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JEMEZ MOUNTAINS

The Jemez Mountains are a source of solace for me. It doesn’t take long to get there from my front door and there are numerous activities or sights to choose from. When showing out of town visitors around, I typically stay fairly close to Highway 4. The terrain changes dramatically every few miles, the loop back through Santa Fe can be completed in a day, and there are numerous points of interest along the way regardless of personality type. For adventures originating in Santa Fe or Albuquerque, it is the ideal day trip.

 

Driving from Albuquerque towards Cuba, take a right on Highway 4 in San Ysidro. San Ysidro is a farming community, established in 1699. If you are interested in roadside peculiarities, stop at C&W Feed Store to see their taxidermy collection. They have most of the fauna of New Mexico…stuffed. It is disturbing, a bit macabre, but impressive. The San Ysidro church, with vibrant blue doors and the mountains in the background, provides a preliminary photo opportunity.

 

About a mile after Jemez Pueblo, you will pass Walatowa Visitor Center and the Red Rocks. The Red Rocks provide a fantastic study of contrasts, with the brilliant red, iron laden, stone set against an electric blue sky (usually). If you haven’t had fry bread or a Navajo taco, the vendors that set up stalls at the base of the cliff can rectify that, providing carb rich fuel for your adventure. Depending upon what you have in mind, the gas station at Walatowa provides one of the last opportunities to get gas until you get to Los Alamos, White Rock or Cuba.

 

Gilman Tunnels are a few miles beyond the Red Rocks on State Road 485, which will be a left off of Hwy 4 when heading north. The tunnels,in the Guadalupe River Box canyon, were blasted in the 1920s for a logging train. The road continues beyond the tunnels, becoming Forest Road 385 (unpaved but usually in good condition). There are numerous opportunities for roadside camping along the route, including some primo locations next to the river. Wild turkeys, deer and elk sightings are normal. Bigfoot sightings are also remarkably normal. The road eventually intersects State Road 126 with access to Fenton Lake to the west or La Cueva to the east.

 

Alternately, by skipping Gilman tunnels and staying on highway 4, Jemez Springs is the next town beyond Walatowa. With numerous small art galleries, Los Ojos Saloon, the Highway 4 café, the Jemez Stage Stop, Giggling Springs and Jemez Monument, there are several good reasons to stop in Jemez Springs. Los Ojos is a long time favorite of mine, with logs rather than stools at the bar. A set designer wouldn’t have to do much for this place to work for a western. The food is tasty, the beer selection includes several local craft beers, the patio is a fantastic place to hang out with friends and the weather is typically cooler than Albuquerque.

 

Jemez Monument in Jemez Springs is the site of a 500 year old village, Giusewa, occupied by the ancestors of the present-day inhabitants of Jemez Pueblo (Walatowa). The name Giusewa refers to the natural springs nearby. The Spanish built the San José de los Jemez church in the 1620s. The church, and the priest, didn't fare well in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, but the ruins of the church are impressive.

 

Soda Dam is a few miles north of Jemez Springs. Water has been flowing from underground hot springs for centuries. The buildup of mineral deposits has formed a spectacular natural dam that blocks the Jemez River. On the side of the road opposite the dam there is hot mineral water seeping out of the rocks, forming deep pools of warm water that many people don’t notice. There is also a small cave in the arch where the water seeps from the ceiling, pooling in a mineral bowl that has been created over the centuries. In the winter the water emits enough heat to create steam, which kind of makes it look like a breathing dragon. I may have an active imagination. Soda Dam is one of the most photographed features in the Jemez.

 

Battleship Rock is a sheer cliff that rises above the Jemez River like the prow of a ship. The cliff is peppered with obsidian created from volcanic eruptions 5 million years ago. The trailhead at the base of the cliff leads to beautiful, large mineral springs about three miles in. From late spring through fall it is a good idea to remember first aid basics, particularly a snake bite kit. There are rattlesnakes in many of the prime hiking areas.

