Jemez Mountains in General – GOOD NEWS - The Western Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) rescinded Stage 1 Fire Restrictions in late June because of the excellent rainfall we’ve been experiencing! Fire danger is currently MODERATE. This does not mean that fires can’t start if campers, hikers, and fishers aren’t careful – please be aware of fire risks and put campfires completely out.
The strong 2021 monsoon has greened up the forest and filled our streams with cool mountain waters. Forest roads may be muddy, and puddles will form. Letting roads dry a day or two after heavy rains is always a good idea. Avoid roads that have big mud potential like NM 126 west of the Seven Springs Hatchery.
Recent and coming highlights/overview in the Jemez outdoors:
The dry (dispersed) camping season continues, albeit a bit wet! Park along a forest road and set up camp! Leave no trace, pack out what you pack in, and stay for less than 14 days. Responsibly tended campfires are allowed.
Stocked trout fishing in the Jemez in July was limited to Fenton Lake and the Rio Cebolla just above and below the lake, and the same is expected in August.
In July a 22-inch rainbow was caught on the East Fork! I have seen a photo and am trying to get a copy for the newsletter – what tremendous fish for our small stream waters to hold.
Fishing for wild brown and cutthroat trout was good through July thanks to recent rains, and it appears that will continue in August.
Most organized Jemez SFNF campgrounds (CGs) are open, the exception still being Cochiti Lake campgrounds which remain closed due to Covid. The Cochiti campgrounds and Kashe Katuwi may open in August – see the phone number to call for status in the table below.
Scenic drives are recommended for August. Wildflowers are out in the high meadows and can be some of the most entertaining vistas in the Jemez.
The Table below summarizes access to popular Jemez public lands:
Regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic please respect New Mexico's outdoor guidance. Crowds in the Jemez are growing as summer 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. Be safe and Covid conscious in the forest!
Alan’s August Picks:
August is usually a tough month for hiking except early and late in the day due to the heat. This August will have hot days no doubt, but if the monsoon continues temperatures will stay reasonably comfortable and midday hikes will be fun, particularly at higher elevations. Some suggested hikes to take in August that are over 8,000 ft.:
Cerro Grande Trail – Trailhead (TH) located on NM 4 just east of the intersection with FR 289. A fun hike starting near 9000 ft. and going to about 10,400 ft. The first mile is flat and gorgeous so if you aren’t up to summiting this can still be a fun easy hike – just turn around when the climbing starts!
Los Conchas Rec and Fishing Accesses – The Los Conchas Rec access and TH on NM 4 is 10 miles north of La Cueva. This is a portion of the East Fork Trail that is probably the most popular hike in the Jemez – and deservedly so – it’s beautiful. With many bridges over the East Fork and stunning vistas the trail is easy to walk for the first mile or so and continues through a deep canyon for another 2 -3 miles. The Los Conchas Fishing Access is a half mile farther north and has a paved trail for the first ½ mile with picnic tables and river (E. Fork) access. Crossing the river at the end of the paved trail leads to a fishers’ trail that enters a box canyon that is fun to explore. Both accesses also lead to good brown trout fishing.
Clear Creek and San Gregorio Lake Trail - San Pedro Parks Wilderness (SPPW) – TH on FR 70 which is accessed NM 126 from La Cueva or Cuba. Park at TH lot on FR 70 (w/restrooms). After a mile or so the trail reaches San Gregorio Lake at its southeast corner. Options at this point are: (1) Return to FR 70 parking lot for a 2.3 mi. hike; (2) Circle the lake and return for a roughly 3-mile hike; (3) hike along the dam to the southwest corner and take the old road back to FR 70 for a roughly 2.4 mi. hike; or (4) continue Clear Creek Trail for another 10 miles or take the fork to the Rio de Las Vacas Trail. A bit more challenging to find and follow than the NM 4 trails, SPPW trails are typically 9,000 ft. or more in elevation, and a true wilderness experience. See the Drives section below for a relevant map.
Commercial – The Bath House and Jemez Hot Springs are both open in Jemez Springs. These fee hot springs are the Jemez’ hottest soaks.
Spence Hot Springs. This spring has good parking off NM 4 and a maintained steep trail of about 0.6 miles one way. Can be crowded.
