Valles Caldera
National Preserve
New Mexico
Park Photo
NPS photo

Discover a resilient land with a powerful past


Vast, wild, and stunning.
Lush montane grasslands, scenic vistas, old-growth ponderosa pine, and diverse habitats help make Valles Caldera a land of volcanic enchantment.

This dynamic landscape is recovering from overgrazing, aggressive logging, and roadbuilding. Unnatural wildfires and changing climate have also disturbed the land.

Valles Caldera National Preserve is working to restore these ecosystems and protect the caldera's nature, scenery, and cultural stories for generations to come.


You are standing in a sunken volcano. Its eruption 1.25 million years ago was 300 times larger than Mount Saint Helens' in 1980. Ejected ash fell as far as Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming. The science of large-scale explosive volcanism began with studies here.

A bowl like depression formed when a vast amount of magma erupted rapidly, the huge magma chamber emptied, and the land above sank into the vacant chamber. Valles Caldera is one of the world's best examples of an intact volcanic caldera.

After the collapse, new magma filled the chamber and caused the caldera floor to heave upward. A central dome (Redondo Peak) surged. Valles Caldera is a defining example of the caldera resurgence phenomenon, which researchers first identified here.

A classic example of Earth's explosive forces, Valles Caldera features in many scientific discoveries. Scientists, researchers, and visitors continue to come here to learn about geology, volcanology, and ecology.


For millennia people were drawn to the caldera for ample natural resources to make tools, projectile points, medicines, and more. Past people prized the caldera's obsidian for making knives, arrowheads, and spear points. Obsidian (volcanic glass) often occurs with calderas and forms from high-silica magma that rapidly cools. Obsidian from the Jemez Mountains has been found at prehistoric sites in Nebraska, North Dakota, Texas, northern Mexico, and Mississippi. Since we can trace obsidian to its volcanic origin, we know Valles Caldera was one of North America's most culturally significant obsidian sources.


Thriving forests and grasslands depend on cycles of wildland fire. A century of logging, overgrazing, and fire suppression interfered with normal fire regimes. Wildfires in 2011 and 2013 burned two-thirds of the preserve. Large areas lost all living trees and understory vegetation; erosion from monsoons stripped away the soil and created large debris flows. But returning low-intensity fire can restore these fire-adapted ecosystems. Prescribed fires imitate healthy natural fires and can help reduce forest fuels, recycle nutrients, and increase habitat diversity.


Paleoindians (10,000 years ago) first regularly visit the caldera and uses its obsidian. They are the earliest known of many peoples to use the caldera.

Archaic Period hunter-gatherers (8,000-1,000 years ago) rely on the caldera's plentiful waterfowl, game, fish, berries, roots seeds, and nuts.

Ancestral Puebloans (800 years ago) first settle in the Jemez Mountains. They grow crops and build masonry fieldhouses and pueblos in lower elevations that suit agriculture.

Spanish settlers (1500s) bring sheep and other livestock to these grasslands. Herding is the land's primary use into the Mexican period (1821-48).

The US government grants the land to private owners (1860), known since as the Baca Location No. 1. Successive owners of Hispanic and Anglo heritage (1900s) use Valles Calderas for sheep grazing under the partido system, cattle ranching, logging, geothermal exploration, and more.

Valles Caldera National Preserve is established (2000). Management of the preserve is transferred from the Valles Caldera Trust to the National Park Service (2014).

American Indians' connections to this land and cultural values have continued throughout these eras of ownership to the present day.

Today, you can visit Valles Caldera National Preserve to explore diverse cultural history, serene beauty, and wild natural wonders in a variety of ways.



Valles Caldera National Preserve is restoring this landscape to its natural splendor. A dynamic living laboratory, the preserve is repairing years of human use to foster ecosystem health and balance.

While here, you might think about the complex relationship between humans and nature; engage in recreation, education, or preservation; or "just be" in this vast, rugged landscape—all while helping to protect the caldera's many treasures.

Lively forests
Strategic restoration of forests can reduce the risk of wildfire, retain carbon, purify air and water, and provide prime habitat for native wildlife.

Open grasslands
Stunning and sprawling, these grasslands hold soil in place, retain precipitation, and absorb nutrients efficiently.

Vital wetlands
The preserve protects headwaters of several streams and rivers. Wetlands reflect ecological health and provide an array of essential plant and animal habitats.

WHAT IS A NATIONAL PRESERVE? A National Preserve is similar to a National Park and may permit activities like hunting, fishing, and grazing so long as they do not jeopardize the site's natural values. Elk and turkey hunting and trout fishing are allowed by permit and with a New Mexico state license. For permit and firearms regulations visit the park website.

park map
(click for larger map)

ACTIVITIES include hiking, biking, horseback riding, crosscountry skiing, snowshoeing, and ranger-led programs. • If you are new to the park, consult with a ranger for information. • The park has no water, food, lodging, or camping facilities; these may be found in nearby communities. • Visit the park website or contact station for information on programs and volunteering.

SAFETY Be alert for sudden weather changes, lightning, falling trees, flash floods, hypothermia, and dehydration. Several feet of snow may cover the park in winter. • Cell phone coverage is not reliable in the park. • Report accidents or safety hazards to a park ranger. • Carry plenty of water.

REGULATIONS Park roads are dirt and gravel. Off-road driving is prohibited. Park only in designated areas. • Pets must be leashed at all times and are prohibited in the backcountry. • Do not feed, approach, or attempt to touch any wild animal. • Federal law protects all natural and cultural features in the park. Collecting is prohibited (including antlers, rocks, obsidian. insects, plants, and mushrooms). • Practice Leave No Trace principles.

