Jemez Adventures Newsletter April 2021
Jemez Mountains in General – The western Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) was open in April and forest roads are open with a few exceptions (see below). Most NM State, Corps of Engineers and SFNF campgrounds will open in mid-May. SFNF trails are open, and dry camping in the forest is available in most areas. Spring is in full swing and fishing is generally good. The drought situation is still dire, with fire danger high especially in high winds and areas with a lot of dry grass and debris. Please take care with campfires, cigarettes, etc. as the Jemez fire season gets underway. If conditions persist and rainfall stays low-to-none there is a chance the forest will have to close for fire prevention – let’s hope not!
Recent and coming highlights in the Jemez outdoors:
Trout fishing in the Jemez continues to be good for stocked trout and this should continue through May. Brown trout fishing has been getting better every week and barring bad weather will do so again in May. Cutthroat fishing is starting in the high country and May should be a good month.
The dry (dispersed) camping season is here! Park along a forest road and set up camp! If you leave no trace, pack out what you pack in, and stay for less than 14 days you are welcome.
Organized Jemez campgrounds have yet to open but most will open in mid-May. Cochiti Lake campgrounds remain closed due to Covid.
Most SFNF scenic drives are now available, and the drought is a weird boon for scenic drives as the forest roads are dry. Take care, some post-winter road conditions can be rough and late melting snows or seasonal springs can cause water hazards. NM 126 west of the Seven Springs Hatchery is currently closed, so accessing the northwest section of the Jemez (Rio de Las Vacas, San Pedro Parks, Teakettle Rock, etc.) must be done via US 550 to Cuba to pick up the western end of NM 126.
The Table below summarizes access to popular Jemez public lands destinations:
Regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic please respect New Mexico's outdoor guidance. Wear a mask, do not congregate in large groups, maintain personal distance, and carry and use hand sanitizer. Crowds in the Jemez are beginning to grow as spring weather begins in earnest. If you can make your trip during the week and/or early in the day do so – you will be amazed by the quiet.
Alan’s May Picks:
If I had to pick a Jemez adventure for May it would include a scenic drive in the western Jemez such as FR 534, FR 20, FR 103, or FR 533. Roads in that are in good shape, but as always beware of wet weather as road quality then degrades sharply. Do not count on NM 126 to access this area – it closed unexpectedly in late April – so as an example access to FR 20 is best reached from Cuba until NM 126 opens. This is probably a temporary condition that should be fixed soon.
A fishing adventure would center on the west in the Guadalupe drainage which had its runoff in late April. These waters should fish well the last 3 weeks of May. My first pick be the Rio de Las Vacas along FR 20, with a close second the Guadalupe River upstream of mile marker 7.
Hiking – A fun short hike I had not really appreciated until recently is Rincon Fishing Access on NM 4. It begins with an open area on the Rio San Antonio that is shaded by tall pines. Hiking ¼ mi. upstream along the Rio there are a few nice pools, then the water gets a bit faster, and the canyon narrows as the grade increases. This a great place for a scramble – a hike to nowhere but among fun stuff – and perfect for wading. I have driven by it for years, pulled in a few times but not walked around – I was missing a treat – great spot to take the kids. Fun short hikes in the day use areas on NM 4 abound – and I am adding Rincon to my favorites list that already includes Battleship Rock Park and Dark Canyon Fishing Access and will fish it in May.
NM 4 trailheads for the East Fork, Cerro Grande, and Coyote Call Trails are open and fun hiking when dry. Jemez Falls will not open until mid-May but until then one can hike 1 – 2 mi. to the trail parking area for access the East Fork Trail going to McCauley Warm Spring or the Falls Trail going to Jemez Falls lookout area.
Bandelier National Monument is a great place to hike and see the cliff dwellings it is known for. It is currently open to visitors, but the shuttle is not running (enter directly from NM 4), and the Visitor Center and Museum are closed. The map below begins at the entrance and includes the main loop trail along the cliff dwellings and the trail to Alcove House.
For fishers the Rio Frijoles, which forms the canyon of the cliff dwellings, is a recently recovered steam for Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, and fishing is allowed upstream of Alcove House. Standard fishing regulations apply – 5 fish bag – but I tend to let them go hoping for a long-term sustainable fishery with sizable fish.
