I took a day off from my busy schedule (Not!) to go looking for a few fishing spots not too far away and what Jemez Mountains have to offer. I’ve been up there four or five times but never went beyond Jemez Springs. I will be going back again. This is, admittedly, a jumbled account of my day-long trip.
The Jemez River (HEY-mess) and the mountains are named after the local pueblo Indians that live here now and for many generations. The Jemez pueblo is located in the red rocks area as the river flows out of the mountains. The river is small…more of a creek…but it flows a long way, from the Valles Caldera all the way to the Rio Grande. I stopped a few places to look at the river and what the access points were like. It is pretty shallow but reasonably fast in areas. The state stocks Rainbow Trout in the stream a few times a year. Brown Trout can spawn in warmer temperature waters than Rainbows so the Jemez has a small self-sustaining population of Browns.
The pueblo is an interesting place to stop. There are a few places to eat (Dave’s burgers) and a number of Indian vendors located around the highway. They have a nice visitor’s center but they don’t encourage folks to go wandering around the pueblo. I met a lady selling pottery outside the visitor’s center. She said that she was Zuni and her husband was Jemez so some of her pottery will have both Zuni and Jemez designs. The pueblo is a mix of newer structures and older adobe buildings. They have a nice modern school and an impressive Governor’s office which administers tribal affairs. There are maybe a dozen or more old Jemez pueblo ruins in the surrounding mountains but they are unexcavated or else back-filled and not very recognizable or easily accessible. It is not cool to go poking around in these ancestral pueblos. I found a small potsherd out on a hiking trail…not too uncommon…the style is Jemez black on white. Supposedly, this is an earlier style that came with the people when they moved here from Mesa Verde…who knows?
I stopped off at a campground and looked around. There were quite few folks camping and I was happy to see so many tent campers. The river flows right by so that makes it a good fishing spot. There is no electricity so that might be problem. As I was walking around I ran into a lady about my age walking her dog. The dog had been swimming or wading in the river. Her name is Karen and she is a nomad. She has downsized her life to fit in the back of her car and in a small camper. She is not homeless but has chosen to be a nomad and was full of information on the best camping spots in the Jemez Mountains. She moves from place to place but likes the Jemez Mountains and has some friends who let her camp on their property close by for the winter. She said the Jemez Mountains and Ireland are her favorite spots when she is roaming around.
The only actual town to speak of on the road into the mountains is Jemez Springs. It is located in the canyon and is sort of an artsy place with a handful of galleries and studios. There is also a Zen center, a Roman Catholic monastery and other religious centers including, maybe — they say, a witches coven. There are several places to eat as well as a hot spring bath house. This place has a curious history and is a place where folks go on various religious or Zen retreats.
Spence Hot Spring
The bath house in Jemez Springs is a commercial operation. There are “wild” hot springs up in the hills that are undeveloped but frequently used. Spence Hot Spring is one of these remote springs. There is a well developed trail heading to the spring and a parking lot on Highway 4.
The area has a long volcanic history so there are volcanic and thermal features scattered around. Soda Dam is located along the highway and is the site of an old (hot?) spring that no longer flows at this point, thanks to the highway department. Battleship Rock is also in this area…a huge rock face overlooking the canyon.
At the Cueva junction the westerly route will climb up into the mountains and descend to Fenton Lake State Park. This is a fishing lake surrounded by hills, some are covered with burned timber from the Conchas Fire of a few years ago. I ate my picnic lunch of an apple and some Dubliner cheese and crackers. I shared my lunch with a local ground squirrel who apparently expects picnickers to make a contribution to his diet. There is a state fish hatchery a short distance beyond Fenton Lake.
Taking the easterly route at Cueva will follow the highway along the southern edge of Valles Caldera, a relic of a huge volcanic eruption – explosion – of a million years ago. The Valles Caldera is a preserve governed by a federal non-profit that maintains the place and manages access permits. Access, such as fishing and hunting, is limited by special permit. If you get a fishing permit you get sole access to a stretch of stream flowing through the preserve…sort of your private fishing hole…for a day. It is very pretty and there is a sizable elk herd that lives there. The Conchas fire burned clear to the valley floor in some places. You can follow this route all the way to Los Alamos but it’s a long way back from there so I turned around.
San Jose Mission
Just on the north end of Jemez Springs is Jemez State Historic Monument. This is the site of the San Jose de los Jemez Mission, founded in 1621. The mission church is a massive ruin but must have been impressive as a church. There are ruins of many other associated buildings. The Gisewa pueblo that existed at this site has not been excavated and is now a series of low stone mounds that surround the mission. Most of the ruins that are identifiable are from the Spanish period.
The Jemez Indians fared poorly and their numbers dwindled during the Spanish period. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was started by a Jemez Indian who was able to enlist all the other pueblos in the uprising. This was one of the few successful Indian uprisings and the Spanish were expelled from New Mexico for several years. The missions were mostly abandoned or were occupied by the local Indians until the Spanish returned.
Just north of the Jemez Pueblo is the turn off toward the Ponderosa Winery. It is a casual and welcoming place and the wine is good. It’s a welcoming “mom and pop” place. Stop at the winery on the way into the mountains because they could be closed by the time you head back out.
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