Jemez Mountains in General - The forest closure can be expected to last while the extreme fire danger remains, or until December 31—which is the end date in the closure notice. If there is an upside to this—most forecasters are predicting a heavy monsoon—let’s hope they are right—rain is the only way out of this dry quagmire. The public lands in New Mexico are closed throughout the entire state for the same reason, e.g., and the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak fire in the Carson National Forest and the Black Fire in the Gila National Forest. Our closest fire, Cerro Pelado, is contained at high levels (95%+) but mop-up and monitoring continue.
These closures effectively mean that for outdoor recreation one needs to be looking at private lands in New Mexico or going out of state. It’s tough to write a Jemez outdoor column when no one in the Jemez can go outdoors! There are a few local exceptions:
Cochiti Lake is open to fishing and the recreation areas (Cochiti and Tetilla Peak) are open. This is a no-wake lake and shorelines outside the rec areas may be restricted.
Bandelier National Monument main ruins trails are open, but not the Bandelier Wilderness back-county.
Jemez Historic Site remains open. Great self-guided tour through both Spanish and Jemez native ruins.
The Jemez Outdoor Calendar once again is dominated by the closures. If we get significant rains some of these may open, but in general if the forest stays closed most of the Jemez Jewels will be closed. For updates try an internet search—titles for each site in the table are good search terms.
HIKING – No trails above 6500 feet are open due to the forest closure, which means that if you are interested in a hike, it may be hot if Albuquerque high temps are over 90 degrees F. Mornings are still nice and cool and are the best times to do a low altitude trail. The hike selected for late June is a group of one-way trails and a loop trail – the San Ysidro Trails on BLM land that appeared in this column last winter. I have not hiked any of the one-way trails, but I have been on the loop – it’s a fun hike, but the trail can be tough to follow in a few spots, keep looking ahead for the trail.
The trailhead on US 550 connects to a limited traffic dirt toad that one hikes to reach the loop or other trails. There is an alternate route that parallels this road shown on many trail sites – I have not taken it, but it may avoid what little traffic the road carries.
Trailhead parking is on US 550 and is 1.6 miles north of San Ysidro. Coming from NM 4 turn right on US 550, pass a truck inspection area, and see the trailhead sign on the right. From the parking area It's roughly 1.5 miles to the intersection with the loop. As this is written temps in Albuquerque are over 90 degrees F, so go as early as you can to avoid the heat of the day. This is a good trail to follow using a GPS – and if you use a trail website this may be a good time to try the phone version as you hike, but cell reception can be marginal on the loop, so carrying a printed trail map is a good backup.
I checked on the Los Alamos County trails—a trail system larger and more well-kept than most cities 10X its size—and they are also closed. Other trails that can be hiked in a forest closure include:
White Mesa Bike/Hike Trails – trailhead on Cabezon Road, open to hiking and the trails are fun and loaded with great views.
Rattlesnake Ruins north of Cuba on NM 112. Search for a map – totally cool!
Seismosaurus and Hoodoo trails in the Ojito Wilderness (via Cabezon Road).
DRIVES – When the forest closes all forest roads also close. Note that all forest road entries are blocked off, and all pullouts are closed and have warning tape and traffic barrels. Why aren’t folk deterred from parking and climbing on Soda Dam or other NM 4 pullouts? I’m not sure—maybe they thought the forest service was kidding? Or that the fires are a hoax? I continue to be surprised by the cavalier attitude many people have toward the forest, and the scofflaw assaults they inflict on forest resources—even after being told and/or signed not to.
Some fun drives and activities for those who need to get outdoors and see something different are available, but not all are in the Jemez; here are a few suggestions:
Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque – a great set of trails that pass by what seems like thousands of native art petroglyphs. The website is excellent and guides one to the trailheads and visitor center. The drive is about 1.5 – 2 hours from Jemez Springs.
Los Alamos, White Rock, Abiquiu, and Cuba – These are great Jemez towns with good restaurants, unique attractions, and fascinating histories. All are roughly a 1-hour drive from Jemez Springs.
Cochiti Lake – A great warm water Jemez fishing lake on the Rio Grande with shoreside amenities (e.g., swimming areas) at the Cochiti and Tetilla Peak recreation areas. Access is from I-25 and takes about 1.5-hours to reach from Jemez Springs.
Ponderosa Winery – NM 290 is open to just above Ponderosa, and the winery is always a fun visit. It’s about a ½ hour drive from Jemez Springs (try Jemez Red).
Jemez Springs – Retail stores and restaurants are open, and quite frankly they need the business – with the forest closing our local businesses suffer and many are fighting to stay open. Check out the galleries, gift shops, and eateries in town – they are all fun and your purchases will help keep our village open.
La Cueva – Home to our last surviving grocery, a package store, two inns, and a sporting goods store, La Cueva may be the hardest hit community when the forest closes. Another Jemez village for whom a forest closure is an existential threat, they could really use some local business to stem the tide until the monsoon.
CAMPING – There is no camping in the Jemez Mountains during a forest closure. This includes Organized Campgrounds, Dispersed or Dry camping, and Backpacking. i.e., None. This is also true for the Carson, Lincoln, Gila, and Cibola National Forests. There are commercial campgrounds in the area surrounding the Jemez in Placitas, Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Cuba, Espanola, and other NM towns near the Jemez. Most are currently open. The best way to find these is via an internet search – as a start try "commercial campgrounds near the Jemez Mountains” and refine the search from there.
FISHING – There is no public water fishing in the Jemez during a forest closure. There is a bit of private water that can be fished if you know the owners, but I would be surprised if all the private Jemez fishing water amounted to more than a few percent of the total fishable water in the Jemez. Here are some suggestions for NM fishing:
Jicarilla Lakes – These are a series of lakes on the Jicarilla reservation south of Dulce, NM. I spoke to the tribal fishing manager, and he indicated that fishing was good on most lakes, but because they are one of the few places left in New Mexico to catch trout they are experiencing larger numbers of fishers than usual. Roughly a 2.5 hour drive from Jemez Springs these lakes have lots of fish and many big ones.
San Juan River and Navajo Dam – Both are fully open, but campgrounds do have Phase II fire restrictions (no open flames). The marina has boats to rent and when asked about the fishing indicated it has been good for trout and bass. The San Juan River is a technical fishery that produces more big trout than anywhere else in New Mexico. If you haven’t fished it going with a guide the first time will help a lot - or go to one of the local fly shops (e.g., Abe’s) and ask about flies and presentations that are working. About 2 - 2.5 hours from Jemez Springs.
Cochiti Lake – A warm water lake with excellent white bass, crappie, catfish, bass, walleyes, and pike. The lake has been closed during Covid but recently reopened and the early fishing reports are good with lots of white bass, bass, and pike being caught. About 1.5 hours from Jemez Springs via I-25, it is one of the few public Jemez fishing waters that is open (also see next).
Abiquiu Dam/Lake – Has a mixed cold and warm water fishery. Trout fishing is excellent in both the lake and the 8 mile stretch of the Chama River below the dam. The lake also has a good population of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Best accessed from NM 96 it is just over a 2-hour drive from Jemez Springs.
Good fishing to all. The forest closure means driving farther to fish when gas prices are at their highest in years. I try not to think about the cost of getting there, nor do I ever mention the costs associated with fishing when at home. Despite, or because of that intentional ignorance I keep on fishing – someone has to!