The Santa Fe National Forest is open, and most restrictions were lifted July 22nd. Campfires and chain saws are now allowed, but flood prone zones and burn scars may remain closed for a while. As an example, at this writing the Trail #137 parking area above Battleship, the Battleship Rock Rec Area, Soda Dam, and Jemez Falls are closed. Please respect the Forest Service closures for your own safety. Similar small area closures are also in effect in the Valles Caldera Preserve, but the Valle is open – check at the Visitor Center for details/updates.
Streams are starting to run seasonably low and as a result water temperatures are rising – please handle fish you intend to release with care, and if water temperatures are 70 degrees F or more wait for another day. The Jemez River is still muddy, but the Guadalupe River is clear.
Jemez trails and forest roads are in decent shape but take care when there has been a recent rain. Campgrounds are open, backpacking has restarted in our three (San Pedro Parks, Bandelier, and Dome) wilderness areas, and dispersed/dry campers are out in force.
We feed birds – both seed and suet – year-round, and at this time of year the biggest and most colorful birds are feeding like crazy every day. It won’t last, but its great while they are here. By winter it will be just nuthatches and Stellar Jays – great birds, but the best bird shows of summer are here for at least another month or two. If you are thinking about feeding birds now’s the time to get some suet and seed out.
The Jemez Outdoor Calendar is starting to look normal for this time of year. Unfortunately, Kashe-Katuwe Monument and Puye Cliff Dwellings remain closed. For updates try an internet search - titles for each site in the table are good search terms.
Jemez Outdoor Calendar July 2022
HIKING – In general our Jemez trails are in good shape so far, and seem unaffected by the monsoon. Temperatures in Albuquerque are in the mid-90’s, and here in the mountains (7500 ft.) we have had a lot of hot days over 85 degrees F. What this warm weather means for hikers:
If you can, do your hikes in the morning – it feels hot by 10-11 AM.
Carry water for you and your pet, and snacks if going over a few miles.
Wear hat and light clothes and carry water shoes for creek crossings.
Let someone know when and where you are hiking
The other hiking gear such as GPS trackers, maps, first aid, etc. are important, but if one forgets the basics of warm weather hiking it can go bad fast. Hydrate. Hydrate. The featured hike for early August is the East Fork Trail #137 from the East Fork Trail parking area on NM 4 just above Jemez Falls to the East Fork Box – a deep rock-sided canyon through which the Rio passes. Some readers may remember that I got lost trying this in early July – this time I made it, but I still have questions about the many side trails up there and hope to learn more about them.
The map shows four critical points along the way to the Box that are key to getting there. I parked in the lot NE of NM 4 at the pit toilet and picnic tables. I was disappointed to see that the picnic tables are in bad shape, and some are even unsafe, but it’s a great place to park. As described in the last edition the trail starts at a turnstile just north of the lot and continues for about ¼ mile before merging with an old forest road. At about the ¾ mile point there is a trail marker for Trail #137 on the left and a trail going back hard left from the road – DON'T TAKE IT!! This is how I got lost on my last trip here. Go just another 200 feet or so and the real Trail #137 sign appears on the left (#2 on the map)– take that one!
Trail #137 roughly parallels the road for about a ¼ mile to the East Fork Box Access Trail - #3 on the map. Take this trail for ¼ mile to where Trails #134 and #135 branch off the access trail at point #4 on the map. I took the Box fork and was not disappointed. It had stairs for the steeper descents, but admittedly 2 or 3 flights of stairs had been crushed by fallen trees. There were another 6 or 7 fallen trees over Trail #135 that must be shimmied and climbed over, but the trail is always quite visible on the other side.
The trail reaches the river at a total of 1.5 miles from the TH for a round trip of 3 miles. The river here is just above the box and hiking downstream takes one through this scenic riverbed. When I was there the water was crystal clear and flowing well for late July. My dog loved it and ran and splashed in the water for the first 10 minutes we were there. We were both hot and needed this cool off before starting uphill and back.
The return trip is tough, gaining a lot of altitude in the first ¼ mile. If it weren’t for the fallen trees the stairs would have been helpful, but in their current state its safer to bypass the crushed ones if you can. Back at Trail #137 (#3 on the map) we stopped for water and cooled off before heading back to the car.
