Jemez Mountains in General – The western Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) entered Stage 1 Fire Restrictions in late May. Fire Danger is HIGH. The biggest man-made cause of forest fires is poorly extinguished campfires. Over Mother’s Day the Forest Service found 30 campfires still burning after they were vacated!
The following are NOT ALLOWED during Stage 1 Fire Restrictions:
Non-permissible fireworks as defined by State and County ordinances at your home, public or County land or open space(s) are prohibited.
Sky lanterns are prohibited.
Campfires at all dispersed camping sites and undeveloped campgrounds or any County open space(s) and or public lands are prohibited.
Normally the following activities require an approved permit of use through the Fire Marshal. The following permits WILL NOT be issued:
1) Open burning (slash piles, yard waste).
2) Bonfire permits.
The next step after Stage 1 is forest closure. Historically most forest closures are initiated when there are major fires or when SFNF rangers find widespread violation of Stage 1 Fire Restrictions. Without rain (and prospects are not good in this historic drought) these restrictions will continue through June, and a forest closure may be imminent. In summary:
Please obey the SFNF Stage 1 Fires restrictions in the Jemez Mountains.
Even in developed campground pits/rings (the only allowed campfires) please completely extinguish your campfire with multiple soakings.
Most important – please be fire conscious.
o The forest is currently a giant dry tinder box, treat it that way.
o If we all do this, we can avoid many forest fires, and we can enjoy the forest
without a closure - please help!
The Jemez Mountains are too beautiful to burn due to human carelessness – please do not be a forest destroyer – be a forest friend and be fire-conscious.
Recent and coming highlights/overview in the Jemez outdoors:
Trout fishing in the Jemez continues to be good for stocked trout, but this will probably end in June with low water levels and high-water temperatures. Brown trout fishing has been good, but unless we get a strong monsoon (doubtful) the drought will slow this soon. Cutthroat fishing should peak in June at higher altitudes, but this will also slow as weather warms and rain remains scarce. Fish now – July will be worse!
The dry (dispersed) camping season is here! 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. NO CAMPFIRES while dry camping in Stage 1.
Most organized Jemez SFNF campgrounds (CGs) are open, the exception being Cochiti Lake campgrounds which remain closed due to Covid.
Scenic drives are at their early summer best. The only forest road currently closed is FR 376 north of NM 126 (the route to San Antonio Hot Springs) which is closed until July 1, but a 5-mile hike will get you there until then.
NM 126 is now open and graded, but still should be avoided when wet.
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 early 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.
Alan’s June Picks:
If I had to pick a Jemez adventure for May it would include a scenic drive in the eastern Jemez such as FR 10 or FR 289, FR 36, FR 268, and FR 142. Roads are in good shape, but always beware of wet weather as road quality degrades sharply. The FR 289/FR 36/FR 268 Loop is a great drive that starts and ends on NM 4. Good forest roads and gorgeous vistas.
A fishing adventure would center on the Rio San Antonio on the VCNP and from NM 126 to the Hot Springs and above – trailhead at NM 126 bridge over Rio San Antonio. Also, the East Fork from Battleship to Las Conchas Fishing Access should fish well in June. Dry flies are the best bet in both drainages – stay with #14 or #16 mayfly and caddis until the hoppers come out.
Hiking – – One of the best hikes in the Jemez starts at the Las Conchas Recreation Access on NM 4. This fun short hike has one BIG downside – everybody knows
about it and loves it! Doing the hike early or on weekdays is advised. If you are fishing this stretch be careful not to snag a tourist on your back cast! Despite the crowds the beauty of this trail shines through, with many bridges over the river, towering cliffs, and a lush canyon bottom. After a mile or so the river boxes up and the hiking gets tougher. For those wanting a longer hike one can take it to Careful Crossing on NM 4 (about 3 rough miles) – this is the NM 4 crossing of the East Fo0rk as it exits Jemez Falls Park. If there are too many cars at the Access one can park 100 yards east near the rock-climbing area. If the crowds are too much stay on NM 4 to VCNP trails (e.g., Coyote Call) or go further to the Cerro Grande Trail which is a fun hike even if you do not reach the summit.
Hot Springs are open:
Commercial – The Bath House and Jemez Hot Springs are both open in Jemez Springs. These fee hot springs are the Jemez’ hottest.
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 (3 mi.)from Battleship or the Falls Trail in Jemez Falls Park, both are 3+ mi.
