Jemez Mountains in General - Jemez Mountains in General - The weather is perfect most days at this time of year, or at least it seems so, and the icing on the cake is that our streams and fauna are still thriving from monsoon moisture. There will not be a better time to get outdoors in 2022.
The Mexican Jays are back – my mistake – they were just taking a break from our feeders, I guess! We still have not seen any bears this year – it worries me. This is a good year for mushrooms, unfortunately, I am not trained to identify the bad ones, so I don’t partake. Lots of mule deer activity this month. Yellows dominate our flora at this time – rabbit brush, asters, sunflowers (almost gone), aspens, cottonwoods, and many more are showing yellow. The purples, reds, and blues are still there too. This is the best season for visiting Jemez Jewels (see Calendar below).
HIKING – Hikes in the Jemez above 7,000 feet will not get any better this year! Hikes in the lower elevations are getting better as the weather cools and will improve through mid-November. A few higher elevation hikes that are at their peak now include Las Conchas Trailhead, the canyon above Las Conchas Fishing access, the Falls trail in Jemez Falls (now open), the Hal Baxter trail and the Cebolla/FR 378 scramble at Fenton Lake State Park, and the hikes to the San Antonio, Spence, and McCauley hot and warm springs. Gilman Tunnels are still closed – to reach Porter means FR-376 from the north starting at the NM 126 intersection.
The hike recommended for early October is a new one for me – I learned about it while on recycling duly at the dump on a September Saturday. I was so excited about it that I took it the following Monday. Jemez Pueblo has opened the Red Rocks Trails. Old timers may remember that at one time this area had a guided hike offered by the Pueblo. The trails are being overseen by the Jemez Pueblo Visitor Center where Hiking Day Pass and Camera Permits are sold (current fee $6.18/day for a single hiker and dog) and trail maps are available. The person (yes, I forgot his name – I am old) who told me about it said that he and his wife had taken the 1.5-mile trail in the morning and then came back that evening to do it again at sunset – it is that good!
I hiked it with my dog – rules are always on-leash and pack out poo – on 9/19. We started around 10:45 AM on a bluebird a day when Albuquerque temperatures were in the upper 80s. A lot of the trail is sun-exposed, but shade is never far away. We were warm but not uncomfortably so, and shady breaks helped – it should be perfect in October and much of November. The hike starts by crossing NM 4 and walking toward the north (left) end of the casita/parking area, where you will see a sign and an entry turnstile. The first half of the trail was very well-marked and maintained. The second half was easy to follow, and stone lines warned of direction changes, but it was not as manicured as the first half.
The main loop travels among the red rocks box canyons and the diversity of the red rocks themselves is amazing, with flowing lines, eroded crags, and every shade of ochre ever made! Cedars are found along the road/trails and in the small canyons and provide the available shade. The trail is listed as moderate difficulty, but the difficulty drops if one takes the southern half (first half) out and back. There is not much elevation change, I would guess less than 200 feet total.
We took the add-on trail, and it was worthwhile – it explores a particularly pretty box canyon. At the point that the add-on trail meets the main trail, there is a small circle of stones with arrow signs to the northern half and the add-on. While on the trail we crossed 4 wooden bridges that had open slats through which one could see the bottom of a shallow (3 feet) arroyo – my dog would not cross the bridges but was happy to run through the arroyo while on the leash – which worked quite well. The trail is advertised as 1.2 miles, but with the add-on segment and the road crossing, I measured the round trip as 1.5 miles. Overall, this is simply a great trail and October is a great month to hike it. It may be a decent winter trail on those days when ice and snow have melted off for a while.
A well-known hike is now open – the Falls Trail in Jemez Falls Park has reopened. This trail is a 1.2-mile round-trip hike that starts at a great parking area with a vault toilet at the trailhead. Drive into the Park and stay on the paved road until reaching the parking area. The East Fork Trail #137 crosses Falls trail after about 1/8 mile, but this section of Trail #137 is currently closed (it goes to McCauley Warm springs and Battleship Park). The trail is easy to follow, and the elevation change of 125 feet is minor compared to most Jemez trails. The view of 70-foot Jemez falls is quite spectacular – try it!
