Rio Guadalupe Canyon – Jemez Mountains

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.

    *    *    *



Tent Rocks — Kasha-Katuwe National Monument

Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe you can get off the highway (I-25) and drive toward the Rio Grande River, cross over by the Cochiti Dam and through the Pueblo of Cochiti to a little-known (but locally iconic) magical place called Kasha-Katuwe.  Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language Keresan, spoken on several New Mexico Pueblos including the Cochiti, Santa Ana, Zia, Kewa and San Felipe Pueblos. A more recognized name is Tent Rocks. I can’t help myself — I always go back and end up taking visitors there if they have the time and feel like spending the day outdoors and scrambling on a little hike.

I had visitors a few weeks ago and we spent the afternoon up at Kasha-Katuwe. Their reaction was that it was like being on one of those Hollywood versions of an alien planet from a 1950s science fiction movie. There is an alien feel about the place.  In some respects it almost seems surreal…like you have ventured into Salvador Dali’s dreamscape.

It is a geological wonder. Once upon a time, there was a large volcanic eruption — or maybe many eruptions — followed by pyroclastic flows of hot ash. The ash was subjected to periodic flooding followed by yet more ash flows — each episode depositing a distinctive layer in the geologic record. Erosion — wind and water  — scoured the area leaving fantastic cone-shaped rock formations.

Another feature is the slot canyon. Water flowing down through the flow area carved a narrow canyon that is only a few feet wide in places. The trail follows the twisting canyon and there are a few spots that require a steep climb or scramble. The colors change slightly based on the clouds or sunlight.

Parts of the canyon open up and reveal broader galleries with isolated pockets of plant life.

The canyon trail eventually leads to a more open area and a scrambling trail that leads to the top of the “white cliffs” — Kasha-Katuwe — and a panoramic view of the surrounding hills leading down to the Rio Grande valley. You can spend a lot of time wandering through the fantastic landscape. On our last visit we met the Park Ranger who was encouraging people to move out of the canyon due to approaching storms. I don’t think I would want to be in the canyon during one of our desert rainstorms.

As far as we went — storm approaching


 ***   ***   ***

Xantico’s Garden



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA garden unfolds. Tended by three dark sisters with bright colored skirts.

Xantico watched – the old Aztec fire god gave it a blessing.

Somewhere there’s water. Search for it. It lies below broken stone and sand.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a good place. Unseen basins filled with sand hold the key to life.

This is a cruel place. Exposed to wind, sereing sun and winter’s cold breath.

The story begins. A seed falls in a crevice — that could be the end.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut it is deep down — not destined to be eaten. It will bide its time.

Winds blow and snow falls. It is a living thing and it will bide its time.

Sun scorches, fire burns, it is lying protected in its deep sanctum.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAsh and dust blow in. Rain falls — the stones shed water into its cradle.

The seed awakens. What bad fortune placed it there?  How can it survive?

It bursts its hard shell and sends out tentative roots.  Time is critical.


A toehold is gained and soon it secures its own place deep among the rocks.

A shoot, a small leaf, and a thorny twig appear reaching for the light.

Conditions are right. A little rain and sunlight is good – not too much.



So many things could go wrong – but it is alive. It will bide its time.

An accident of placement and sheer persistence brought it this far.

Adversity and determination combined with fortune win out.





Life is very hard. Not all struggles end this way. It’s good that some do.






The Broken Land


This is a broken land.

Cracks and crevices, some unseen, lead down

deep into the sand and ash

that make up our vision of Earth.



583_2670This is our rift valley — like Africa’s open wound

but ours is almost hidden from view.

Time and the desert are relentless.

But if you look — and you see — there are clues.


Apache Tears lie in the sand like glass eyes.

Pompeii and Herculaneum were caught by surprise

but no one felt the same heat here…so long ago.

No one heard the roar or saw the rush of fire and ash.


The sleeping caldera is a playground now

but once it filled the sky with hell fire.

The heat still warms the hot springs where

we try to relax….newcomers playing with fire.