Cerro la Jara Showshoe Hike (& Driveabout)- 02/12/2019

My son James came to visit, and to show him some of New Mexico’s mountainous region we headed up NM 4, through San Antonio Canyon and on around to Valles Caldera.  Before reaching La Cueva, we encountered snow which became deeper as we drove up to the rim of the Caldera.  Then down into the Caldera to find it completely blanketed with snow, up to 3 feet deep in spots along the road.  And … the temperature on the Tacoma’s thermometer plummeted from the 30’s up on the rim to -7 degrees in the Caldera.  The road into the Visitors Center had been plowed, so we drove in on the packed solid snow.  All this as an introduction to —

The Hike

Valles Caldera Snowshoe Hike.Pat.2019-02-12
(During our visit the valley was completely covered in snow, not green but totally white.)

After the brief visit the week prior, Pat & I “bulked up” our clothing and gathered our snowshoes to return to Valles Caldera for a ‘snowshoe’ hike. The day was not as cold as the previous visit, between 0 and 10 degrees.  The snow, covering everything, was firm making for easy traversal.  The Ranger in the Visitor’s Center had outlined on a map the trails that were in use, a shorter trail circumscribing La Jara (the mound near the Station) to longer trails that went west to the Cabin District adding up to some 5 miles in length (out and back).

We opted to circumscribe La Jara.  Leaving the parking lot, we didn’t find -a- trail, but rather found tracks of others, using snowshoes or cross country skis, that headed out across the snow field. So we too went “cross country”, rounding the southeast slope of La Jara, heading across the open space to the edge of the forest on the northeast slop of South Mountain, then finishing our route around La Jara.

It was a bright sunny day, the temperature warmed into the teens, and we were comfortable with snow pants and layers of flannel shirt, a sweater, and a warm coat, accompanied by headgear.  Out of the breeze and in the sun, and exerting ourselves across the snow, at times we got hot enough to open our coats for cooling.  Upon returning to the Visitors Center we retrieved our hot chocolate thermos etc. and enjoyed a light lunch in the sun on the deck of the Center.  Twas a great day.


Total Distance:  2.01 nmiles
Elevation: start  8,531 ft, maximum 8,590 ft,  minimum 8,505 ft
Gross gain:  85 ft.  Aggregate ascending  164 ft, descending  174 ft
Maximum slope: 25% ascending, 18% descending, 3% average
Duration: 1:48

GPS Track Files for Download
I urge you to explore our hiking tracks with Google Earth. With the virtual 3-dimensional presentation, achieved by panning and tilting the view, you can get a much better idea of the hikes and terrain than you can get from the 2-dimensional screenshot above. For assistance: Using Google Earth Track Files.


Museum: Bradbury Science Museum
Los Alamos Nature Center: Pajarito Environmental Education Center

Postscript:  A few days later Pat & I headed out for another snowshoe hike in Valles Caldera.  It was another cold day, and going through Los Alamos we saw that it was also a windy day and with snow squalls afoot.  That caused us to abandon our plan to hike, so instead we visited the Bradbury Science Museum and Los Alamos Nature Center – we heartily recommend both to anyone going to or through Los Alamos.

Still with a plan to make the loop on NM 4 (and have pizza in La Cueva), we continued on to Valles Caldera.  There we encountered — strong winds and numerous snow squalls passing through.  At one point in a squall, we could see only a few feet in front of the Tacoma, and otherwise we could not see across the valley.  Shortly the squalls passed, and between them we had amazing views across the valley, areas in full sun broken up by areas shaded by clouds. 

‘Tho not an adventure hiking, we enjoyed the adventure of Mother Natures’ weather. Oh, and we completed our Plan B – a great pizza at Nomad Mountain Pizza in La Cueva, then a beer at Los Ojos in Jemez Springs.  Another great day exploring and enjoying New Mexico.

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