DRIVES: Most forest roads are now open, and the best Jemez scenic drive season is upon us. Rather than pick a specific drive the list below is a collection of great fall drives – now is the time to take time for a drive – colors are changing, and the crisp fall air is a delight, leave some windows open!
FR 289 is open from the NM 4 intersection to a few miles south of FR 268. This opens one of the coolest loop drives in the southern Jemez: NM 4 → FR 289 → FR 36 → FR 268 → NM 4 (see map). A neat forest drive - but with burn scars from recent fires. Despite the reality of the burn scars there are still portions of mixed evergreen forest and great distant views.
FR 10 is now open all the way from just above Ponderosa to Sierra Los Pinos on NM 4. This is a great drive with splendid views and a forest surround.
FR 144 from NM 126 to near the top of the VCNP (about 8 miles one-way, after which FR 144 becomes impassable). My favorite spot on this drive is 6.5 miles in from NM 126. There is a pullout on the right at this point that leads to one of the best views in the Jemez Mountains. One can see both the Valle Grande on the VCNP and the canyon of the Rio San Antonio.
FR 100 and FR 99, both south of Youngsville, both accessed from NM 96. These are both excellent forest roads that explore the north-central Jemez Mountains. They parallel Canones Creek, which has a National Recreation Trail designation (Trail #82) with a trailhead near the FR 100//FR99 intersection.
The Puye Cliff Dwellings are now open for the first time in the last few years. Puye is on NM 30 and reached from Los Alamos or White Rock (a 40-mile drive from Jemez Springs). The Santa Clara Pueblo offers tours of the cliff and the mesa-top dwellings. Call ahead for tour times. If you have not been or have not been in a while, GO NOW – it is cool!
CAMPING: For Jemez organized campgrounds status see the table below. Some significant changes to note:
Fenton Lake State Park campground closed 9/15 except for the 6 electric sites that will remain open until winter.
Vista Linda campground on NM 4 has reopened for first come - first served campers.
Dispersed or Dry camping is open except in burn scar areas or flash flood-prone zones – these areas are signed 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.
Excellent dry camping areas have opened with the forest opening. One of the best is FR 36 (see map in DRIVES). This short forest road has 8 – 10 dry camping sites. As in all dry camping please pack out what you pack in – and no one is coming to clean up the mess you leave – please do it yourself!
FISHING: Fall fishing continues to be good to excellent, due to the great monsoon season that is keeping our streams full. The only drawback is that the great 2022 monsoon also means that the streams muddy-up easily make fishing tough to none. This is a fun time to fish waters you may have passed by in the warmer months. An example is the lower Rio San Antonio from La Cueva to Battleship. This section gets warm in high summer and the wild browns seem to go off the feed, but at this time of year are quite active as they begin to prepare for the spawn in November. Rio San Antonio access is excellent at La Cueva Picnic Area, Dark Canyon, Spence Hot Springs, Rincon, and at least 6 unmarked pullouts. This is mostly dry fly fishing for wild brown trout, but rainbows that escape the stocking at La Cueva do show up at Dark Canyon and Spence through the fall. Toward the end of October, the hatches wane but nymph fishing can still be productive.
Wild brown trout and cutthroat fishing is good through October, but early November is a bit of a toss-up depending on the weather. Mid-range (7,000 to 8500 feet) segments of higher elevation streams such as the East Fork, Rio de Las Vacas, Rio San Antonio, Rio Cebolla, and the northern Jemez creeks are all running clear and fishing well when the weather takes a rein break for few days.
