Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Touring the Baca

By Dennis Domrzalski

DECEMBER 14, 1998:  It is immense, magnificent and difficult to comprehend. Winding your way up New Mexico Highway 4 in the Jemez Mountains, you feel cozy and confined. The road is narrow. On either side are thick forests or rock walls. The view is often limited to the road ahead and the sky above. But then it happens. Suddenly it is before you, blasting you with its size and beauty into a state of pleasant stupefaction. It is huge. It's bigger than huge. It is too big to even imagine. It is a valley, a sea of brown so big that a herd of hundreds of cattle way down below looks like a swarm of little brown ants. It is the Valle Grande, a stunningly huge valley formed 1.2 million years ago when a giant volcano erupted and collapsed.

There is no other impulse when you see the Valle Grande but to stop and get out of the car, stand on the side of the road and stare out at it in silent wonder. It is a serene scene-- dreamy, sleepy and peaceful. But even as it caresses your soul into contentment, it subtly conveys to you a sense of nature's raw, unstoppable power.

And like it is with children and snow banks, you want to rush onto the Valle Grande and romp and play in its grass and roll on its ground and walk around it and feel its power.

But you can't. There are "Keep Out" and "No Trespassing" signs and fences that run along its perimeter. For the Valle Grande is part of the 94,000-acre, privately owned Baca Ranch.

However, those signs might soon come down. The ranch's owners, the Dunigan family of Texas, have offered to sell the ranch with its vast grasslands and forested mountains to the federal government. If the sale occurs, the ranch would be opened to the public. So far, Congress has set aside $40 million as a down payment on the property. Estimates of the ranch's value range from $100 million to $200 million. If the feds don't come up with enough money by the end of next year, the ranch could be sold to a private buyer and lost to the public.

In October, Weekly Alibi was allowed to tour the Baca Ranch, thanks to the efforts of the nonprofit National Parks and Conservation Association and the gracious hospitality of the Dunigan family.

This week, through the photographic eye of Jennifer Scott, we share some of what we saw of this beautiful property.

Click here to view the images.

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