 

A few miles beyond Battleship Rock is parking for Spence Hot Springs, a more accessible and popular place for a soak, though my least favorite…possibly due to the popularity. We have always referred to it as "Herpes Springs" due to the traffic and potential for bacteria rich cooties. Furthermore, the strange encounters at Spence Hot Springs would serve as fodder for dozens of blogs...human, not wildlife. There are so many hot springs to choose from in the Jemez. The more you are willing to sweat to get to them, the more likely you will have privacy for your moment of zen.

 

When you get to the stop sign at La Cueva, left on 126 heads to Fenton Lake, right continues on Highway 4. Jemez Falls is about 3 miles beyond La Cueva. The river drops 70 feet through a spectacular series of falls. There is camping available and numerous trails both at the falls and nearby.

 

A few miles beyond Jemez Falls, tucked into the Jemez River’s upper canyon, is Las Conchas Trail and campground. This is a good area for hiking, mountain biking, camping and rock climbing. The Cattle Wall, with a parking area on highway 4, usually has climbers scrambling up the face. It isn’t the only option in the area. There are 9 different crags strewn across a mile along the East Fork of the Jemez River, offering a variety of sport routes for climbers. The cliffs in the area are volcanic rhyolite. Most of the climbing routes are bolted, with a few traditional climbs available, ranging from 30 to 60 feet in height.

 

A few miles beyond Las Conchas campground is the turnoff to the Valles Caldera National Preserve. This area has always been one of my favorite places in the Jemez, though exploring wasn’t possible until recently, because it was part of the 89,000 acre Baca ranch.

 

The Caldera is 13.7 miles wide. There are hot springs, streams, fumaroles, natural gas seeps and volcanic domes throughout the area. Evidence of the different types of volcanic activity is visible in all directions; one valley scattered with fossil  remnants from an ancient volcanic lake, the next valley littered with obsidian. They recently started allowing 8 cars a day to book access to the back roads. They will allow an additional 8 cars in per day on a first come, first serve basis. This does not apply during elk season when the back country is utilized by over enthusiastic hunters. Be warned that storms occur daily, usually in the afternoon. The back roads don’t always remain intact when it rains, with flash flooding common. 4 wheel drive is advisable for exploring roads within the caldera. The views, the solitude, the lack of power lines, the lack of humans make this area both magnificent and intimidating, especially when you consider that the adventure is in occuring in New Mexico's answer to Yellowstone.

 

The drive from the Valles Caldera towards Los Alamos is beautiful, descending rapidly at the end, with several incredible photo opportunities, but limited options to pull over. It is common to see wildlife, including deer, elk, and bear, along this route. The vast meadows of the Caldera give way to rocky crags as you descend towards Los Alamos. At the junction of Highway 4 and 501, stay on Highway 4 unless you need amenities, snacks, gas, or a visit to Los Alamos Labs. Bandelier National Monument is on Highway 4, a few miles beyond the 501 junction.

 

Bandelier National Monument consists of 33,000 acres of beautiful canyon and mesa country as well as ruins of an 11,000 year old civilization. Petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, and masonry walls pay tribute to the early days of a culture that continues to thrive in the surrounding communities. With numerous trails, a fantastic visitor center, picnic areas and cliff dwellings to explore, Bandelier is a good destination unto itself.

 

Highway 4 from Bandelier to White Rock descends through canyons with interesting rock formations and less vegetation. White Rock Overlook is easy to miss. The overlook is at the end of a road that goes through a sport complex in a suburban area. It is marked. The view from the overlook is amazing, with waterfalls cascading into the canyon on the left, the Jemez in the background, the flat topped mesas to the north, the mountains of Taos and Santa Fe to the right, the Rio Grande below and the mountains of Albuquerque to the south. It is a truly spectacular view, with opportunity to walk out to the precipice for stalwart individuals.