Stocked Fish: The table summarizes recent stocking in the Jemez. Stocking reports are posted weekly on the NMDGF website. The September 16 stocking skipped the Jemez (again) – I am not sure what this means. Hopefully, it does not mean that fall Jemez stockings are over! The Chama River below Abiquiu Dam did get stocked on 9/9 and current flows are in the 100 – 200 cubic feet per second range which is perfect for fishing – focus on the water just below the dam in the picnic area for stockers, and further downstream for big brown trout.
Wild Fish: Fishing for wild fish should continue to improve with cooler air and water temperatures. This also means that the “dog days” of late summer are over and wild fish in lower elevation streams (6,000 – 7,000 feet) typically turn on about this time of year. Examples include the lower Rio de Las Vacas and the lower Rio San Antonio.
This month is the last of the cutthroat fishing in the San Pedro Parks – go now or wait for 2023. This will be true of the upper Cebolla, upper San Antonio, Canones and Polvadera Creeks in the northern Jemez, and the Rios Frijoles and Capulin in the Bandelier wilderness. Do not postpone a cutthroat trip any longer – go now before it is over for the year.
I fished the lower San Antonio at Rincon and Dark Canyon on 9/21. It had rained the night before, but I measured just under ¼ inch at our place, so assumed that little rain would not affect the fishing. WRONG! Evidently, a lot more rain fell in the Valles Caldera or there abouts and the water at Rincon was brown and rushing – with zero visibility I could not see the bottom at all so decided to go upstream. The water at Dark Canyon was clearer but still colored and fast. I tried dry flies in the backwater eddies but had no joy. I switched to a dry/dropper set up with a weighted nymph under a foam caddis and focused on slower flow areas – still no joy. At that point it was clear the only thing left was to go to an indicator or Euro nymph rig and fish right on the bottom or a woolly bugger fished near shore – I opted for the latter only to find no joy again! Sometimes it pays to wait for another day – I went home without touching a fish, but the good news is I did not fall into that fast water. I credit some of that to the habit of wearing studded boots and carrying a wading staff that I use to probe the water ahead of me to avoid surprises.
Some October selections for fishing:
Fenton Lake will fish well if its stocked again, otherwise it will be disappointing. There seem to be fewer brown trout in the lake every year as it fills with ash and debris, so without stocking the fall outlook for Fenton is not good.
As reported last edition the lower Las Vacas below the Girl Scout Camp is fishing well for wild browns. This is also the case for the Las Vacas above the Girl Scout Camp along FR 20 where a shot at a 15+ inch brown trout is a real possibility. There are rainbow holdovers in the mile or so above the Camp most years.
The entire runs of both the Rios Cebolla and San Antonio, even in their lower reaches, should fish well all month for wild fish, and in a few places (e.g., Dark Canyon) there may be rainbow holdovers.
If you can make the hike up into the San Pedro Parks Wilderness (SPPW) there should be at least another 2 - 3 weeks of cutthroat fishing. The shortest hike is to the Rito de Las Perchas which is a mile of grueling uphill pulls. If you have access to a horse the SPPW is the place to fish for October. Unfortunately, San Gregorio Lake was not stocked this year.
The Rio Frijoles in the Bandelier is fishing well. This is a (4 years) recovered cutthroat stream that is doing well. If hiking in from Ponderosa Campground a second car at the visitor center is very handy for getting back to the start point. Hiking in from the Bandelier Visitor Center is also an option, and fishing is allowed above the bridge near Alcove House.
With the monsoon moisture, some of our smallest streams are worth a look. Examples include the Rito Penas Negras, Rio Puerco (FR 103 access), Rio Capulin (Bandelier Wild), Paliza Canyon, and the waters of the northwestern Jemez (e.g., Canones and Polvadera Creeks).
Dry flies should rule most of the month if the weather holds, but if we get a cold spell that could change, and indicator or Euro-style nymphing may be called for. Look up occasionally - the fall forest is not to be missed! Tight lines.