The drive out to the Bandera Volcano is a very scenic one. Well, not that this entire place isn’t, but it’s more scenic than usual, I’ve found. Lots of mesas and plains that slowly morph into collections of tall Fir and Ponderosa Pine trees that begin twisting the closer you get to the crater itself. The lava makes it difficult for the trees to establish deep roots, so they grow in gnarled, eldritch shapes. It’s a fairly young forest – supposedly the oldest tree in the area is about 700 years old.
As you reach the Old Time Trading Post, where you buy your tickets for the tour ($10 – A BARGAIN. SERIOUSLY), you see two trails on either side. The one on the left leads to the Ice Cave. In the depths of part of a collapsed lava tube, the ice in the pool inside the bottom of the cave itself has an emerald tinge to it. The rocks on the ceiling look almost frostbitten, with rimes of white around the edges of the rocks. The temperature in the cave never rises above 31F year round. The ice itself is approximately 20 feet thick, and according to the guide pamphlet, the deepest ice dates back about 3,400 years.
The walk to the Ice Cave is surrounded on both sides with jagged, broken lava that almost looks like an enormous asphalt truck threw up in places. It buckles up and out from the ground in a jumble. Trees and brush jut out from these flows, proving that nature can grow anything anywhere she damned well pleases.
I chose to take this trail first, wanting to take a moment to get cool before I decided to begin the long trek up to the Bandera Volcano viewing area inside the crater itself. I couldn’t tell you how long it took me to get to either, really. The guide said it was supposed to take about ten minutes to get to the Ice Cave and twenty minutes to get to the volcano viewing point – that taking both walking tours, which you can do on your own, should take about an hour. I think it took me about two hours, what with stopping to catch my breath and taking pictures.
The entire site is almost overwhelming. The enormity of the event that occured here is simply beyond my frame of reference. As I walked up along the outside of the volcano – it’s definitely a hard walk for somebody that isn’t used to the altitude, like myself, I could see more and more of the flow that created the valley off to my left. To the right, the almost sheer surface went up at a very dangerous, but beautiful incline, and the extensive root systems of some of the trees growing out of the sides were slowly being exposed by erosion. The surrounding mountains and other volcanoes (there are apparently about 27 in the entire region), made for wonderful imagery and photography.
The viewing area itself at the edge of ground zero is quite breathtaking. Literally, in my case. Yay, adjusting to altitude! As I looked at the severe inclines that comprised the edges of the volcano, I could almost see a ghostly replay of what had happened as I looked out at the entire vista before me. Standing in the presence of nature boldly growing; eagerly splitting through cracks in the surrounding volcanic rock and ash as it reached out to the sun – it was very life affirming. Very hopeful.
From such destruction and desolation, nature always finds a way. As she should, and as she always will.
Well worth your time to visit, if you find yourself in New Mexico.
Pictures are here.