 

The fastest way back to Albuquerque is to continue on Highway 4 back to State Road 84 north of Santa Fe, heading south to I-25. Of course there is an enormous number of things to do on this route as well, but that’s another trip. Drive safe.

Valles Caldera

Campsites

Highlights

Mailing Address

18161 Highway 4

Jemez Springs, NM 87025

Physical Address

Valle Caldera National Preserve

39201 New Mexico Highway 4

Jemez Springs, NM 87025

(575) 829-4100

Email

info@vallescaldera.gov

Phone

(505) 661-3333, #3 for visitor center

The main entrance is open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Severe winter weather may impact operating hours. Please visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve's website for the most up-to-date information.

 

Summer Season

Sunday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Monday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Tuesday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Wednesday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Thursday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Friday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

Saturday: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM

 

Winter Season

Sunday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Monday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Tuesday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Wednesday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Thursday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Friday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Saturday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Once you take the turn off on Highway 4 at San Ysidro cell phone reception tends to be spotty until you get to Jemez Springs, at which point you can occasionally get a signal if you pray, assume awkward yoga stances to find the reception and don’t move while talking. The best signal that I have gotten is at the ranger station in the middle of Valle Grande at the Caldera Visitor Center.

 

Jemez Falls Campground

Located in a stunning Ponderosa Pine and forest meadow environment in proximity to the East Fork Jemez River.

San Antonio Campground

San Antonio Campground is adjacent to the San Antonio River, tucked into a forest of ponderosa pine at 7,600 feet above sea level.

Vista Linda Campground

Located in the scenic San Diego Canyon, with spectacular red rock canyon and mesa views.

Redondo Campground

Ponderosa Pine meadow environment within the Jemez National Recreation Area. Convenient to the Valles Caldera and Bandelier.

Fenton Lake State Park

No wake lake, camping, equestrian trails/camping, fishing, hiking.

Clear Creek Campground

Local streams and the San Gregorio reservoir provide fishing opportunities for anglers, and hikers will delight in the many hiking opportunities in the nearby San Pedro Parks Wilderness.

Nacimiento Campground

Primitive camping along the stream is allowed. Hike along the Rito Anastacio or the Los Pinos Trail, views of Nacimiento Peak, Perchas Trail, Pajarito Mountain and San Gregorio Reservoir Dam. Free!

San Ysidro

This is the turnoff to Hwy 4 if you are coming from ABQ. Odd taxidermy collection at the corner store. Picturesque church. Slow your speed. Expect to lose cell phone reception momentarily.

Walatowa

Red cliffs due to iron. Nice little museum. Las opportunity for gas or phone calls. There is a picnic area near the vendors, with outstanding indian tacos available (and other things...I only care about the tacos).

Gilman Tunnels

Blasted in the 1920s for logging trucks, this narrow route passes through the box canyon to fantastic camping and picnic options beyond.

Fenton Lake

Fishing, camping, hiking at this popular little mountain lake. Take a left at La Cueva from Highway 4 rather than continuing on 4 towards the Caldera.

San Gregorio Reservoir

Between Fenton Lake and Cuba San Gregorio is a small reservoir in a beautiful alpine setting. Gorgeous hiking trails that aren't challenging. Primitive camping. A walk is involved. Be prepared to pack out  trash.

Jemez Springs

A tiny town with a lot to offer, including several good food options and multiple hot spring options.

Jemez Monument

Ruins of Giusewa and the Spanish Mission, San Jose de los Jemez. Well worth the $3 admission, though if you are feeling cheap, Sundays are free for locals.

Soda Dam

A geologic wonder formed by thousands of years of mineral deposit from a hot spring.

Battleship Rock

A sheer cliff that rises suddenly above the Jemez river like the prow of a ship. Great trail leading to much less populated hot springs. About 2.5-3 miles in with a fair amount of climbing.

Spence Hot Springs

Most accesible hot springs. Heavy traffic.

