Valles Caldera National Preserve & a Spring Blizzard in New Mexico!

May 2017 – While hanging out in the Los Alamos, New Mexico, area with our RV and visiting the cool pueblo cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, we made a day trip to visit Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Selfie at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico overlook

The “Valles Caldera Overlook” – Great spot for a selfie, and the only view til now!

This is a brand new National Preserve managed by the National Park System.

The land was originally a huge ranch that was privately owned under a Spanish Land Grant, that is, a gift of land from Spain to a Spanish citizen as part their effort to colonize and control their territory, New Spain, in the 1700’s before America began its westward expansion.

Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

Valles Caldera is a new National Preserve managed by the National Park Service (Dept of the Interior)

When America’s New Mexico Territory was formed, the US Government recognized and upheld the Spanish (and more numerous Mexican) land grants. The Valles Caldera land was operated as a ranch and passed from generation to generation. In the year 2000 the US Government purchased it from private owners to form the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Buildings and fences at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

The Valles Caldera ranch was so big there was a settlement of homes and buildings
for the ranchers and their employees.

Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

Valles Caldera is a 13.7 mile wide volcanic caldera – a crater formed when a volcano collapses into itself.

It is a beautiful tract of land that has wide meadows, plentiful wildlife, and thick forests on the surrounding hills. A cluster of houses that the ranchers and their employees used up until the property was sold now stand vacant.

Log cabin Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

This would have been an amazing place to live!

Old log cabin windows Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico


The land was hotly contested in court for many years because multiple groups wanted portions of the land, including the local Indian tribe, the Jemez Pueblo.

There are dozens of websites describing the issues that were at stake and the roles played by the members of government, tribal leaders and lawyers who made the legal cases for each side.

Skull found at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

As we wandered the roads on this huge ranch, we found some unusual things like this skull!

I haven’t chased them all down, but the folks in the Visitors Center were thrilled the National Park Service had finally become the manager of this land. It had been under the control of the US Forest Service for a dozen or so years prior to the NPS taking over.

Because the NPS has a much bigger budget than the USFS, the hope was that the land will be developed for public use — and prepared for the inevitable throngs of visitors — in a thoughtful way. Debates are ongoing now about the number, size and placement of campgrounds, issuance of hunting permits and wild stock grazing permits, creation of hiking trails, etc.

In the past, quite a few movies were made on this land, and we came across the remains of a movie set.

Movie Set debris Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

The land was leased out to the movie industry in the past. This is all that is left of an old set.

Wandering around Valles Caldera and returning to Bandelier National Monument, we saw quite a few flowers.

Yellow columbine flower


Wildflowers Los Alamos New Mexico

Spring has sprung!!

One of our favorite wildflowers is the Milk Thistle. We didn’t know what it was called and had nicknamed it the “fireworks flower” because of its wonderful shape, but a friend recently told us its real name and said in some places it’s considered a noxious weed!

Beautiful yellow milk thistle wildflower Valles Caldera

Milk thistle — one man’s gorgeous wildflower is another man’s noxious weed!

Valles Caldera is quite high in the mountains of New Mexico, and we woke up one morning in our spot in the woods to find that spring had fled and old man winter had returned with a whollop!

Spring snowstorm in an RV in New Mexico

What??? Snow in late may? Maybe Spring hasn’t totally sprung just yet!

Winter wonderland Los Alamos New Mexico

Old man winter returns…

The flowers that had warmed their petals in the sun the day before were now covered with snow crystals!

Snow on wildflowers Los Alamos New Mexico

The wildflowers had been basking in sunshine the day before!

Pine cone in snow Los Alamos New Mexico


As we wandered around taking photos, suddenly the snow began to fall again — thickly!

Spring snowstorm photography New Mexico

We had such a blast running around getting photos of this beautiful storm.

Snow storm in the woods

It’s a blizzard!

What a hoot it was to go from spring back to winter in just 24 hours!

5th wheel trailer RV in snowstorm


We had blizzard conditions for about an hour, and the snow kept piling up.

Snow storm in an RV in the woods


Photography in a spring snowstorm

The white stuff is sticking!!

Up on the roof of our trailer, the solar panels were completely covered.

RV solar panels in spring snow storm

Snow buried our solar panels.

Mark cleared the solar panels off so we could get at least a little charge for the batteries from the ambient light.

Thick snow on an RV roof

The snow piled up quite deep.

He built a snowman while he was up there too!

Snowman on RV roof with solar panels

After clearing off the panels Mark built a snowman on the roof of our trailer!

New Mexico is home to the mysterious city of Roswell where space aliens have taken up residence since a strange UFO crashed nearby back in 1947.

The aliens even have their own craft beer — Alien Ale — a yummy brew we always enjoy when we visit New Mexico. What better way to chill it down than to stand it in the snow on our truck!

Icing down an Alien Ale in snow

What a great way to ice down an Alien Ale!

Inside our rig the shower became the “wet locker” for our dripping jackets after we came in to warm up.

Wet jackets hanging in RV shower

Our jackets dripped in the shower. Our boots dried out by the door!

We didn’t run our furnace or blue flame heater overnight, so even though it was 75 degrees inside when we went to bed, when we woke up the next morning it was 38 degrees downstairs in our living room. Brrrr!!

Sometimes it seems that we get our seasons mixed up in this traveling lifestyle, going to tropical places where it’s 90 degrees in January and then playing in the snow in late May. But that’s part of the fun of it too. We never know what to expect!

38 degrees inside our RV

It was a little brisk inside our rig the next morning, but our heater warmed it up in no time.

This spring blizzard was a wonderful little interlude, but all the snow was gone by the end of the next day, and temps climbed steadily as we headed down from the mountains and into the valleys of south eastern Colorado!

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8 thoughts on “Valles Caldera National Preserve & a Spring Blizzard in New Mexico!

  1. Beautiful blizzard. However, I don’t think I would want to be out in it too long. The photos are spectacular. Looked like fun.

  2. I thought that cabin looked awfully familiar so I looked it up. Sure enough! “The recurring location of Walt Longmire’s cabin is the ranch foreman’s home at the Valles Caldera preserve about 90 minutes from Santa Fe. The exterior of the Red Pony restaurant and bar is an abandoned office and café 15 minutes south of town; its extensive interior is a set at Garson Studios.”

    • How cool is that, Jim!! You’ve got a sharp eye! Those little cabins are really intriguing and we spent quite a bit of time wandering among them thinking about what it would have been like to live in such a place and raise cattle!!

    • I never realized what a gorgeous spot those guys on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos had back in the 1940’s when they were developing the atom bomb. The whole area is very beautiful with pretty woods, all those Indian ruins and this incredible volcanic caldera.

  3. What’s the best route to the Campground? HW502 through Los Alamos, or take HW 4 through White Rock?
    Very interested in seeing Valles Caldera; Thank you for another great posting!

    • Both are interesting routes. Route 502/501 through Los Alamos requires you to go through the “toll booth” style gates through the Los Alamos lab area. You’ll be asked a few questions about your rig and can then drive through. Route 4 through White Rock takes in some very beautiful scenery on huge sweeping switchback turns. If you look closely as you drive you can see cliff dwellings in the exotic rock formations around you. Have fun there, and thanks for reading.


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