Jemez Mountains in General – Fall is here and winter cometh! Days are shorter and more prone to bad weather. The list of outdoor options is admittedly dwindling – but there are still fun outdoor activities, they are just harder to find!
Recent and coming highlights/overview in the Jemez outdoors - Some key events coming up as we approach the cold:
Forest Roads (FRs) will start closing on 12/31, essentially ending forest drives.
Hikes will be limited to low elevation trails with paved access as the snow comes.
Cross Country Skiing opportunities will start with the first big snows.
Dry and organized camping seasons end as the FRs close.
Trout stocking/fishing will be limited to the Village and the lower Jemez River.
At this time of year, even the “Jemez Jewels” are subject to quick closures from the weather. For the first two weeks in November, it can often look as if there is no winter coming – if you see an opportunity to get outdoors take it – it won’t last long!
HIKING – The hike along the San Antonio at La Cueva Day Use Area is still a good short hike option until snow makes it difficult, but even between storms after the snow melts it can still be fun and has paved access. Be prepared for quick changes in weather at this time of year. Being careful is tedious - until you need it.
One of my favorite cold-weather short hikes is the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Perea Nature Trail near the intersection of US 550 and NM 4 just outside San Ysidro. A 0.8-mile loop with interpretive signage the trailhead is about 100 feet north of the US 550 bridge over the Rio Salado.
The trail follows the (often dry) Rio Salado and is a delightful walk in an area typical of the high plains surrounding the Jemez Mountains. It’s open year-round and except in heavy low country snows, it can be walked anytime weather permits.
DRIVES – The next few weeks will still be decent weather for a drive. This is a good time to revisit a drive taken earlier in the year before the Forest Roads become impassable due to snow, rain, or hail, or generally wet conditions. It will look quite P Rio Salado San Ysidro Sign ~ 100 ft. different with leaves colored and dropping in droves. Some classics are FR 10 – yes, the winery is open, FR 376 south of NM 126, and the FR 36 loop. Pick your moment – look for a day with good weather 2 – 3 days after the last storm. This is also a good time to explore the Jemez cities on the periphery such as Los Alamos, Cuba, Abiquiu, and Espanola. They all have great restaurants, inns, and the drive to any of them is downright gorgeous. Roads to these periphery cities are paved and will be plowed all winter but remember snowstorms can occur at any time in November – don’t get caught!
A fun 2WD/4WD drive for early November is to the Girl Scout Camp’s southern boundary on FR 539. This route follows the Rio de Las Vacas which has turnstiles along FR 539 that lead to the river – all of which are great short hikes. The colors on this drive were stupendous October 21; cottonwoods, aspens, willows, and black locusts were brilliant. Some colors will remain if weather is mild. Turnstiles are easily spotted on the right going north, they are made from green iron fence posts.
A cool short 4WD drive that won’t be available most of the winter but is OK for the next few weeks (weather permitting) is Beryl Road in La Cueva. The Tent Rocks and Hoodoos on Beryl Rd are unique – they are right on the road!
The drive begins at Mica Rd which is directly across from La Cueva Day Use Area. The directions we were given the first time we went were:
“Take the last right turn [going north] before crossing the river. For all turns take the direction that goes up – eventually you’ll find the tent rocks!”
These directions still work today – when in doubt go up! After Cielo Vista the road becomes rougher and should not be attempted except in 4WD, and this is where the tent rocks are. ALL this drive is bordered by a private property – if you want to get out of your vehicle to take pictures (and you should) STAY in the ROAD. At the end of the road, a right turn leads to an area where one can turn around. The views to the right in the vicinity of the tent rocks are also super – Mt. Redondo and many caldera ring mountains can be seen. The tent rocks and hoodoos on the left are superb examples of Jemez Mountains natural art. The elevation at the top where Beryl Road ends is roughly 8400 feet – aspen altitude (> 8000). The aspens are turning gold now, but will probably be bare by mid-November, earlier if we get high winds.
CAMPING – November is a rough month for campers, even on good days nighttime temps are often in the 30’s. At this time of year, RVs rule from a comfort standpoint but can be a driving risk in bad weather. Tent folk need to be very careful – it will be cold. It can be a fun experience when the weather cooperates – be watching the 7-day forecast for higher elevations before launch. Tent Rocks on Beryl Road A perfect Hoodoo – Beryl Road
Organized Jemez public campgrounds – Most Jemez campgrounds are closed for the winter. Remaining open are Vista Loma on NM 4, Rio de Las Vacas and Clear Creek on NM 126 on the paved segment coming from Cuba, and the five electric hookup sights at Fenton Lake State Park. The campgrounds on NM 126 are at 8300+ feet and can be unreachable in snow season. An entry of “Open” in the table indicates year-round operation.