Jemez Falls

At an altitude of 7,880 ft above sea level, the Jemez river drops 70 feet through a spectacular series of falls.
Las Conchas Trailhead

Gorgeous trail following the river, with trailhead parking on hwy 4, about a mile from the caldera.

Cattle Wall

Popular rock face for climbers.

Valles Caldera

New Mexico's resident super volcano is a 13 mile expanse of meadows and forest covered hills.

Bandelier

There are ruins, cliff dwellings, developed campsites, group camping, and backcountry hiking and camping,

White Rock Overlook

Incredible view of the Rio Grande valley from ABQ to Taos tucked into a suburban sports park in White Rock.

Los Alamos

Where research becomes ideas and ideas become reality. Birthplace of the Manhattan Project, among other things.

Museum

Lodging

Trails & Hot Springs

Bradbury Science Museum

Explore the science that created the community, from the early days of Atomic research and the Manhattan Project  to the premiere research facility that exists today.

Related

THE VALLES CALDERA

New Mexico's supervolcano in the Jemez Mountains is a fantastic place to explore. There are activities for outdoor enthusiast and an intense geologic past for the geek inclined.

WHITE ROCK OVERLOOK

Near Los Alamos and Bandlier, this is a view you don't want to miss! An inconspicuous turnoff in a suburban sports park leads to a spectacular view of the Rio Grande Valley.

KASHA-KATUWE | TENT ROCKS

Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe on Cochiti Pueblo, the volcanic tuff and slot canyons of the Jemez volcanic field are a local favorite for hiking and glorious views.

Recent

PECOS PUEBLO

Pecos Pueblo was at the crossroads of the trade routes between the pueblos, the plains tribes and the tribes further south. It was one of the largest pueblos in New Mexico when the Spanish arrived.

WHITE SANDS

This glistening white gypsum dunes are leftover from the ancient Permian Sea. For a uniquely New Mexico experience, go sledding and watch the sun set at White Sands.

CHALUPAS EL PARAGUA

Based in Espanola for 50 years, El Paragua has helped define northern New Mexico's cuisine. This tasty chicken chalupa is a perfect lunch or dinner entree. All four food groups on a corn tortilla.

Places to Go

WORLD HERITAGE SITES

With three of the nation's UNESCO World Heritage sites and White Sands being considered as a fourth, New Mexico

SPACEPORT AMERICA

Though Virgin Galactic hasn't initiated their orbital flights yet, the amazing facility and visitor center is now open to the public. Located near Truth or Consequences, Spaceport America provides insight into the future of space travel.

KASHA-KATUWE | TENT ROCKS

Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe on Cochiti Pueblo, the volcanic tuff and slot canyons of the Jemez volcanic field are a local favorite for hiking and glorious views.

Recent

PECOS PUEBLO

Pecos Pueblo was at the crossroads of the trade routes between the pueblos, the plains tribes and the tribes further south. It was one of the largest pueblos in New Mexico when the Spanish arrived.

WHITE SANDS

This glistening white gypsum dunes are leftover from the ancient Permian Sea. For a uniquely New Mexico experience, go sledding and watch the sun set at White Sands.

WORLD HERITAGE SITES

With three of the nation's UNESCO World Heritage sites, there is plenty to explore of natural and cultural significance. Other sites, like White Sands, are exempt due to military significance.

Places to Go

WORLD HERITAGE SITES

With three of the nation's UNESCO World Heritage sites and White Sands being considered as a fourth, New Mexico

SPACEPORT AMERICA

Though Virgin Galactic hasn't initiated their orbital flights yet, the amazing facility and visitor center is now open to the public. Located near Truth or Consequences, Spaceport America provides insight into the future of space travel.

KASHA-KATUWE | TENT ROCKS

Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe on Cochiti Pueblo, the volcanic tuff and slot canyons of the Jemez volcanic field are a local favorite for hiking and glorious views.

New Mexico Nomad

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YOU'RE ON THE LIST!

