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Valles Caldera Acquires Sulphur Springs Inholding

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

Valles Caldera National Preserve has completed the purchase of a 40-acre inholding known as Sulphur Springs within Valles Caldera National Preserve, a property containing unique volcanic features such as sulfuric-acid hot springs, volcanic fumaroles and steaming mud-pots and supporting a range of “extremophile” algae and bacteria living in the high-temperature acidic pool and stream environments.  

Acquiring Sulphur Springs was critical to protecting the breadth of geothermal features within the preserve, located in the center of the Jemez Mountains volcanic field in north-central New Mexico.  Many of the geothermal features on the property are found nowhere else in New Mexico, and similar sites are very rare in the western United States. The only other places in the United States that have such systems are Yellowstone National Park, WY, Long Valley caldera, CA, Lassen Volcano, CA, The Geysers, CA, and a very small system at Dixie Valley, NV.

As the only place in the State of New Mexico with geothermal features like mud-pots and fumaroles, this site has the potential to become a primary location to educate the public about Valles Caldera’s geologic origins and status as a dormant, but not extinct, volcano,” said preserve superintendent Jorge Silva-Bañuelos. “Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund and support from the New Mexico congressional delegation and our non-profit partners, this acquisition would not have become a reality.”

Public access and visitation to the site will remain limited while the Park Service conducts formal surveys of the property’s natural and cultural resources, restores the site from previous mining activity, eliminates safety hazards, and develops visitor-related infrastructure.

Sulphur Springs was originally patented in 1898 as a mining claim by New Mexico businessman and politician, Maríano Otero, who mined sulfur at the site from 1902 to 1904. The Otero family then developed the site as a health resort spa, which operated through much of the twentieth century until it burned down in the 1970s. The property then passed to several private owners.  In the late 1980s, Los Alamos National Laboratory established an experimental geothermal well on the site, and a small number of residents occupied the property into the early 2000s.  

In 2016, the property was purchased by the Heritage Partnership Trust in a deal facilitated by the National Parks Conservation Association.  Heritage Partnership held the property pending sale to the National Park Service.  Funds for the final $500,000 purchase were provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Park Trust, Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, Cornell Douglas Foundation, an anonymous donor, and Mrs. Frances H. Kennedy, whose contribution was in honor of her late husband, former National Park Service Director Roger G. Kennedy (1993-1997).  

“Valles Caldera is an awe-inspiring example of our treasured public lands and an iconic part of New Mexico’s unique landscape,” said United States Senator Tom Udall, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which oversees annual LWCF funding. “I am grateful for this years-long effort and the many dedicated people who made it possible to integrate the Sulphur Springs property into the wider preserve so that all Americans can appreciate our planet’s rich geologic history. My father, Stewart Udall, helped create LWCF to connect our children with the outdoors and maintain stewardship of our public lands. I fought to permanently reauthorize LWCF last year, and I will continue fighting to ensure this vital program receives permanent funding to preserve our access to places like Valles Caldera for generations to come.”

“I’m so proud to welcome this addition to the National Preserve that will allow visitors to explore and learn more about the unique volcanic geological features you can only find in Valles Caldera,” said United States Senator Martin Heinrich. “I’m pleased that we are protecting these invaluable resources from harmful development. Public access to Sulphur Springs will help cement Valles Caldera’s reputation as ‘New Mexico’s Yellowstone.’ The potential for new educational and recreational opportunities at this site is a great example of why it was so important to transition the Preserve’s management to the National Park Service five years ago. It is also further evidence of the indispensable value of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which also helped the federal government acquire and open up Valles Caldera to the public in the first place. I’m deeply grateful for Valles Caldera’s Park Service leadership, the Heritage Partnership Trust, and all the non-profit partners who worked hard to make this happen.”

“My wife, Kathryn Mullen, and I are pleased we could provide protection of Sulphur Springs from development until the U.S. government could purchase this unique ecosystem,” said Russell Scott of Heritage Partnership Trust. “We are dedicated to protecting wildlands and its wildlife and welcomed the opportunity to be of service to the future of the preserve.”

“We are so gratified to see this rich part of Valles Caldera finally under the protection of the Park Service,” said NPCA southwest regional director Ernie Atencio. “We’ll never have to worry about inappropriate commercial development and can rest easy that these unique geothermal features will be preserved for the enjoyment and education of future generations.”u can share updates about business, trends, news, and more.

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