Detour: Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera National Preserve protects 89,766 acres of the volcanic Jemez mountains west of Santa Fe and the Rio Grande in north central New Mexico. It encompasses most of the gigantic caldera at the heart of the massive volcano that is the Jemez Mountains. The Preserve was established by Congress in 2000 with an experimental structure that created a trust to purchase a 95,000-acre privately held ranch. Small portions were incorporated into Bandelier National Monument and Santa Clara Pueblo. The rest was held by the trust until 2015 when it was transferred to the National Park Service.

Late in the afternoon of November 13 [2021], Sean and I drove the twisting, somewhat frightening road from Bandelier National Monument’s Frijoles Canyon to the heart of the volcano.

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Detour: Bandelier National Monument

Established in 1916, Bandelier National Monument protects 33,677 acres of the Pajarito Plateau on the southern slopes of the volcanic Jemez mountains, located west of the Rio Grande Valley and Santa Fe in northern New Mexico. Over twenty-three thousand acres of the Monument are federally protected wilderness. But the heart of Bandelier is the thousands of Ancestral Puebloan sites scattered across the plateau and its steep canyons. Among these, the many sites in Frijoles Canyon are the most famous and dramatic. The hub of visitation in Bandalier, this canyon was where Sean and I headed for our all-too-short visit to the Monument on November 13 [2021].

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Detour: Pecos National Historical Park

Established as a National Monument in 1965 and then expanded and reestablished as a National Historical Park in 1990, Pecos National Historical Park protects roughly 6,700 acres in three parcels at the very southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. The Park’s primary focus is protecting and interpreting the remains of Pecos Pueblo, perched above Glorieta Pass in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Glorieta Pass it the primary gateway between the Great Plains to the east and the Rio Grande Valley to the west. The Park also preserves the site of a crucial 1862 battle in the Civil War, when American troops rebuffed a Confederate attempt to expand beyond Texas into the Southwest.

On Saturday, November 13 [2021], Pecos was the first of three National Park units near Santa Fe that Sean and I visited.

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White Sands National Park: Dune Life Nature Trail

On the afternoon of November 12 [2021], my birthday, Sean and I continued to explore White Sands National Park. After our hike on the Park’s longest marked trail, we wanted to see two of its other, much shorter interpretive hikes/walks in the transition areas between desert, grassland, and dunes.

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White Sands National Park: Alkali Flat Trail

White Sands National Park protects 145,762 acres of soft gypsum sand dunes and adjacent Chihuahuan Desert transition zones in the Tularosa Basin of southern New Mexico. It was first protected as a National Monument in January 1933 in the waning days of the Hoover administration. On December 20, 2019, congress upgraded it to a National Park, increasing its total area by some 2,000 acres and making it the sixty-second of sixty-three National Parks.

Earlier plans to consider expanding the monument were ultimately subsumed into the Tularosa Basin’s military use and legacy. The Park is surrounded by White Sands Missile Range and is adjacent to Holloman Air Force Base. The Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945, is about sixty miles from White Sands National Park in the northern part of the Tularosa Basin.

The deep time legacy of the place was underscored in September 2021 when researchers announced the discovery of 23,000-year-old human footprints in the Park, hard evidence that not only had humans arrived in the Americas earlier than standard textbooks claim, but they had pushed far into the interior of North America some 10,000 years earlier than the 13,000-years-ago date that had until recently been accepted by mainstream archaeology.

Truly, White Sands is a special place.

For my forty-third birthday on November 12, 2021, Sean and I spent the whole day exploring the Park, the third birthday I’ve now spent in the Chihuahuan Desert.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Chihuahuan Desert Magic

The western escarpment of the Guadalupe Mountains

On the afternoon of Sunday, November 7, Patrick and I wrapped up our day at Guadalupe Mountains National Park with very special desert vista before continuing on Bold Bison’s intense Texas video shoot adventure in El Paso. The unexpected magic of that evening would set a tone for the rest of the week as I explored—largely alone—this metropolis at the far western edge of Texas and got to know it and its art scene a little better.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: El Capitan/Salt Basin Overlook Trail

It wasn’t much past dawn on Sunday, November 7 [2021] when Patrick and I pulled into the parking area of Pine Springs Visitor Center at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. On this day off in our very busy Texas video shoot, we wanted to do a hike or hikes in the Park. Neither of us was particularly keen for the elevation gains we’d need to get up into the Park’s high country, so we opted for a front country hike: the El Capitan/Salt Basin Overlook loop. It was long at 11.5 miles, but its elevation gain was modest, and it was rated “moderate” by the Park Service, so it sounded perfect. It ended up being a very tough hike.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Return to the Desert

El Capitan

On Halloween morning, a Sunday in 2021, Patrick and I began our roadtrip from Chicago to Texas. The previous spring, the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) had engaged us in work to enhance communications capacity for nonprofit land trusts in Texas. Over the summer, we had delivered a series of online workshops in storytelling, messaging, and video, available to any LTA member land trust in Texas for free. Then LTA staff selected seven organizations, representing the diversity of the state’s landscapes and a range of conservation work, for more intensive work. While a video about conservation in Texas would be the final deliverable, it was actually not truly the point of the project. In the course of making the video, we’d be capturing far more interviews and videos than we’d include in the final reel. All that material would be available for the organizations to use.

And so Patrick and I went to Texas.

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Southwest 2021: Planning

White Sands National Park

In November 2021, the Land Trust Alliance sent Bold Bison (my business partner, Patrick, and me) to Texas for ten days to conduct thirty-three video interviews with the staffs, boards, and supporters of seven land conservation organizations (land trusts) across the state. This whirlwind trip took us to Plano, Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso with the ultimate goal of a video portrait of conservation work across the Lone Star State.

The business trip’s conclusion at the far western tip of Texas coincided with the approach of my birthday. So Sean and I decided to roll my being in El Paso with a birthday trip to White Sands National Park and a long weekend in Santa Fe. I hoped to pick up a few other Park Service sites while we were there (Pecos National Historical Park, Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve, Petroglyph National Monument).

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