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 one exception - FR-376 north of NM 126 and will remain closed until July 1. The season for scenic drives peaks in June when everything is green, streams are flowing well, and outside temps are comfortable. Pack a lunch and pick a direction. June’s picks for eastern scenic drives includes my favorite forest road loop drive – NM 4 to FR 289 to FR 36 to FR 268 and back to NM 4. It takes about an hour but add at least ½ hour to get out and walk around a bit. Another eastern fun drive also starts with FR 289 but goes west on the FR 142 (St. Peter’s Dome Road) to the trailhead for Capulin Creek and trail. This creek has recently been recovered for Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout and is open to fishing, so if you are of the fisher person carry a small rod and few dry flies. The more adventurous may wish to go all the way to Cochiti Lake on FR 289 – a long tough drive, but with phenomenal views of the eastern Jemez Mountains.
Fishing – Stocking of triploid Rainbow trout will wind down in June as water warms unseasonably in the drought. The best fishing in June will be for Brown and Cutthroat trout. For Browns, the Rio Guadalupe would be my first choice as the western streams have more water this year. The lower Rio de Las Vacas will fish well for a while yet, but it will start to wane without rainfall. Fishing for Cutthroats in the upper Cebolla, Rio Frijoles, Capulin Creek, Chihuahenos, the Polvadera creeks, and San Pedro Parks Wilderness (SPPW) streams should be good through June, slowing toward the end of the month if we do not get some significant precipitation.
Fenton Lake gets cold water from the Rio Cebolla and will fish well for stockers and a few Browns through June before weed growth and the New Mexico sun take their toll. San Gregorio Lake should get stocked in mid-June - watch for it! Once stocked the altitude (over 9,000 ft.) and the cold water from Clear Creek will keep it fishing well into summer. Normally fishing should be good to excellent through June, but the effects of our severe drought may slow fishing early this year if we don’t get a bunch of rain. Some recent May trips and future guesses for summer fishing are highlighted below.
Fishing for stockers at Battleship Park was good in May, but it is essentially over in a few weeks at most. Fenton Lake is producing well for stockers and there are some big ones in the mix. San Gregorio Lake is stocked once annually in mid-June, but it is a huge stocking and fish can still be found in early fall. Try to fish near the bottom with double nymph rigs, bugger/nymph rigs, or double bugger rigs. San Gregorio can have big hatches with lots of rising fish – when this happens, I go with a dry/dropper with the dropper nymph unweighted (essentially as an emerger). The lakes become the Jemez’ best fishing for stockers as the summer progresses – dust off your float tube! San Gregorio requires a 1-mile hike from the FR 70 parking lot, it rises another 200 ft. or so in that mile.
The Guadalupe still has good flow and will fish well for Browns through June and into July. Start with dry flies and stay with them all day – it will pay! Stay above mile marker 7. The lower river is recovering from the Peggy Mesa Fire and fish are starting to move back, but full recovery will take another year or more.
I fished the San Antonio at Rincon and Dark Canyon for Browns and La Cueva Day Use for stockers in May. Rincon produced only small fish (under 8”) but I expect it to improve if we have enough water. The stocker fishing at La Cueva is essentially over – between Michael B. and I got ½ dozen small stockers one evening in late May. The water was warming (68 deg F at midday), and I doubt fish will be stocked here again until fall.
Rio de Las Vacas fished great in early May and again in mid-May. Water was high and clear. Michael B. and I fished the stretch from the FR 20 bridge to the Girl Scout Camp, and John T. followed later in the day. Lots of stockers that had been in there for 3 - 4 weeks or so – they seemed to be focused on deeper water, and where we found a deep run or pool, we found lots of rainbows. We also got 1/2 dozen brown trout in the 9 to 12-inch range. All fish taken on double nymph indicator rigs using Pat’s Rubber Legs, Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ears, and olive caddis pupae flies. We started to see fish hitting our indicators, but a switch to a dry fly did not help. NM 126 has been graded and is probably in the best shape it will be in 2021.
Camping – As noted earlier dry camping is open along most forest roads. Perennial dry/dispersed camping favorites include FR 376 south of NM 126, FR20, FR 4, FR 10, FR 100, FR 99, FR 534, FR 533, F?R 289, and FR 36. Notes:
Organized SFNF campgrounds are now all open, and Fenton Lake State Park campground is also open.
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) continue to be closed due to Covid, but this could change in June – check the website.
Backpacking in SFNF is open, also in the SPPW. 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!