Trip Number: 13081A
Staff: Susan Estes
- Learn to identify, sample, and record data with the VCNP staff
- Discover this beautiful land and its ecological, scientific, and cultural
importance in order to help with its preservation
- All tools and materials for work
- All presentations and field trips
- An experienced service trip cook for all meals
- Full accommodations and all meals provided
The Valles Caldera was a privately owned ranch of 89,000 acres, used for livestock
grazing, hunting, and timber harvesting. In 2000, the United States government
bought the ranch and the U.S. congress created the Valles Caldera National Preserve
(VCNP). The VCNP is administered by the Valles Caldera Trust, an agency comprised
of national land agency representatives and members from agencies in the surrounding
area. Located about two hours north of Albuquerque, it's the central feature
of the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, at the southern end of the Southern Rocky
Photo: Rourke McDermott
The volcanic field underlying the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico has
been active for the past four million years, and is by far the largest and most
powerful such formation in the region. It was 1.22 million years ago when an
eruption, one hundred times more powerful than Mt. St. Helens', ravaged the
landscape. Devoid of its natural geological support, the land fell in on itself
to form the bottom of a giant, roughly circular bowl about 14 miles across,
surrounded by a knife edge of mountains. This collapsed volcanic field is the
Valles Caldera. Today it remains one of the best exposed examples of caldera
formation known to science, and it's the most studied caldera in the Unites
States, and probably the world.
As an upland habitat, the vast valles are covered with green vegetation and
grasses. Within the VCNP there are about 524 species, subspecies, and varieties
of plants that are typical of the flora and ecology in the Rocky Mountains.
This is the environment in which we will work for our week in the VCNP.
As part of the ongoing scientific research on the Preserve resources, scientists
and managers of the VCNP are interested in understanding the impacts of large
herbivores (elk and cattle) on the grassland plant communities and the vegetation
along the streams.
Scientists have built a series of large enclosures around stretches of streams
to keep elk and cattle away from the vegetated areas along the streams, and
they're monitoring the changes in stream bank geomorphology, vegetation, soils,
water quality, fish, invertebrates, and small mammals. In addition, the 2011
Las Conchas fire that burned about one third of the Preserve has created a natural
“experimental treatment” for studying the response of vegetation
to a high-intensity burn.
The vegetation sampling involves collecting plant biomass to determine the
amount of vegetation production that has occurred under each experimental condition
(fire/no fire, grazers/no grazers). The project will permit participants to
visit and work in all parts of the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera.
Sierra Club volunteers will participate in clipping vegetation plots, and drying
and weighing the biomass samples both inside and outside of the exclosures.
There are 44 small enclosures distributed across the Preserve in different grassland
types, and these will be sampled during the week to understand elk and livestock
impacts in upland grasslands.
Photo: Rourke McDermott
This is a lodge-based trip at a single location. Once we are settled in, we
will stay put for the duration of the trip.
Participants should plan to arrive on the afternoon of the first day. A specific
meeting time and location will be sent in separate communications to the group.
No work is scheduled for the day of arrival.
The work week will consist of two work days, then a day off, and then two more
work days. The group will depart on the morning of the last day.
You are responsible for getting yourself to the meeting point at the Valles
Caldera Science and Education Center, in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Jemez Springs
is an easy drive from Albuquerque, maybe two hours at the most starting from
Sunport International Airport. The Science and Education Center is clearly marked
on State Route 4, toward the northern end of the village of Jemez Springs.
Accommodations and Food
The Science and Education Center, stretching for a quarter mile along the Jemez
River, is quite large. Laboratories and lounges, kitchen, dining room, and dormitory-style
bedrooms are all under one roof.
Each bedroom is double occupancy, fully furnished, with all linens, including
towels for your private bath. Please bring your own toiletries and indoor footwear.
Paved parking is suitable for vehicles of all sizes and is not visible from
the highway. No pets, please. Wi-fi is available, but cell phone service can
be erratic or non-existent.
Each participant will be expected to assist with meal preparation for at least
one day. Typically, breakfast will be served at 7 a.m. We will pack lunches
to eat wherever we happen to be at noon. Please bring hard plastic containers
to hold your lunch and snacks. Dinner will be at 6 p.m. in most cases. Reasonable
dietary requests (especially concerning food allergies) should be carefully
noted on your trip questionnaire. (See: General Notes/ Participant Approval
at the end of this brochure.)
Photo: Rourke McDermott
Because few other trips can offer as much breadth of interest and activity
in one place, this trip is sure to be popular -- attracting adults of all ages
and a nice blending of couples and singles, as well as parents and children.
Past participants for southwest service trips have come from as far away as
Connecticut and Alaska, Canada & Taiwan. If you have always wanted to do
a service trip but are wary of camping, this trip may be right for you.
This will be a moderately strenuous trip. Be in good shape and prepared for
lots of work and fun. Anyone who doesn't live in mountain/high desert environs
must have a healthy respect for the altitude. Many concerns about having an
enjoyable trip are tied to the altitude. At 8,000 to 11,000 feet, lungs must
work harder to get needed oxygen. This accelerates water loss, even before you
add a little healthy perspiration. A current up-to-date tetanus shot is required
for this trip.
Equipment and Clothing
The VCNP will provide work tools and transportation to the work sites.
Trip members are expected to furnish their own day pack. Please bring at least
two one-liter/one-quart containers for carrying water, your own supply of moleskin
and Band-Aids, sunscreen, insect repellent, and lip balm.
Bring comfortable clothes and boots. Remember, this is not a fashion show --
bring clothes that are broken-in but not worn out, and that can be easily layered
for warmth. In the late spring average temperatures can fluctuate between 40
and 70 degrees.
- State of the Preserve, 2002-2007: vallescaldera.gov/about/trust/docs/trust_LandUse-History.pdf
- VCNP Land Use History: vallescaldera.gov/about/trust/docs/trust_SOPDecember2007.pdf
- VCNP website: vallescaldera.gov
The West is a desert, or wants to be one, and it likes to burn on a regular
Wildland ecology, now more than ever before, must answer questions for today
and for decades to come.
Research work, and building reliable data, makes these crucial decisions more
factual, more informed, less theoretical, less apocryphal, and augment the tools
that land managers need to continue the delicate balance between human usage
and wildlands needs.
Combining the lessons of the past and the knowledge of the present, it is still
possible to protect and conserve the biological and ecological heritage of our
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
When a Sierra Club leader accepted the last person waitlisted for a Chaco Canyon service trip in 1988, Susan Estes participated in her first service trip to the Four Corners. Since then, her service trip odyssey has drawn her to Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas, and, following a close scrutiny of the globe, to Hawaii (which is, in fact, "southwest" too). Enduring friendships, a wicked sense of humor, and the high energy of a committed group doing selfless service top the list of reasons Susan does service trips. And, yes, she still makes a special effort on behalf of any of her waitlisted participants.
For two decades Phyllis Singleton's Dutch ovens and ranch-style cooking have fed volunteers on service trips in the National Parks and Monuments of Utah, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico. Phyllis has seen a lot of the same country from the back of her horse. As a breeder and member of the American Paint Horse Association, there is very little she does not know about bloodlines and horseflesh. Living on a ranch means that as often as possible eggs from her chickens and grass-fed, free range beef will be part of our menus.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips