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Valles Caldera

Valles Caldera: Spring is in the air

—Margaret M. Nava
Can you feel it? Spring is in the air. And if that’s making you anxious to stretch your legs and shake off the winter blahs, head out to either of the two hiking trails located east of the Valles Caldera National Preserve’s main gate on Highway 4. Open year-round during daylight hours, these trails will get you outdoors where you can breathe in some fresh mountain air and work out all those kinks winter left behind.

The Valle Grande hiking trail, located opposite the parking area at mile marker 42.8, is considered an easy out and back trail. Winding through a dense forest and opening onto the southeast corner of the Valle Grande, this two-mile hike offers a unique opportunity to venture into the quiet end of the valle, where large families of black-tailed prairie dogs and small herds of elk can be seen grazing on tender shouts of grass. Following the melting snow in search of vegetation, the usually antlerless elk bulls are the first to migrate to the area. Later, when there is more to eat, cows and young elk will appear. Prairie dogs, however, are always present.

The longer Coyote Call trail at mile marker 40.8 is a moderate three-and-a-half-mile loop trail that parallels Highway 4 and offers spectacular views across the Valle Grande toward the north rim of the caldera. Depending on how much snow is still around, you can choose to follow the Coyote Call trail to a meadow, where wildflowers might be popping up, or take the scenic two-mile detour to Rabbit Ridge, where you can gaze across a moonscape of rocky felsenmeers. In either direction, you can search for signs of mountain cottontail, coyote, bobcat, and black bear. From the trees, you might hear the calls of juncos, magpies, and ravens, as well as the occasional tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a bald eagle or Peregrine falcon.

While no reservations or fees are required for either of these trails, you should sign in and out at the trailhead registers, stay on designated trails, and “leave no trace” of your presence. Because of unpredictable weather, be prepared for sudden changes by wearing layered clothing (including both rain and snow gear), packing snacks and water, and carrying a first-aid kit. Since cell phone service doesn’t exist in most parts of the area, hiking alone is discouraged. Always advise someone where you are going and how long you plan to be gone. Also note that no open fires, including cooking fires, are allowed on the preserve, smoking is prohibited, and pets (except service animals) are not allowed on the trails.

The Valles Caldera National Preserve is unlike any other recreational facility in the area. Some people say the air is fresher, the skies are bluer, the clouds are whiter, the animals wilder, and the flowers sweeter up there. Why not strap on some hiking boots and find out if they’re right?

For additional information or directions to the preserve, log on to www.vallescaldera.gov, or call (505) 661-3333. For current weather and snow conditions, call the hotline at (505) 216-2690 before venturing out.


Strange, but true

—Bill Sones and Rich Sones, Ph.D.

Q. From a Roaming Shores, Ohio, reader: “I recently read in a prestigious medical journal (well, actually on the back of a Snapple bottle cap) that the average human dream lasts only two to three seconds. I don’t get it. My husband says he never remembers his dreams, but almost every night, I have what seem like long and convoluted dreams that take several minutes to relate (usually to his great chagrin). What gives?”

A. “Most of the Snapple caps I’ve seen are fairly accurate, but the above ‘fact’ is completely wrong,” says Harvard’s Deidre Barrett, author of The Committee of Sleep. Most dreams occur in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, taking place about every 90 minutes throughout the night, so that an average sleeper has five REM periods per night, totaling 90-120 minutes. The first REM is usually slightly under 10 minutes, then subsequent ones grow longer up to about an hour, with the wake-up dream most likely to be remembered. “There is nothing to suggest that we would remember only seconds of our many minutes of dream time.”

In fact, research has found that when people are systematically awakened five, 10, and 20 minutes into REM, the longer they’ve been in this state, the longer is their dream recollection. These studies also suggest that while dreamtime can sometimes be distorted, most dreams are estimated at pretty close to “real time.”

Q. Linguistically speaking, where did bytes, modem, pixels, and blogs get their start?

A. “Bits of eight” shrank to become “bytes,” “modem” came from “modulate/demodulate,” “picture cells” became “pixels,” and, of course, “web logs” became “blogs.” It seems that modern technology is making everything smaller, even our words, says Dean Christopher in Discover magazine.

     

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