Across the Valle Vidal

Valle Vidal Vertebrae

Valle Vidal Vertebrae

I may have had the Rio Grande Gorge all to myself on Memorial Day weekend but the rim was beset with motorcycles. I’ve always liked bikers – they’re generally kind and generous to fellow travelers – but I have a low tolerance for noise. So I headed somewhere I’ve long wanted to go, somewhere I knew would be quiet, even on a holiday weekend: the Valle Vidal in northern New Mexico.

Crossing the Valle Vidal- totally worth the $10 I had to spend at the car wash to get all the mud off the Teardrop!

Crossing the Valle Vidal- totally worth the $10 I had to spend at the car wash to get all the mud off the Teardrop! Those are bison on the right.

The Valle Vidal – Spanish for “Valley of Life” – is a stretch of no man’s land between Costilla and Raton in northern New Mexico. Home to the largest elk herd in the Southwest and all manner of fanged, furry and flying creatures, the Valle Vidal is stunningly beautiful: high open meadows ringed by aspens and ponderosas, lorded over by Costilla Peak.

This place was once home to a number of remote ranches and homesteads, the ruins of which are scattered throughout the region on either side of forest road 1950, which runs for 60 miles from Amalia to near Cimarron. Sure enough, 60 miles of dirt roads were enough to keep out the holiday weekend warriors. I just about had the whole Valle Vidal to myself!

The Ring Ranch

The Ring Ranch

Hanging out at the Ring Ranch. This place was lived in until the 1960's so it's relatively intact.

Hanging out at the Ring Ranch. This place was lived in until the 1960’s so it’s relatively intact.

I thought this might be a horse skull, but I'm pretty sure it's an elk.

I thought this might be a horse skull, but I’m pretty sure it’s an elk.

Bowie says "I can haz elk skull?"

Bowie says “I can haz elk skull?”

The original entrance to the Ring House

The original front door to the Ring House

Like most homesteads, this house was built in stages. The center section here is the original cabin.

Like most homesteads, this house was built in stages. The center section here with the bricked up fireplace is the original cabin.

Homestead Wall

Homestead Wall

The Ring family raised 7 girls on this ranch in the early 1900's.

The Ring family raised 7 girls on this ranch in the early 1900’s.

Ring Ranch Irises

Ring Ranch Irises

Ring Ranch Treasures

Ring Ranch Treasures

An interpretive trail out to the Ring Ranch

Following the interpretive trail out to the Ring Ranch

Of course the markers have ben shot multiple times. This is New Mexico!

Of course all the markers have ben shot multiple times. This is New Mexico!

Other buildings on the Ring Ranch have fallen into ruin

Other buildings on the Ring Ranch have fallen into ruin

The Ring Ranch well

The Ring Ranch well

Another elk skull. The elk hunts in Valle Vidal are legendary. You have to win a lottery to get a permit and then it's a once in a lifetime hunt.

Another elk skull. The elk hunts in Valle Vidal are legendary. You have to win a lottery to get a permit and then it’s literally a once in a lifetime hunt: One permit, per person, per lifetime.

Any guesses what this might be? It was hanging from a tree on the way out to the McCrystal Ranch. Hung with wire, so not really weight bearing. Hmmm...

Any guesses what this might be? It was hanging from a tree on the way out to the McCrystal Ranch. Hung with wire, so not really weight bearing. Hmmm…

After a rainy night at the McCrystal Campground, I set out for the McCrystal Ranch. This remote outpost was once one of the crown jewels of the Valle Vidal. My hiking guidebook said the main house was still standing but I guess a stiff wind blew through at some point since the book was published in 2001.

Mattress springs at the McCrystal Ranch

Mattress springs at the McCrystal Ranch

As I approached the ruins, at the end of a long, overgrown road, I spotted two coyotes in the field in front of the house. They didn’t notice me; they were occupied hunting prairie dogs. One would dig at the end of a burrow while the other lay in wait at the other entrance. I didn’t point them out to Dio, but when he noticed me watching intently, he followed my gaze and found them.

