Day trip to Valles Caldera and Chociti Lake
Since the weather forecast called for yet another gorgeous day, I headed out early this morning on a day trip to visit the Valles Cauldera and then check out the Army Corps of engineer’s campground on Cochiti Lake south of Santa Fe.
I headed west on 502 and then picked up Route 4 to White Rock and then on toward Bandelier National Monument, that of course is closed. Observing signage as I approached Bandelier, apparently you now must take a shuttle bus from park headquarters, about 6 or 7 miles from the park entrance road, and can no longer drive your own vehicle into the park. I assume there must be some good reason for this action, although considering that it is a decision made by our federal employees, that may not necessarily be the case. ( Internet research suggests that flooding, as a result of the severe forest fires in the region, has damaged the parking lots within the park. Replacing the lots would cause undo stress on the park, and since a shuttle has been the long term goal of park planners, this was just the impetus needed to implement the shuttle plan. Further research shows that the shuttle system has had a dramatically detrimental effect on the park’s concessionaires in lost revenue caused by a drop in park attendance. Park officials state that people visiting the park must be “trained” to adapt to the new shuttle service. Hopefully, the park officials will realize sometime in the near future that most people simply do not like the the new policy and as a result, have stopped coming to visit Bandelier. )
My personal objection to the shuttle bus only access is that it pretty much denies me entrance into these facilities, since I carry close to 100 pounds of photo equipment with me in my vehicle, and that can not possibly be taken on a shuttle bus. Thus I have to leave more than 50% of my gear behind when I go into these parks, greatly reducing the chances that I will have what I need to get the shots I may encounter. When I have my vehicle with me, I can return to the car to get something I may need, where with the shuttle system, I can’t.
Strange coyote behavior
Just past the Bandelier entrance road, I encountered a female coyote standing dead center in the center of the road. As soon as I saw her, I slowed down almost to a stop, so she was not terribly alarmed as I approached her, barely moving. When I had gotten about 20 feet from her, she very reluctantly plodded off to the side of the road and stood there, staring at me while I snapped a few shots. She then moved down the road a few yards and again, walked out to the centerline and stood there, not moving. Again, I moved forward, now on the shoulder of the road, until I was almost abreast of her. Once more she reluctantly moved to the far shoulder of the road and stared at me.
I then noticed two more coyotes maybe 40 feet behind her, moving about amongst the sagebrush, but trying to keep out of sight, as would be normal behavior for a coyote. Really puzzled by her odd behavior, I carefully looked around the area to see if there was a carcass or some other food source, a good reason for her to be out in the open like this and not running from a human encounter. I could see nothing. Although this Route 4 is a main road through this area, for whatever reason there was absolutely no traffic coming through at all during this encounter that went on for 5 minutes or more.
Once again, she moved along the shoulder of the road until she was 30 or 40 feet down the road from me and, once again moved out to the centerline of the highway, and just stood there. I continued down the road’s shoulder, this time moving past her without stopping until I was 100 feet down the road from her, where I again pulled off the road and stopped, getting out to observe her next move. And that move was… nothing. She simply stood there in the center of the road, looking around, but never leaving the centerline of the road. Really weird, and I just have no idea what she was doing. Finally a pickup truck came zooming along from the opposite direction, and he had to have seen her in the center of the road, never slowed down, and she just did jump out of the way, barely avoiding getting hit, and finally trotted off to join the other two coyotes in the sagebrush. If anyone can explain this strange behavior, I would love to hear an explanation.
I continued on Route 4 to the Valles Caldera, hoping to get some elk shots and maybe a few bluebirds as well. From the pulloffs along the road, I could spot several herds of black angus, way out in the distance.Taking out my binoculars, I also was able to find a large herd of perhaps 200 elk out in the center of the caldera, not too far from the Visitor’s center. Unfortunately, they were too far out from the road to get a decent photo, even with the long lens. However, it looked like I may be able to get closer by going down to the Visitor’s center. I headed down Route 4 to the Visitor’s center entrance…and found it closed off! The Valles Caldera is now a National Preserve, and as such, shut down by the federal budget impasse. Yea!!, yet once again. So, no elk shots.
Did get a couple of mountain bluebird shots on the fences by the route 4 pulloffs though, so I guess the trip to the caldera was not a complete waste.
I continued on Route 4, down through the Jemez Pueblo and the red rock cliffs surrounding this little tourist trap village, actually, kind of interesting, if you have never stopped there. I then headed south on 550 until it joined 25 north and turned off on 22 and headed north to the Cochiti Recreation Area on the west side of the Cochiti lake, a lake formed by an Army Corps Dam on the Rio Grande River.
This is an extensive Army Corps recreation area with a large picnic area and a separate campground, half of which looks like it is all but brand new. The interior roads and sites are paved and each site has a nice new picnic table with a canopy and electric hookup. The sites are fairly well spaced, level, and there is a combination of backin and pull through sites, most all of which will handle the largest units. It is all out in the open, no trees, and, other than the lake, there is really not a lot else out here, you would have to enjoy the solitude to want to be out here. I think there was only one RV here today when I visited, other than what looked like two campground host sites. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here if I had a week this time of year when I wanted some peace and quiet to read or paint. One thing that really seemed strange as I drove all through the large campground, picnic area, overlook area, and down to the lake shore, was the absolute, complete lack of any signs of wildlife, no rabbits, no squirrels, NO BIRDS even, really weird.
Headed back home via route 22 to route 16 back to 25 north, then 599 around Santa Fe and on to 84/285 north back to the campground.