Hot Springs are open:
Commercial – The Bath House and Jemez Hot Springs are both open in the village of Jemez Springs.
Spence Hot Springs is open. This spring has good parking off NM 4 and a maintained, but steep, trail of about 0.6 miles one way. Can be crowded.
Mc Cauley Warm Springs is best reached by hiking the East Fork Trail from Battleship Park until Jemez Falls Park opens in mid-May.
San Antonio Hot Springs – can only be reached with a 4 ½+mile hike along FR-376 (north of NM 126) until July 1st. when that section of road opens and one can drive all but the last ½ mile.
Scenic Drives – Forest roads are open with a few exceptions:
FR-376 north of NM 126 and will remain closed until July 1.
NM 126 west of the Seven Springs Hatchery is closed. I assume this is temporary but was not able to verify that before posting the newsletter.
Forest drives in May and June are the best! The weather is perfect most of the time and the forest is at its greenest by mid-May. Pack a lunch and pick a direction. For starters FR 10 is always a good pick with a winery in Ponderosa and gorgeous rock formations and forest to explore. Another fun drive is FR 103 which is reached from NM 126 (coming in from Cuba avoids the 126 closure) or starting from the north via NM 96. An FR 103 drive includes Teakettle Rock and the Rio Puerco plus many cool side drives.
Fishing – Triploid Rainbow trout will continue to be stocked in the Jemez River, Rio Cebolla, Rio de Las Vacas and Fenton Lake through May, with the first stocking of the San Antonio also expected in May. Fishing should be good to excellent through most of the month, but water levels are dropping in the Jemez drainage which may bode for a tough summer. The Guadalupe drainage had a runoff event at the end of April and the water is cold (mid-40’s in the AM) – so for now this fishery looks very strong for brown and cutthroat trout in May and early June. Some recent trips are highlighted below.
Fishing for stockers at Battleship Park continues to be good - crowds are low during the week and the water is clear to cloudy depending on the day. Double nymph rigs are still producing, with smaller flies starting to produce better – try a #14 or #16 Hare’s ear on the bottom. I have been averaging 2 – 3 brown trout per trip here – please carefully release them as they are still recovering from ash flows due to fires over the last 20 years.
The Guadalupe was blown out from snow melt in the San Pedro Parks in late April and fishing was tough – I got skunked but John T. got two browns.
With that high water I decided to fish the Cebolla beaver ponds just above the Porter Bridge and did well netting 4 browns. I then hiked to the lower Las Vacas but it was also blown out and all I could manage was hit and miss.
I was unable to fish the Las Vacas above the Girl Scout camp due to the NM 126 closure, but brown trout fishing in the western streams should be great in May once the runoff is over (should be done by first week in May). Fenton Lake is fishing well for stockers – I have not heard of many browns being caught in the lake yet, but that should get better in May also. Some notes:
Open to fishing, primarily day-use until May 15 when the CG opens.
The upper parking lot is closed.
Masks required – they are not kidding! Rangers patrol for masks using bull horns for warnings - if unmasked after a warning you may be asked to leave.
I have not fished it yet, but reports have been good. If you plan to use a belly boat, be sure to wear long-johns – the water temp is still near 45 F.
Camping – As noted earlier dry camping is open along most forest roads. Perennial dry/dispersed camping favorites include FR 376 south of NM 126, FR-20, FR 4, FR 10, FR 100, FR 99, FR 534, FR 533, F?R 289, and FR 36.
Organized campgrounds opening in mid-May:
Fenton Lake campground – reservations at https://newmexicostateparks.reserveamerica.com/.
SFNF and COE campgrounds: Redondo, Jemez Falls, San Antonio, Vista Linda, Paliza, Corps of Engineers (COE) campground Riana (Abiquiu Lake). Reservations at www.fs.usda.gov/santafe and select recreation.
COE campgrounds at Cochiti Lake (Cochiti and Tetilla Peak) are currently closed due to Covid, but this could change in May – check the website.
Backpacking in SFNF is open, also in the San Pedro Parks. Bandelier National Monument backcountry permits can be obtained by phone (505-672-3861 Ext 0), which is also a good number for trail conditions in the Bandelier Wilderness. More backpacking options will become available soon as the pandemic subsides.
As always have a great day in the Jemez Mountains – you deserve it!