OPERATING HOURS Open daily except Thanksgiving and December 25. Hours vary seasonally. Call or visit the park website for more information.

DIRECTIONS From Santa Fe Take US 84/285 north to the NM 502W/Los Alamos exit. Continue on NM 502 to NM 4. From Albuquerque Take I-25 north to exit 242. Continue on US 550 to NM 4. The entrance to the park is near NM 4 mile marker 39 at 39201 NM 4, Jemez Springs, NM 87025.

ACCESSIBILITY We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. Park facilities currently have limited accessibility. For more information about accessible services and prog rams call or check the park website.

Emergencies call 911

Valles Caldera National Preserve
PO Box 359
Jemez Springs, NM 87025
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Los Amigos de Valles Caldera, the official park friends group and cooperating association, assists with volunteer-led ecosystem restoration projects and raises funding to promote education, interpretation, and science. To support the park or get more involved, visit

Source: NPS Brochure (2018)


Valles Caldera National Preserve — February 19, 2014

For More Information
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Link to Official NPS Website

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A Vegetation Map of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico (Esteban Muldavin, Paul Neville, Charlie Jackson and Teri Neville, 2006)

A Vegetation Survey and Preliminary Ecological Assessment of Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico (Esteban Muldavin and Phil Tonne, 2003)

Acoustic Monitoring Report, Valles Caldera National Preserve NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/NSNSD/NRR-2020/2137 (Jacob R. Job, June 2020

An Overview of the Valles Caldera National Preserve: The Natural and Cultural Resources (Robert R. Parmenter, Anastasia Steffen and Craig D. Allen, extract from New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook, 58th Field Conference, 2007)

An Update Report on the NPS 1979 New Area Study, Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico (December 15, 2009)

Analysis of Options for Transferring the Valles Caldera National Preserve to Direct Federal Agency Management (The Harbinger Consulting Group, October 2011)

Correspondence with Bob Parmenter, Director Scientific Services (Wally Murphy, September 22, 2014)

Fire Regimes of Montane Grasslands of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico (Donald A. Falk, Craig Allen, Robert Parmenter, Thomas Swetnam and Clifford Dils, 2011)

Foundation Document, Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico (March 2018)

Foundation Document Overview, Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico, Overview (May 2018)

Framework and Strategic Guidance for Comprehensive Management: Valles Caldera National Preserve (Valles Caldera Trust, 2003)

Historical dendroarchaeology of two log structures in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico, USA (Kristen K. de Graauw, Ronald H. Towner, Henri D. Grissino-Mayer, Nicholas V. Kessler, Jonathan Knighton-Wisor, Anastasia Steffen and James P. Doerner, extract from Dendrochronologia, 32, 2014)

Hot spring hydrochemistry on opposite sides of the Rio Grande rift in northern New Mexico and a geochemical connection between Valles Caldera and Ojo Caliente (©Valerie Blomgren, Master's Thesis University of New Mexico, July 2016)

Investigation of Aqueous Processes in the Valle Grande Paleo-Lake, Valles Caldera as a Martian Analog; Chemcam Investigation of the John Klein and Cumberland Drill Holes and Tailings, Gale Crater, Mars (©Ryan Jackson, Master's Thesis University of New Mexico, August 2016)

Land Cover Change During a Transition in Land Management at Valles Caldera 1989-2013 (©Nicholas J. Thompson, Master's Thesis University of New Mexico, May 2016)

Limited Prospects for Privatization of Public Lands: Presidio and Valles Caldera May Be as Good as It Gets (James L. Huffman, extract from Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 44 Issue 2, Spring 2004, ©University of New Mexico School of Law)

Maps: Summer — 20152018; Winter — 2016

More Than a Scenic Mountain Landscape: Valles Caldera National Preserve Land Use History U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-196 (Kurt F. Anschuetz and Thomas Merlan, September 2007)

Natural Resource Conditions at Valles Caldera National Preserve: Findings & Management Considerations for Selected Resources NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/VALL/NRR-2022/2409 (Jeff Albright, Kim Struthers, Lisa Baril and Mark Brunson, June 2022)

Presidio and Valles Caldera: A Preliminary Assessment of Their Meaning for Public Resource Management (Sally K. Fairfax, Lauren Gwin and Lynn Huntsinger, extract from Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 44 Issue 2, Spring 2004, ©University of New Mexico School of Law)

Sampling for Radioisotope Impacts from Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Valles Caldera National Preserve (Greg Kaufman, May 31, 2006)

Soils: Existing Condition Report, Valles Caldera National Preserve (Valles Caldera Trust, undated)

The Effects of a Prescribed Burn on Streambed Sediments, Macroinvertebrate Assemblages, and Water Quality in the Valle Toledo, Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico (©Jeanine K. McGann, Master's Thesis University of New Mexico, NOvember 2006)

The Plug and Pond Treatment: Restoring Sheetflow to High Elevation Slope Wetlands in New Mexico (William D. Zeedyk and Steve Vrooman, 2017)

The Valles Caldera: New Mexico's Supervolcano (New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Earth Matters, Winter 2010)

The Valles Caldera: Recreationists' Perspectives on Access and Management (©Matthew C. Cagnon, Master's Thesis University of New Mexico, August 2011)

Trail and Signage Design for Valles Caldera National Preserve: Day Use Areas of La Jara and the Cabin District (Yun Liu and Jamie McArdle, April 2017)

Uncharted Territory — The Charter Forest Experiment on the Valles Caldera National Preserve: An Initial Economic and Policy Analysis (Joseph Little, Robert P. Berrens and Patricia A. Champ, extract from Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 45 Issue 1, Winter 2005, ©University of New Mexico School of Law)

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Last Updated: 23-Jun-2022