I love going into the Jemez Mountains any time of the year but especially in the Autumn. We had a pretty day this weekend with a forecast of several days of rain on the way so I took myself up into the Jemez for an afternoon. I was not disappointed. I took a left off of highway 4 past the Jemez Pueblo and headed up Rio Guadalupe Canyon. The red-rock cliffs and the deep gorge are the first hints of what lies ahead. It is a small and narrow road, and it becomes narrower and one-lane as you continue up the canyon. This is a few weeks before Halloween and the few houses you encounter are decked out in seasonal decorations. Halloween in these parts is often eclipsed by Dia de Los Muertos so sometimes you have to look twice to see what the decorations are for. Kids would have quite a hike to go door-to-door for trick or treating around here.
The Rio Guadalupe is a small trickle of a river that flows into the Jemez River. Both would qualify as creeks almost anywhere else but this is desert country and we stretch the definition a little. By the looks of the canyon there must be a lot of water moving through here sometimes.
The Rio Guadalupe Canyon is very pretty but rather remote and not so easy to find unless you are looking for the Gilman Tunnels. These hard-rock tunnels have a long history and once carried a rail line before surrendering to the current narrow paved road. You might have seen the Gilman Tunnels if you saw Russell Crowe’s fairly recent version of “3:10 to Yuma” (2007). There was a scene involving railroad workers building a rail line through a tunnel. Gilman Tunnels served as the location for those shots.
There are trout in the Rio Guadalupe but I haven’t fished there. It doesn’t look too easy getting down to the water but there are a few wide spots on the road where fishermen park and climb down to the water. I saw a few spots were access appeared to be easier so maybe I’ll try it someday.
Climbing up out of the canyon, the paved road gives out but the gravel road is well tended and actually wide enough for cars to pass. There are a number of campsites and spots for horse trail rides — just wide spots and a few clearings. There were several campers enjoying the October weekend. Fall colors here do not conform to anyone’s schedule. You see it when you see it. The hillsides are colorful in some places but not others – the microclimates reign more than calendars.
Some of this is open range for cattle and I’ve come across some fall cattle drives before on some of these roads as they move the herds out of the mountains. The cattle have right of way and fifty head of cattle can pretty much take possession of the road….they move in small groups, not what you see on TV westerns. The cowboys…often cow-old-men…keep things under control. We must have missed a cattle drive by about an hour but came up on workers loading cattle trucks for the ride out of the mountains….well played, cows, you get to ride.
The road climbs over a divide and down into the San Antonio Creek drainage. The Jemez Mountains are all volcanic in origin. Valles Caldera is just a couple miles to the north and much of what you see as rock outcrops is consolidated volcanic ash – tuff — ejected as the volcanoes erupted many eons ago. The place is still influenced by fire as there are frequent forest fires up in the Jemez Mountains.
It is common to see blackened stumps and scorched timber covering some of the peaks. The Aspens seem to fare better after a fire. From what I’ve seen it looks like the Aspens are among the first trees to come back. I think I read that Aspen groves are really one large organism with the individual trees being connected underground in a network of roots. That may be a way to survive when disaster strikes.
There will be snow up here in a few weeks and the roads will largely be off limits until spring. If I’m going to fish these small streams I need to get back up here in a hurry.
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