13 May 2012

Sidetracked: Cave of the Winds, Los Alamos

Posted by Jessica Ball

Well, I had planned to work on my Bancroft posts this week, but in all the packing hoopla I realized that I left my field notes in Buffalo, which doesn’t help me much while I’m here in Los Alamos. So you’re just going to have to settle for some photos from the hike I took yesterday along the Quemazon trail to the Cave of the Winds. In case you ever want to take this hike yourself (it’s fun!), here’s the trail:

The Cave of the Winds is located at the red star on the Quemazon trail at lower left.

The whole trail travels over the Bandelier Tuff (I think it’s the Tshirege Member here), towards Los Alamos Canyon. The cave itself, which seems to have been hollowed out of the tuff (UPDATE: it might actually be in a dacite flow that’s supposed to show up in the canyon; I’ll have a look at the geologic map and report back on this) by natural and human activity, is a few dozen meters down from the eastern rim of the Canyon.  It’s a relatively short hike, but it gains about 400 feet (120 m) in about  1 km, so it can be steep at times. The trail itself is really beautiful, though. The trip was led by one of the members of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC), which sponsors trial hikes of all kinds. This one was mainly about the history of the trails , but PEEC also runs geology hikes.

Looking down on Los Alamos National Laboratory from the lower part of the trail.

Looking uphill to the west. The landscape here is still recovering from the Cerro Grande fire, which happened more than a decade ago.

Looking east down the Los Alamos Canyon at the Omega Bridge (which connects the lab to the rest of the town).

Some wildflowers along the way. Everything was blooming!

The entrance to the cave. It's a steep climb down, but not too difficult; the tuff gives you lots of handholds.

The Cave of the Winds is actually very small – just one chamber that dead-ends a few dozen meters in. There doesn’t seem to have been much evidence of water here (it’s a very dry cave and there are no speleothems), so I’m guessing it’s just a crevice in the tuff that was enlarged a bit by other processes. Our guide mentioned that it was used by the campers at the Los Alamos Ranch School, and undoubtedly homesteaders and people traveling the trails here knew about it before that.

Entrance to the cave.

Don't worry, it's just a false alarm.

Not really much to see here, but it's evident that there have been cave-ins from time to time. There was quite a bit of rubble to walk over.

Once we hauled ourselves up the side of the canyon again, it was time to get moving before the afternoon rainstorms arrived. (I was quite happy to see the rain, because it meant less of a chance of wildfires. If you read about my visit last summer, you’ll remember that I’m not a fan.)

Looking west up Los Alamos Canyon from just above the cave.
It was getting pretty dark out there, but the rain held off just long enough for everyone to get back to the trailhead. Flash floods are a major issue here now that a lot of the vegetation has been lost to wildfires.
On some parts of the trail, you can see ruts in the tuff which (according to our guide) were created by wooden sledges used by early homesteaders and traders.
Indian paintbrush was blooming all over the place – it’s one of my favorite wildflowers, and it looks especially vivid against the drab tuff.
After the rain, we were treated to a beautiful rainbow over the town.

So, I didn’t quite get to the posts I was planning on, but hopefully I can reconstruct enough of my field notes to make a start of it while I’m out here. Of course, the reason I’m out here is to bury myself in some serious numerical modeling, so blogging will have to be secondary to that. We’ll see!