VALLES CALDERA by William deBuys and Don J. Usner

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With Don J. Usner

“Bill deBuys and Don Usner have produced an elegant book that captures the beauty of this gem of the American West and tells you how it came to be protected.” —Stewart Udall

In 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Valles Caldera Preservation Act, a visionary piece of legislation that transferred to the public domain a privately owned ranch in northern New Mexico. This book tells the natural and human history of the preserve, presents photographs of its splendour, and outlines the unique administrative experiment now underway to manage its public lands.

  • We were not in a hurry, and we drove slowly — fifteen, maybe twenty miles and hour. We stared down the bright tunnel that the headlights bored into the night and listened to the hum of the engine, speaking little. Everything seemed right, yet something felt odd. A kind of shimmer seemed to hover just outside the tunnel of headlights. I looked out the side window and saw nothing — my eyes, accustomed to the headlight glare, were unadjusted to the darkness. Still, there seemed to be movement in the land, as though flecks of moonlight were rising and falling on dark waves. Terry had noticed it, too, and was casting glances to the side.

    "Terry, is there something out there?"

    "I don’t know. Seems like maybe there is."

    I rolled down my window. Cold air poured in, and I peered hard into the night. Yes, now I could see a little more. Yes, I could discern the vague outline of bodies beside us moving in the darkness, rising and falling in a rocking motion, keeping pace with the truck. The nearest were almost close enough to touch. They cantered a few arm’s lengths away, on the far side of the road ditch. And beyond them, there were more, and then still more beyond those. There was no telling how far the rocking mass of bodies extended. They were like dream shapes, pitching up and down as they ran, moonlight glinting here on an eye, there on a shoulder, and there seemed to be as many of them as could fit within the limited range of my senses, which made the mass of them seem infinite, as though they could have stretched away into the night for as far as there was room to run. And then, from beneath or beyond the drone of the truck, I began to hear a separate sound. A sound of drumming. It was the sound of their hooves, the hooves of an entire herd of elk, not pounding because elk do not run heavily as horses do, but pattering like a steady rain on a canvas roof, and there seemed to be as many hooves as there are raindrops in a storm.

  • The federal acquisition of the Baca was an extraordinary achievement. It required willing sellers, tireless and top-flight agency work, bi-partisan political commitment, and a colossal sum of money. Perhaps $101 million is not a large amount compared to the purchase of attack aircraft or the operation of a naval squadron, but relative to normal government expenditures for conservation lands, it is exorbitant.... In order for such a large appropriation to have been made for the benefit of so small a state as New Mexico, two conditions had to be met. First, New Mexico had to have political clout far out of proportion to its small population, and this the state had in the person of Senator Pete V. Domenici, a Republican then in his fifth term in the Republican-controlled Senate and beyond question one of the most powerful New Mexican delegates to Congress in the history of the state. Second, there had to be the perception that the nation could afford large gifts to itself, and briefly in the last years of the Clinton administration, this also was the case — so much so that in the presidential campaign of 2000, the question of what to do with the newly achieved budget surplus became a hotly debated issue (albeit soon erased by tax cuts and war). Added to these vital assets was the personal commitment of President Clinton, which elevated purchase of the Baca to the status of a first-rank national priority. Taken together, all of these favorable conditions make clear that the completion of the project depended upon an alignment of political planets that is seldom achieved.

  • "The Valles Caldera is dear to my heart. In the 1960s I directed the National Park Service to undertake a study of it. The result was a recommendation and an effort — in vain, it turned out — to acquire this magnificent property as a national park. Ultimately, in 2000, the dream of public ownership finally came true, and now Bill deBuys and Don Usner have produced an elegant book that shows the caldera to be a true gem of the American West and tells you how it came to be protected." —Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior 1961-1969

    "This book is a must-read for fans of the natural world. DeBuys and Usner have teamed up to create an inspiring book about one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in New Mexico — the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Both involved since the inception of this exciting and innovative experiment in land management, they tell a wonderful story of how the preserve was initiated and articulate, in words and images, a vision for its future." —Ray Powell, Jr., New Mexico Commissioner of Lands, 1993-2002, 2011-2014