It was sad to see that the trail seems to no longer be maintained. l don’t like the graffiti but I can put up with it - it is the trail infrastructure that needs help. The terrible condition of the picnic area is shameful, picnic tables are rotting apart. There was a dozen fallen trees across the trail – even a few on the road section, and the crushed stairs from fallen trees made them unsafe instead of the hiking aid they were originally intended to be. The Trail #134 signpost was broken off at ground level, not sure how it got there, but it may eventually account for more lost hikers.
For other trails in early August, I would recommend some of the Jemez classics:
Cerro Grande Trail – a 4.1-mile round trip hike from the trailhead near FR 289 (which is currently closed) about 8.5 miles beyond the Valles Caldera entrance. It’s a well-maintained trail with ample parking on NM 4. A walk of the first mile is very pleasant and kid friendly. After that the trail climbs some, and overall is considered a “moderate” hike.
La Conchas Rec Area – On NM 4, 9.8 miles above La Cueva. This is one of the prettiest Jemez trails and has cool bridges over the East Fork. The first ¾ - 1 miles are fairly level, well suited for kids eight and up, marginal for the mobility impaired.
Valles Caldera – Now that backcountry permits are available the side roads (no vehicles) off VC 02 are all great hikes. Park at the road intersections, being careful to get completely off VC 02 before leaving your car.
DRIVES – The drive selected for early August is from La Cueva to the Girl Scout Camp on NM 126 and FR 20 (see Camping for a map). The drive begins at the NM 4//NM 126 junction in La Cueva and NM 126 is paved for the first 12.6 miles. Just after the hatchery turn off the road becomes dirt and dust for the next 8.4 miles and is the worst road in the Jemez Mountains when wet – do not even think about this drive if it has rained in the last 24 – 48 hours. When dry however, this is a super drive through canyons and forests alive with wildlife at an elevation that averages over 8000 feet.
A trip to the northern entrance to the GSA Camp is always an adventure. In the third week of July, we saw a flock of wild turkeys on the way – 2 adults and 6–8 jakes and jennys (yearling turkeys). Shortly after that we saw a big bull elk who gave us a once-over glance and then headed into the woods. While on stream we saw wild brown trout scurrying away from us in the low water, and there were loads of songbirds – I thought I saw a red-winged blackbird but in trying to get closer I spooked it, so I am not sure.
Just as the road turns back to pavement FR 20 comes in from the left. It is paved for about 200 feet before turning into a good dirt forest road that follows the Rio de Las Vacas through a beautiful valley and canyon. The Rio is often visible from the road, and there are trails and side-roads to the Rio for fishing or just to see there Rio up close. After 4-5 miles FR 20 crosses the Rio. Just after the bridge take a left (formally FR 534) to the GSA Camp entrance in about 2 miles where you must turn around and go back. As one approaches the GSA Camp the valley narrows to a gorgeous canyon. This area is a great place to get out of the car and take a short walk to the Rio to get your feet wet.
CAMPING – Most Jemez organized campgrounds are ready for business – see table below. Dispersed or Dry camping is open except in fire affected areas or flash flood prone zones – these are posted with forest notices, barriers, or tape. Backpacking is open in the Bandelier, San Pedro Parks, and Dome Wildernesses, and in the Santa Fe National Forest. The fires have interrupted some campground maintenance and refurbishment efforts so check the relevant websites for availability.
There is so much dry camping to be done in the Jemez that it is tough to get a handle on availability. If setting up camp during the week it is not a problem, but if one arrives Saturday morning on a good weather weekend in summer finding dry camping options can be a challenge.
My favorite Jemez dry camping area is along the Rio de Las Vacas above the Girl Scout Camp. It is reached from FR 20, which can be accessed from Cuba or La Cueva via NM 126. One of the reasons this area is under-utilized is because of the bad section of NM 126 after the Hatchery which is NOT RV friendly even when dry. Most campers one meets there are either tent campers or RVs that came in on (paved) NM 126 via Cuba. This is also a very popular camping area during Elk season. The photo shows a riverside dry campsite about a ¼-mile downstream of the bridge.