The Jemez Mountains are a source of solace for me. It doesn’t take long to get there from my front door and there are numerous activities or sights to choose from. When showing out of town visitors around, I typically stay fairly close to Highway 4. The terrain changes dramatically every few miles, the loop back through Santa Fe can be completed in a day, and there are numerous points of interest along the way regardless of personality type. For adventures originating in Santa Fe or Albuquerque, it is the ideal day trip.

 

Driving from Albuquerque towards Cuba, take a right on Highway 4 in San Ysidro. San Ysidro is a farming community, established in 1699. If you are interested in roadside peculiarities, stop at C&W Feed Store to see their taxidermy collection. They have most of the fauna of New Mexico…stuffed. It is disturbing, a bit macabre, but impressive. The San Ysidro church, with vibrant blue doors and the mountains in the background, provides a preliminary photo opportunity.

 

About a mile after Jemez Pueblo, you will pass Walatowa Visitor Center and the Red Rocks. The Red Rocks provide a fantastic study of contrasts, with the brilliant red, iron laden, stone set against an electric blue sky (usually). If you haven’t had fry bread or a Navajo taco, the vendors that set up stalls at the base of the cliff can rectify that, providing carb rich fuel for your adventure. Depending upon what you have in mind, the gas station at Walatowa provides one of the last opportunities to get gas until you get to Los Alamos, White Rock or Cuba.

 

Gilman Tunnels are a few miles beyond the Red Rocks on State Road 485, which will be a left off of Hwy 4 when heading north. The tunnels,in the Guadalupe River Box canyon, were blasted in the 1920s for a logging train. The road continues beyond the tunnels, becoming Forest Road 385 (unpaved but usually in good condition). There are numerous opportunities for roadside camping along the route, including some primo locations next to the river. Wild turkeys, deer and elk sightings are normal. Bigfoot sightings are also remarkably normal. The road eventually intersects State Road 126 with access to Fenton Lake to the west or La Cueva to the east.

 

Alternately, by skipping Gilman tunnels and staying on highway 4, Jemez Springs is the next town beyond Walatowa. With numerous small art galleries, Los Ojos Saloon, the Highway 4 café, the Jemez Stage Stop, Giggling Springs and Jemez Monument, there are several good reasons to stop in Jemez Springs. Los Ojos is a long time favorite of mine, with logs rather than stools at the bar. A set designer wouldn’t have to do much for this place to work for a western. The food is tasty, the beer selection includes several local craft beers, the patio is a fantastic place to hang out with friends and the weather is typically cooler than Albuquerque.

 

Jemez Monument in Jemez Springs is the site of a 500 year old village, Giusewa, occupied by the ancestors of the present-day inhabitants of Jemez Pueblo (Walatowa). The name Giusewa refers to the natural springs nearby. The Spanish built the San José de los Jemez church in the 1620s. The church, and the priest, didn't fare well in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, but the ruins of the church are impressive.

 

Soda Dam is a few miles north of Jemez Springs. Water has been flowing from underground hot springs for centuries. The buildup of mineral deposits has formed a spectacular natural dam that blocks the Jemez River. On the side of the road opposite the dam there is hot mineral water seeping out of the rocks, forming deep pools of warm water that many people don’t notice. There is also a small cave in the arch where the water seeps from the ceiling, pooling in a mineral bowl that has been created over the centuries. In the winter the water emits enough heat to create steam, which kind of makes it look like a breathing dragon. I may have an active imagination. Soda Dam is one of the most photographed features in the Jemez.

 

Battleship Rock is a sheer cliff that rises above the Jemez River like the prow of a ship. The cliff is peppered with obsidian created from volcanic eruptions 5 million years ago. The trailhead at the base of the cliff leads to beautiful, large mineral springs about three miles in. From late spring through fall it is a good idea to remember first aid basics, particularly a snake bite kit. There are rattlesnakes in many of the prime hiking areas.