Mc Cauley Warm Springs can be reached by hiking the East Fork Trail from Battleship or the Falls Trail in Jemez Falls Park, both are 3+ mi.
San Antonio Hot Springs – reached from FR-376 (north of NM 126). Parking is 4.4 miles in (4WD) on right. From here the trail to the hot springs is an easy (and beautiful)1/2 mile walk one-way.
Scenic Drives – The recent rains have not caused any road outages in the southern Jemez to date (8/3/21), but its worth being extra cautious on 4WD excursions when wet roads prevail. Ruts, puddles, and washout areas are the common threats. It's also easy to slide on a dirt road – keep speed down but keep moving. Some thoughts on August scenic drives:
FR 376 – the lower end (below NM 126) is a lush mountain green with many wildflowers and many pullouts for leg stretching. Although crowded with dry campers on the weekends its still a great ride. Accessed from NM 4 and NM 485 on the south, and NM 126 from the north. Some parts of the Rio Cebolla are fenced off for conservation, but the drive is still great. The upper end (above NM 126) is open for 4.5 miles and ends at a parking area for the San Antonio Hot Springs. The road is in good shape, but still rough in spots. The ½ mile trail to the springs is also the TH for the upper San Antonio Canyon which is total eye candy and underutilized as a recreation trail.
NM 126/FR 70/FR 103/NM 126 Loop – A great loop drive in the western Jemez starts on NM 126 at the FR 70 or FR 103 intersections. Although easier to get to from Cuba, when dry NM 126 isn’t terrible – it’s just bad! The loop goes by the two most popular trailheads into the SPPW. The western one is discussed above (Clear Creek), the southeastern TH off FR 70 is the SPPW’s most common backpacker’s entrance. As a quick side trip take FR 103 north at the FR 70 intersection for about 3.4 miles to Teakettle Rock. See map below. This area includes two campgrounds, FR 268 to the Rito Peñas Negras, San Gregorio Lake, 8 trout streams in the SPPW, 9 major trails and a combined Continental Divide trail – a wilderness lovers’ dream – yet from Cuba its paved to FR 70, and FR 70 is a very good forest road.
Fishing – Stocking of triploid Rainbow trout has wound down to Fenton Lake and the Rio Cebolla above (FR 378) and below the lake. They were both stocked in the last week of July. The Cebolla section above the lake is accessed from FR 278 where there is a 2 - 3 car parking area at the bridge over the Rio. The section below the lake is accessed from the campground road on the west side or from the lower part of the Hal Baxter Memorial Trail on the east side of the Rio. Fishing early and late in this section is always advisable, but particularly in August.
Fenton Lake is getting stocked as the rains have really dropped water temperatures. Both Triploid rainbows and Rio Grande Cutthroats have been stocked in June and July. If the cool weather associated with this intense monsoon continues the lake should fish fair to good in August for the first time a few years. If the weather warms weed growth and warmer water will tend to slow summer fishing on the lake.
The best stream fishing in August will be for Brown trout – again! The Rio Guadalupe was a star in July and should be in August. The lower river is recovering from the Peggy Mesa fire below mile-marker 7, and fishing is slowly improving. The upper river is fishing well and should stay that way through August if the rains hold. Dry flies will continue to rule in August. Michael and I fished it in Mid-July, and each got a nice fish and a few dinks before it stopped
dead at around 10:00 AM. Fish early with #14 - #16 attractor patterns (Humpies, Adams, elk hair caddis, etc.) and if you are being reasonably stealthy the fish will cooperate. Admittedly I only landed about 40% of my strikes – those dudes are quick!
The upper San Antonio above the hot springs and moving upstream toward the Valle fished very well in mid-July, but a return trip in late July was fair at best. There seemed to be smaller and fewer fish than the trip just 10 days before! A big aquatic moth hatch on the first trip was gone on the second, and there were fewer mayflies hatching – but all in all there were still al lot of bugs, and the grasshoppers were out in big numbers. I tried grasshoppers, BWO droppers and dries, Missing Links (a spent caddis imitation) etc. – not much joy. Don’t let my incompetence hold you back – this area is dotted with weirs constructed by SFNF and these provide deeper water that grows bigger fish – they just don’t always want to play with me.
As always have a great day in the Jemez Mountains – you deserve it!