October 27, 2014, by E. Hoffner
The recent National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque marked an important milestone for the Wilderness Act: it’s been fifty years since this radical idea placed certain areas of the U.S. into a novel management category. To celebrate, Orion helped sponsor the conference, and I made the trip west to be there alongside magazine contributors and friends Terry Tempest Williams and Basia Irland.
But after days of coffee-fueled discussion about the national wildernesses’ status, health, and future, I needed to actually see something wild—and so I drove Highway 25 out of town and charted a course to the Valles Caldera.
To get a sense of the size and significance of the Valles Caldera, a massive geological feature about seventy-five miles north of Albuquerque, imagine a volcanic eruption a million years ago in what is now northern New Mexico. Now picture that that eruption ejected five hundred times the material that Mt. St. Helens did in 1980, leaving a crater visible from space in the heart of the Jemez Mountains.
From a perch of 10,000-plus feet at the crater’s southern rim, I tried to imagine a power that could create a caldera thirteen miles in diameter. I could not. Instead, I munched an apple as a huge flock of bluebirds chatted in the fire-killed trees around me. I fell deep into thought, abetted by a great silence unlike I’d experienced in days, weeks—the occasional hiss of wind through branches and the conversational chirps of the tiny blue dinosaurs were the only sounds. It was perfect.