 

A few miles beyond Battleship Rock is parking for Spence Hot Springs, a more accessible and popular place for a soak, though my least favorite…possibly due to the popularity. We have always referred to it as "Herpes Springs" due to the traffic and potential for bacteria rich cooties. Furthermore, the strange encounters at Spence Hot Springs would serve as fodder for dozens of blogs...human, not wildlife. There are so many hot springs to choose from in the Jemez. The more you are willing to sweat to get to them, the more likely you will have privacy for your moment of zen.

 

When you get to the stop sign at La Cueva, left on 126 heads to Fenton Lake, right continues on Highway 4. Jemez Falls is about 3 miles beyond La Cueva. The river drops 70 feet through a spectacular series of falls. There is camping available and numerous trails both at the falls and nearby.

 

A few miles beyond Jemez Falls, tucked into the Jemez River’s upper canyon, is Las Conchas Trail and campground. This is a good area for hiking, mountain biking, camping and rock climbing. The Cattle Wall, with a parking area on highway 4, usually has climbers scrambling up the face. It isn’t the only option in the area. There are 9 different crags strewn across a mile along the East Fork of the Jemez River, offering a variety of sport routes for climbers. The cliffs in the area are volcanic rhyolite. Most of the climbing routes are bolted, with a few traditional climbs available, ranging from 30 to 60 feet in height.

 

A few miles beyond Las Conchas campground is the turnoff to the Valles Caldera National Preserve. This area has always been one of my favorite places in the Jemez, though exploring wasn’t possible until recently, because it was part of the 89,000 acre Baca ranch.

 

The Caldera is 13.7 miles wide. There are hot springs, streams, fumaroles, natural gas seeps and volcanic domes throughout the area. Evidence of the different types of volcanic activity is visible in all directions; one valley scattered with fossil  remnants from an ancient volcanic lake, the next valley littered with obsidian. They recently started allowing 8 cars a day to book access to the back roads. They will allow an additional 8 cars in per day on a first come, first serve basis. This does not apply during elk season when the back country is utilized by over enthusiastic hunters. Be warned that storms occur daily, usually in the afternoon. The back roads don’t always remain intact when it rains, with flash flooding common. 4 wheel drive is advisable for exploring roads within the caldera. The views, the solitude, the lack of power lines, the lack of humans make this area both magnificent and intimidating, especially when you consider that the adventure is in occuring in New Mexico's answer to Yellowstone.

 

The drive from the Valles Caldera towards Los Alamos is beautiful, descending rapidly at the end, with several incredible photo opportunities, but limited options to pull over. It is common to see wildlife, including deer, elk, and bear, along this route. The vast meadows of the Caldera give way to rocky crags as you descend towards Los Alamos. At the junction of Highway 4 and 501, stay on Highway 4 unless you need amenities, snacks, gas, or a visit to Los Alamos Labs. Bandelier National Monument is on Highway 4, a few miles beyond the 501 junction.

 

Bandelier National Monument consists of 33,000 acres of beautiful canyon and mesa country as well as ruins of an 11,000 year old civilization. Petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, and masonry walls pay tribute to the early days of a culture that continues to thrive in the surrounding communities. With numerous trails, a fantastic visitor center, picnic areas and cliff dwellings to explore, Bandelier is a good destination unto itself.

 

Highway 4 from Bandelier to White Rock descends through canyons with interesting rock formations and less vegetation. White Rock Overlook is easy to miss. The overlook is at the end of a road that goes through a sport complex in a suburban area. It is marked. The view from the overlook is amazing, with waterfalls cascading into the canyon on the left, the Jemez in the background, the flat topped mesas to the north, the mountains of Taos and Santa Fe to the right, the Rio Grande below and the mountains of Albuquerque to the south. It is a truly spectacular view, with opportunity to walk out to the precipice for stalwart individuals.

 

The fastest way back to Albuquerque is to continue on Highway 4 back to State Road 84 north of Santa Fe, heading south to I-25. Of course there is an enormous number of things to do on this route as well, but that’s another trip. Drive safe.

JEMEZ MOUNTAINS