If you visit Valles Caldera, plan to stay in a lodge nearby or a campground. Bandelier National Monument has a great, quiet campground and is a wonderful destination itself. It has cliff ruins with ladders that the kids will love, hiking trails, plus a seasonal waterfall. We have always had great experiences there. Be aware that since the Los Conchas fire in 2011, some of the amenities are not open yet. Also, it is a great bear year in the area, with lots of black bear cubs around. Be careful of Mama! She has no sense of humor.
We stayed at Jemez Falls campground this time, which is to the south and west of the entrance to Valles Caldera. There is no water, electric, dump station, and apparently no rangers! We stayed Thursday - Sunday and the pit toilets ran out of paper. They also were not cleaned the whole time we were there. The worst part was the "locals" coming out to party. Quiet hours are 10 - 6, but they were completely ignored. As the evening progressed the talking and yelling got louder. Saturday night, there was a huge fight with people yelling across the campground at each other threatening violence. We couldn't call the ranger because we had no cell reception!
We might go back to this campground in our RV in the fall when there will be a lot less traffic. It is a gorgeous area in the fall and this campground is a quick on/off enroute to Valles Caldera, Hot Springs, and wonderful hiking and rock climbing opportunities all along Hwy 4.
Valles Caldera has not been open to the public for very long. Currently, there are all kinds of rules about driving to the back of the park. For instance, if you are a pre-registered fisherman or hunter you can drive back there but there are all kinds of restrictions. Don't visit until you've looked up their information! They're only open from April until the beginning of October and there are a lot of limitations. For the most part, you can visit the visitors center and hike a couple trails (the pond trail leads to a marsh, not a pond, which only the mosquitoes were happy about), go on a guided tour, or scan the area with a provided scope. I recommend the Magma to Magpies tour, which was only 5 bucks per person. It was a one hour tour and the driver was extremely knowledgeable and excited about the area. We drove in an air-conditioned 16-passenger van to the back of the preserve and got to see quite a few well-preserved old buildings and learned about everything there is to know about a caldera. All of the staff were fonts of knowledge and were extremely friendly and helpful. Later in the evening, we got to see 2 elk herds; one through the scope and the other along the road.
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