Dwellings
Bandelier, on the other hand, was fantastic. The orange cliffs are actually volcanic "tuff" produced by Valle Caldera's volcano solidified into tall cliffs. Apparently the orange stuff we found at Rio Grande Gorge is not sandstone at all, but this tuff. It is easily eroded by wind and water, so naturally has lots of holes in it.

But humans have been coming here for some 10,000 years. The Ancestral People who are the ancestors of the current Pueblo peoples lived in this canyon in 1325, and ran into conflict with the Spanish who arrived in 1598. They were farmers who grew corn, beans and squash, supplementing their diet with native plants and animals. By the mid-1200's, villages often included as many as 40 rooms. They dug small rooms into the cliff face, and built houses of adobe using the cliff to support several stories, and ladders to enter doors from the roof.
"Rock Band"
I speculated that the wind blowing across the many holes in this rock might produce sounds, so this collection of stones might be the original Rock Band!
Petroglyph of Turkey
The soft rock also lends itself to carvings in the walls. Some seem to be ordinary creatures such as this turkey, which they raised, but archeologists speculate that they might have a deeper spiritual significance.
Flash Flood Damage
In the last few years, forest fires have killed the trees and plants at higher elevations, so when it began to rain hard just one year ago, the water created a flash flood which destroyed the bridges over a normally small and quiet stream. Cars can no longer reach the parking lots, so they arranged for everyone to enter via shuttle buses which must be caught in town about 15 miles away. The valley floor is covered with sand and tree trunks. It will take a long time to get it all cleaned up, if they ever do.
Canyon Towhee
This Canyon Towhee caught a nice healthy bug for his chicks, but was tempted to grab some Cheetos on the sidewalk too. Took him a while to give up the Cheeto. We called some Canyon Wrens we heard, but they weren't interested in checking us out today, so I'll have to keep trying to find one for a good photo. Tomorrow, we make a pilgrimage to the home of Aldo Leopold!

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