National preserve in New Mexico expands land holdings

JEMEZ SPRINGS, N.M. (AP) — A national preserve in northern New Mexico that is sometimes referred to as the “Yellowstone of the Southwest” has added another piece of property to its land holdings that contains sulfuric acid hot springs, volcanic fumaroles and steaming mud pots.

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The National Park Service announced this week that it recently completed the purchase of a 40-acre (16-hectare) parcel known as Sulphur Springs within the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

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, officials said. The acidic pools and streams in the area also are home to a range of “extremophile” algae and bacteria.

Acquiring Sulphur Springs was critical to protecting the breadth of geothermal features within the preserve, officials said.

“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.

The $500,000 purchase was made through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and nonprofit groups.

Public access 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 and eliminates safety hazards.

Sulphur Springs was originally patented in 1898 as a mining claim by New Mexico businessman and politician Maríano Otero. Sulfur was mined at the site from 1902 to 1904 before the Otero family developed the property as a health resort spa, which operated through much of the twentieth century until it burned down in the 1970s.

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 held the property pending the sale to the National Park Service.