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Baca Ranch: The Southwest’s Yellowstone

For years, hikers have dreamed of trekking in Baca Ranch's untouched, wildlife-thick backcountry. You'll soon get your chance.

Expedition Planner: Valles Caldera National Preserve, NM

At press time, the preserve remains closed to the public pending completion of the management plan. If you want to visit Valles Caldera, check the Forest Service’s Web site (see Contact below) to find out if access decisions have been made regarding overnight camping or backpacking.

Even if you can’t hike the former Baca Ranch just yet, now is the time to voice your opinions to the board of trustees about how the preserve should be managed (see Contact below). Debate over critical issues?whether to close the roads or allow snowmobiles, for instance?will be hot.

Getting there: The Valles Caldera Preserve is on the north side of NM 4, about 15 miles west of Los Alamos. From Albuquerque, head north on I-25, then northwest on NM 44 through San Ysidro. Continue north and then east on NM 4 for about 30 miles until you reach the signed preserve gate on the left side of the road.

Season: With meadow elevations at 8,000 feet, summer and early fall are pleasant. October, while a bit chilly, is an outstanding time to visit because the elk are in rut and the aspens are aglow. Winter is prime time for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, if it’s allowed.

Hiking possibilities: The wide-open terrain of the Baca makes it possible to strike out in any direction. The Valles Toledo and San Antonio in the northern part of the preserve offer the best scenery, wildlife, and solitude. There is also talk of building a “rim trail” around the top of the caldera.

Maps: USGS 7.5-minute quads Redondo Peak and Valle San Antonio ($4 each).Contact: (888) ASK-USGS; http://ask.usgs.gov.

Next door: You’ll find several good backpacking routes in adjacent Bandelier National Monument and Santa Fe National Forest’s Dome Wilderness. Try the Yapashi Ruins route or Capulin Canyon. Permits are required for overnight camping.

Contact: Valles Caldera National Preserve, Jemez Ranger District, Santa Fe National Forest, (505) 829-3535; www.fs.fed.us/r3/sfe. Bandelier National Monument, (505) 672-0343; www.nps.gov/band.

For more information on the management plan: Southwest Office, National Parks Conservation Association, (505) 247-1221; www.npca.org.

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