The dry camping sites are located across the bridge going both north and south for 1-2 miles as shown in the map. These sites are all on the river and have wild brown and stocked rainbow trout fishing at your tent or RV door. All camps here must be fully self-contained. There is no water, but the river water can be purified using good filtration sets. Sewage must be towed off – do not dump here unless you really want a big expensive ticket. Tenters can bury their waste 200 ft. away from the Rio and at least 6 inches deep.
The campground table below has the best information available through 7/22/22, but there
could be changes as campground schedules get back to normal. Check alerts and notices and always check the campground website before leaving.
FISHING – As our monsoon wanes hot weather has arrived with Jemez Valley temperatures in the high 80’s and low 90’s. At this point there has been no stocking of Jemez streams or lakes since the fire started in mid-May. If water temperatures stay below 65 degrees F the lakes may get stocked, and that mark is tough for Fenton Lake to meet in August, but San Gregorio Reservoir may stay cold enough. The Rio Cebolla above the lake in the park stays cold and could get stocked if water temperatures hold. Wild fish are at a bit of a lull as air temperatures increase – tip: fish early in the day.
The monsoon this year has been great, but our streams are starting to show the effects of a hot summer – warmer stream temps; algae and rock snot start to thrive in lakes and streams; and the fish aren’t as active during the hottest parts of the day. This usually gets better by mid-September, but until then go early in the morning, stay as quiet as possible in low and clear water, and focus on dry flies. Abiquiu and Cochiti reservoirs are fishing fair, but again going early can make a big difference. My neighbor fished Abiquiu Lake recently and caught some nice walleyes, with a big fish of 18 inches. He left Jemez Springs just before 5 AM!
Stocked Fish: With daytime temperatures hitting annual highs it is doubtful that any stocking of Jemez streams will happen before fall. Fishing for stockers will (hopefully) restart in mid-September.
Wild Fish: Wild fish are active in the cooler parts of the day and hitting surface flies as one would expect this time of year. They
tend to get spookier as the water levels seasonably drop, and this is the time to channel your inner wading ninja if you want a shot at low water fish. Cutthroat trout should stay more active in August if rains continue to resupply cool water. If you have been postponing a cutthroat trip now may be your moment!
Michael B. and I fished the Rio de Las Vacas the morning of July 19. We left the Jemez Springs area by 7 AM and were fishing by about 7:45, but while we were putting our wading boots on it was already starting to feel warm. There were some very tiny midges hatching along with the occasional caddisfly. We saw no mayflies or hoppers while we were there. I
started heading downstream from below the FR 20 bridge toward the Girl Scout Camp swinging an olive wooly bugger and got a nice rainbow of about 12 inches plus another 3 – 4 hits.
I continued downstream until the canyon started to narrow then turned around and re-rigged for dry flies. I started with a Little Olive in a size #18 and the browns noticed. I landed a 9 - 10 incher and missed 3 – 4 more. The brown I did land hit the fly and then jumped 2-3 feet in the air – we were nearly eye to eye! I also tried an Elk Hair Caddis in size #14 to no avail and went back to the Little Olive, but by then it was nearly 10:30 AM and the fishing went from slow to glacial! This is the way it goes in high summer – get in early, catch a few, and then hang it up as the fishing starts` to slow between 10 and 11 AM.
The Las Vacas water is low but flowing, and of course this makes the fish spooky. Water
temperatures at 10 AM were 64 degrees F. The best strategy seemed to be to walk through the shallows and pound the pools focusing on current tongues and bubble lines. Long casts
helped when they could be made and staying with 5X tippet seemed to help. The Las Vacas has always been tough in summer as it gets very low in hot weather. We made this trip thinking it could be the last fishable opportunity until fall, and (see photo) unless that watershed gets some big-time rain it’s going to fish poorly for August and early September.
As waters warm in the August heat the wild trout fishing should remain decent early mornings, but do not expect those 15+ fish days of late spring and early summer – If you can land 3 – 4 before the fish retreat to high summer haunts you have had a good day. Get up early, tie on some 5X tippet and a dry fly and get after them!