Jemez River – Fall Colors


The Jemez River flows out of the Jemez Mountains past Jemez Springs and the ruined Jemez Mission (1622) through the Jemez Pueblo lands on its way to join the Rio Grande. I spend as much time up there as I can — it’s not far from my house and the drive is enjoyable. Every part of our country has some expression of  beautiful fall colors but here, in a desert environment, we rely on the cottonwoods for the annual show. There are some aspen groves here and there up in the mountains or the high meadows but the cottonwoods are the big performers.


We are pretty liberal with the title “river” around here. I’ve mentioned this before. I’ve been here two years and my way of looking at it, so far, is if the stream has water in it all year long, and maybe some fish, its a river. If it has water most of the time but might go dry once or twice, it’s a creek. If it is dry most of the year and might have water briefly once in a while after big rains, it’s an arroyo. We seem to have more arroyos than anything else.

The Jemez is a nice little river with some trout but on the day I visited it was running very muddy due to some big rains and the runoff from the fire-damaged mountain slopes way upstream.


The canyon is pretty any time of year and is a very historic area. The local Jemez pueblo Indians have lived here for centuries after a long migration down from the Mesa Verde area many generations ago. The Spanish showed up in the 1600s and built, or more likely had the Indians build, the massive stone mission church and complex in the middle of Gisewa Pueblo, in 1622. The mission church and supporting buildings are in ruins now, surrounded by the ruins of the old pueblo. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish out for a while but when they returned in the 1690s the Jemez people were not happy to see them and there was some hard fighting and reprisals. Walatowa, the current pueblo town, sits next to the Jemez River. The visitor center offers a good deal of information and history of the area.


This is all volcanic geology in the Jemez Mountains and much of the bare rock is consolidated volcanic ash (tuff). There are numerous hot springs and the remains of one of the largest super volcanoes in North America, the Valles Caldera. There is still a lot of heat down below.

One wouldn’t know about the history or geology of the place just looking at the beautiful fall colors. On some weekends the road is clogged with folks taking pictures. One really must get out of the car to enjoy and experience the colors. Walking among the trees gives a very special perspective. I was there on Halloween day and some of the forest was a little bit spooky.


This is a “Bosque” forest…growing up on either side of a stream. The soil is deep on the valley floor and the place is well watered.


Rather than me running my mouth, so to speak, I’ll just post some pictures. I encourage you to visit the area any time but especially near the end of October.




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An Ode to Halloween Season

The Halloween season is here…not to be confused with the Harvest season or the Christmas season or the Thanksgiving season which seem to all run simultaneously these days.  Halloween used to be a kid’s holiday with a little bit of ritualistic charm but now it is a business.

I must be one of the few people who just don’t “get” the modern take on Halloween. I enjoy the change in seasons from summer to fall and the things that we do to prepare for colder weather. Every living thing seems to go through this transition. Cows and horses and even house cats get a winter coat of heavier fur. Birds migrate and butterflies are long gone. I always put on thick layers of supple fat and, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to come off when it gets warmer. We harvest apples and other produce. The trees change color and drop their leaves…which I refuse to rake. At my old house I had a Hickory tree in my front yard and by this time of year it had been dropping its nuts for weeks and the squirrels were having a great time. Its leaves would turn bright yellow and then fall on the next windy or rainy day. We had a bright yellow carpet stretched across the yard.

Okay…but what is it that causes us to celebrate Halloween the way we do. Some folks have gone a little crazy over the holiday. Where one carved pumpkin would be fine, they have a dozen. Houses are decked out in orange Halloween lights. We have several large costume stores that pop up in September like toadstools. People wire their front yards for sound and then broadcast creepy music or ghoulish sounds at night.

I try…really, I do try to get into it but I always see it as something that other people do so it is half-hearted. One year I actually bought a Happy Halloween pennant that hung from my mailbox….just mocking me. I always buy a couple pumpkins and stick them out on the front porch with some other fall decorations but I very rarely will carve a Jack-o-lantern and when I do it always looks happy, with a smiley face. I can’t seem to make them look scary…as evidenced by the picture above.

I actually understand the Day of the Dead thing in Mexico (or New Mexico) or some other Hispanic-culture places. But Halloween seems pointless. We really don’t know where it comes from. We aren’t commemorating dead ancestors or anything like that. Even the old Celtic festival of the same season had nothing to do with the dead or a satanic figure. I know that some churches or church leaders have a dim view of Halloween but I don’t even see the point of that.

Where I live now we don’t have Trick or Treaters because everyone has grown kids  or the houses are too far apart to make it productive — kids figure out the economics of Trick or Treating pretty fast — and we have coyotes and things roaming around in the dark. Where I used to live the only good part of Halloween was the actual Trick or Treat parade that came to the front door. Even my wife would put on her skeleton dangly earrings to greet the kids but that’s as far as she would go.  Years ago the old pagan holiday morphed into a kid’s celebration with costumes and candy. As a kid, I truly enjoyed every year’s trek up and down the street in whatever costume I managed to cobble together lugging my grocery bag full of candy. As an adult I enjoyed greeting the neighborhood kids at the door and handing out fists-full of high fructose corn syrup nuggets of one kind or another. I even enjoyed the older kids whose voices are changing and barely put up the effort at a costume because they needed one more last childhood fling.  God knows where they will be in five years.

The adult side of the holiday seems embarrassing to me and is simply morphing into a weird commercial enterprise. Somebody always has to make a buck. I think that’s what takes away from the enjoyment and robs the holiday of it’s old-fashioned charm.