Dry (Dispersed) Camping – The most remote and under-utilized portion of the Jemez Mountains is north and east of the Valles Caldera and south of NM 96. If you’re looking for a new place to dry camp before the snows hit head for NM 96 and explore the forest roads heading south. My favorite is FR 100 south of Youngstown. The turnoff from NM 96 is well marked and the road is in great shape. FR 99 intersects FR 100 and continues south to FR 144 with some nice dry camping sites along the way (Big Tip – do not go west on FR 144 from FR 99 – It is flat dangerous! The northern mountains are less settled than those in the south and the geology is interestingly different. FR 100 is also the route to the trailhead for the Jemez’ only National Recreation Trail – Canoñes Creek Trail #82. For details check your favorite a trail website or google Canoñes Creek Trail Jemez NM.
The first few weeks of November are a good time to hit the dry camping spots that were so crowded in the summer. The top of that list is of course FR 376 south of NM 126 with great campsites at the base of Virgin Mesa. One of the reasons this is such a popular area is that is close to Fenton Lake, the Rio Cebolla, Rio Guadalupe, La Cueva, and not far from the Valles Caldera, Jemez Falls, and the East Fork Jemez River.
FISHING – Fall water levels are seasonably down, but not abnormally low. There are lots of stocked fish in our streams right now, and wild fish are looking to fatten up for winter. Colors along Jemez streams are stupendous right now – go fish!
Stocked Fish: The Jemez and Cebolla were stocked in late October and should fish well through mid-November. The best locations to find these fish are:
Rio Cebolla – From FR 378 bridge downstream toward Fenton Lake.
Jemez River - Battleship Rock Park and downstream for about ¾ mile.
As the weather gets colder the stocking will shift to Jemez Springs Village and the lower Jemez River fishing access sites.
Michael B. and I fished the Rio de Las Vacas just south of the Girl Scout Camp the last week in October. We expected to find spawning browns – but never confirmed a brown trout sighting and caught none. The good news is that there were rainbows that I assume had passed through the Girl Scout camp after the late September stocking of the Las Vacas along FR 20. They were a welcome surprise – we saw many but got a 13 incher and a 10 incher. The water levels were low, averaging 4 – 8 inches with plunge pools 12 – 18 inches. The water was gin clear and 46 degrees F. The pools held fish, but with water this low they were spooky. Both fish hit a bead head bugger fished slow. I worked one fish for a long time – but it kept spooking no matter how long I rested between casts. The lack of brown trout here is both striking and concerning – historically this is wild brown trout water. The Peggy Mesa fire of 2017 may be the culprit, but I would have expected some recovery by now.
We had planned to hike into San Gregorio Lake for stocked cutthroats in Mid-October with our belly boats, but the night before we were to leave the temperature in Cuba was 24 degrees! Bummer. It looks like next year for that expedition!
Battleship fished well all through October and with the recent stocking will continue to fish well into November. Crowds are down but not gone - if you can avoid weekends do so and start around 9 - 10 AM. Flashy nymphs and bait (eggs, Power Bait, etc.) seem to be the most successful offerings.
Wild Fish: We tried to fish the upper Guadalupe the last week in October, but a controlled burn had pushed thick smoke into the canyon. The burn should be over by 1 November. If the weather holds the Guad will be the best brown trout fishing this month. The fish are now spreading out to the lower water all the way down to the Gilman tunnels. Try mile markers 3 – 5 and the lower box right at the tunnels. The upper box (mile markers 5 – 8) should also fish well if you don’t mind a steep hike. Some nice rainbows, but where are the lower Las Vacas browns?
The East Fork should fish well for browns from Jemez Falls to Las Conchas Fishing Access. The San Antonio at Rincon, Spence Hot Springs, and Dark Canyon fishing access sites, and the main stem Jemez below battleship Rock, should produce browns through November.
Cutthroat trout fishing will be effectively over once snow falls and/or forest roads close. For November my best suggestion would be the upper Cebolla above the hatchery or the eastern side of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness (Rio Puerco East, Las Palomas, or Las Vacas) accessible from FR 70.