As mentioned in my first blog, the Jemez Mountains, due north of Albuquerque, NM, is a great place for day tripping. To get there from Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast, (about an hour to the village of Jemez Springs), you will travel north out of Albuquerque to Bernalillo and then take Hwy 550 – (Old Hwy 44) – northwest toward Cuba and San Isidro. In San Isidro you turn right off on Hwy 4 and follow it into Jemez Springs. San Isidro is a speed trap. Be careful there and also as you travel along Hwy 4. You really don’t want to speed though here anyway. There is way too much to see and many great photo ops.
This trip is a fascinating and ever changing barrage of scenery. The one hour drive takes you from the sparse rolling plains west of the Rio Grande, past the Santa Ana and Zia Pueblos, through a little cottonwood valley along the Jemez River, to a steep walled canyon and then a spectacular red rock canyon at Jemez Pueblo. (At Jemez Pueblo, be sure to stop in at their visitor center and also the vendors across the street on the weekends).
There is a turn off to the right just after the Jemez Pueblo that will take you into another canyon that runs parallel to the one that Rt 4 runs through, and if you take this turn you will enter two more villages, Vallecitos and Ponderosa. Stop in at the Ponderosa Valley Vineyards and Winery. Very nice wines!
Back out to Rt 4, you continue to follow along side the river into a blink-and-miss-it village of Cañon, past the bridge to the Gilman Tunnels, (another side trip), and into the Village of Jemez Springs. Stop at the Laughing Lizard or the Los Ojos Saloon for a bite to eat and to wet your whistle. Then, get back on the road where you’ll climb up into the tall pine forest, still following the same river all the way up.
The Jemez Mountains were formed by geothermal activities, and the highest peak, Rodondo, is actually the fallen crest of a volcano that blew off millions of years ago with such a force that it shot boulders into what is now Kansas. Inside this crest is a large meadow called the Valles Caldera, or “The Caldera Valley”. Saying this meadow is large is a bit of an understatement. You may gaze down into it and see that the spots that are moving around are actually herds of Elk. This property was all part of the huge Baca Land Grant, called the Baca Ranch, and the US Government persisted for over five year to purchase this property when it finally went up for sale. It is now a 89,000 acre National Preserve.
This geothermal activity is still present in the form of the many hot springs in this area, including the Jemez Springs Bath House. There are other hot springs, some with a short hike, and some with a longer hike, but all are worth the time to take a soak. Bring your swimsuit. The Anti-Naked Police will give you a ticket if you are not wearing one. Ahhh….what ever happened to the 60s and 70s?
There is a ranger office in Jemez Springs, so be sure to stop in and pick up some trial maps of the area. They also carry a great selection of books and field guides for flora and fauna. Also in the village is Jemez Monument, the ruins of the first Church the Spanish built for the Pueblos in the area in the 17th Century. It was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. The walls of the Church and out buildings remain, and the Catholic Church re-consecrated it a few years ago, so open air weddings and other ceremonies are now held there.
Traveling up the mountain on Rt 4 along the river you will pass the Soda Dam, Battleship Rock and Spence Springs before you meet up with Hwy 126 in La Cueva. At this Junction you may turn left to the Fish Hatchery, Fenton Lake, camping and fishing. If Jemez is your destination overnight or for a few days, there is a fantastic B&B Lodge here in La Cueva called The Elk Mountain Lodge. This inn is rustic and elegant all at the same time. After a day in the mountains you can bed down here with a jacuzzi in your room or a hot tub outside under the pines. Proprietor Terry is a Jemez Mountains travel expert!
Back at the junction, if you turn right the road will take you to Jemez Falls recreation Area, The Culdera/Valle Grande, Bandelier National Monument’s Cliff Dwellings and on to Los Alamos, home of La Bombas – Fat Man and Little Boy.
“The Jemez” is how everyone in Albuquerque refers to this incredible area in our own back yard. You can spend hours, days, weeks and months in the Jemez without ever seeing it all, but you shouldn’t miss it. It is quintessential New Mexico. You’ll really be missing out to overlook the Jemez Mountains.
I know the best things to do in Albuquerque!
Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!
Tags: Bandelier National Monument, Gilman Tunnels, Jemez, Jemez Monument, Jemez Pueblo, Los Ojos Saloon, NM Pueblos, NM State Parks, Ponderosa Winery, Santa Ana Pueblo, Semez Springs, Valle Caldera, Valle Grande, Wine