On Assignment in the Valles Caldera

On a recent assignment for Government Executive magazine, I was shooting a Cover for an article on the Valles Calderas Preserve near Los Alamos, New Mexico. I got the call for the assignment that morning and the editor was keen on late afternoon images of the Caldera under a blanket of snow. As it turned out, that day was the only clear day of weather we had for the whole week. That and the fact that they needed the images in three days total had me scrambling.

I packed up my equipment and drove up to the preserve. When I arrived I met with a Private guide who leads tours in the park and asked permission to cross the fence (and the “no trespassing” signs) so that I could get down to the Jemez River. I got her OK and crossed over the fence a few miles back down the road.

The Preserve is highly criticized in northern New Mexico for its unorthodox limitations. The Preserve still allows cattle grazing, hunting and logging on its land but humans are not allowed to enter the park without a private guide. ( I still have not figured out what they are trying to preserve. It seems everything of economic value on the land is being exploited.) As it turns out the Caldera, which is an ancient extinct volcano that blew it’s top millions of years ago, is home to the third largest elk herd in the lower 48 states. Over 4,000 elk roam the 89,000 acre section of Land.

The “wildlife preserve” sells hunting permits in a raffle every year. Last year, over 4,700 hunters paid $25 per ticket to enter the raffle for the 85 permits given each year to hunt the Elk that reside in the preserve. The park also sells a small number of permits on e-bay each year for the sum of $12,000 to $15,000 per permit.

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