As soon as Dio saw them, both coyotes stopped hunting and looked right at us, as if Dio had sent them some kind of psychic canine message. Then the two coyotes trotted over to the edge of the trees and lay in the shade, watching us, watching them. While I circled the ruins, I had to remind Dio a couple of times to stay with me; he wanted to go meet his coyote cousins, who I could still see through the trees. Once we returned back to the road, the coyotes came out of hiding and resumed their hunt, unfazed by our brief intrusion.

McCrystal D.O.G. My guidebook said this place was still standing but extremely fragile. Guess a strong wind blew through here since it was published!

McCrystal D.O.G.

McCrystal Wagon Wheel

McCrystal Wagon Wheel

Leaving the McCrystal Ranch

The Old Road to the McCrystal Ranch

For more bones, check out my post Bare Bones, Skulls & Skeletons. I do love New Mexico, but it’s time to head farther afield. Next up: southern Utah!

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Cowboys & Horses, Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Across the Valle Vidal

  1. Really fun hike, I enjoyed joining you on it from Philly.

  2. Anne from Maryland says:

    I enjoy reading your blog and following along on your many travels.

  3. I lived in northern New Mexico for a short time and always wanted to visit the Valle Vidal, but never got the chance. Thanks for showing me what I missed out on. The abandoned ranches look fun to explore.

  4. Mary Brinkman says:

    Really enjoy your posts. I think the swinging metal thingy on the chain hung from the tree branch was probably used to supply an insect repellant to the backs of cattle. The metal bar was covered in burlap or some other tough fabric and doused with an oily insecticide.

  5. liseybee says:

    The irises! I couldn’t believe how many I saw near Taos last week.

  6. bubbasuess says:

    I reckon that thin hanging from the tree is there for cos to scratch themselves on. A lot of the ranchers out here in the Shasta Valley have similar contraptions.

  7. dorannrule says:

    Soooo interesting…. the past comes alive in your words and photos.

  8. Intriguing place. Do you know why the ranches were abandoned? Just too hard to make a go of it? I love the photo of the ranch door — great texture! I discovered your blog this winter when I was staying in Arroyo Seco and look forward to returning to New Mexico to do more exploring!

  9. chris339 says:

    Beautiful! I just heard about Valle Vidal from a guy who lives in northern NM, it’s great to see photos of it. Definitely an elk skull (horses have front teeth on top). Would it be possible to get close enough to the bison to record them?

  10. We went camping up in that area in June many years ago, spending the time in a campground at the end of a 30-mile gravel road. Only one other camper was there. We loved the peace and quiet as well as the beauty of the place. We decided to go there for 4th of July, thinking the campground so remote that few would be there. Much to our surprise, when we got there a couple days before the 4th, the campground was overrun with people, horse trailers, loud music, kids playing and riding bikes, dogs barking, cars and pickups in and out stirring up dust. Yikes! We hiked a lot just to get away from the campground. The iris were abundant and beautiful, but we never went back again. Glad your experience was of the peaceful and beautiful sort. Carol

  11. bubbasuess says:

    This is kind of random but fitting, at least in terms of proximity to the Valle Vidal. Have you ever heard of or been to the Canadian River Canyon near Mills? When I was going to gradschool in Texas that was always my first stop on my way home to California during the summer and usually my last stop on the way back to school. It is quite awesome and seems like a forgotten slice of the Colorado Plateau lost out on the High Plains. Super scenic and free and lonely camping!

    http://www.summitpost.org/canadian-river-canyon-mills-canyon/276153

  12. BioBob says:

    That thing hanging from the tree is called a ‘cattle oiler’. They are still in use and for sale today.

    “Help control face flies, horn flies, mosquitoes, ticks, lice and other parasites! ”

    http://www.ottdistributing.com/products/index/category:9

  13. There’s something about those ruins and abandoned buildings that sends a shiver down my spine. Ashes to ashes etc.

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