Jemez Mountains in General - This is usually our best time of year to take advantage of fall weather, but the rains have put a damper on Jemez Outdoor activities. One can still hike and fish, and camping is OK if you are ready for rainfall but picking the moment to go gets tougher with rain – much like the Balloon Fiesta. Jemez folk do not complain about rain, but in a monsoon like this one it limits outdoor time.
We had a flock of a dozen wild turkeys in our yard on 10/6 – what a gorgeous sight! Mule deer activity continues to be high, and brown trout are nearing the spawn. Aspens and cottonwoods should yellow these last few weeks of October. This is a fun time for visiting Jemez Jewels (see Calendar below).
HIKING – As it gets cooler, and rainfall continues to be plentiful hikes in the Jemez require a bit more planning – make sure your kit includes a way to get warm and stay dry. When trails are wet footing becomes critical – watch for washouts, slick climbs, and muddy areas that can cause a trip or fall. Check the forecast - Albuquerque TV
channels are a good start, but I have found that the weather app on my phone is more specific to our area. I carry a small pack on my hikes and try to keep it under 10 pounds. I typically carry water (2 pints for a hike under 2-4 miles in length), a lightweight dog water bowl, human and dog snacks, a hooded raincoat, and a sweater (in a large zip-lock bag) in my pack. I have water-resistant ball caps that I wear in wet weather, my boots are waterproof, and I put on or carry a raincoat if it looks like rain.
Having said all that on 10/5 I took a hike on the East Fork Trai #137 from the Battleship Rock trailhead. Arriving at the East Fork parking lot the weather looked cloudy, but rain did not seem imminent – a guess that turned out to be totally wrong! Starting out the trail was wet but walkable and the fallen trees that had been here in the spring had been cleared. It was good for the first ½ mile or so while the trail followed the East Fork Jemez River – admittedly I rarely go beyond this point as I usually start fishing here. Just as we (me and my dog) hiked up the first switchback the rain started, but it was a light drizzle and did not seem threatening. I was pleased to see that the USFS had installed signs at the bottom of the first switchback. After that, turn uphill signage stopped, but the trail is obvious in most places and if one chooses the wrong path, it soon becomes clear that a short backtrack is necessary. From the first switchback turn to the second is about 500 feet, and by the time we got there the rain was more serious, but by then we were invested in the hike, so we marched on. After that first switchback, the trail climbs more steeply, gaining altitude steadily until it peaks at about 1+ mile in after a 500+-foot rise. We got to a high point on the trail just as the cloudburst started – we headed back, getting soaked along the way.
This is not a good trail for kids, the unfit, or anyone wearing flip-flops – it is a steep grueling hike that is often very narrow and slippery when wet. The views are super – including one near the top of the trail where one looks over the Battleship Rock to Virgin Mesa. When we turned around, we were still a couple of miles from McCauley Warm Spring. I enjoyed the trail (despite the weather) with a notable exception – graffiti. Why people want to redecorate the outdoors and ruin the experience for those hoping to see the natural forest I will never know – but be prepared, there are ugly painted rocks. Jemez trails are in decent shape and should stay that way until the first snow – which could happen sooner than you think – so get out and take a hike in the mountains now!
DRIVES: Forest roads are open, and one of the best Jemez scenic drive seasons is upon us. I did not get a chance to take an early October drive but did drive NM 126 to the FR 20 section above the Girl Scout Camp on the way to fish the Las Vacas. I was surprised to see NM 126 in decent shape and recently graded - with the rain we have had I expected the worst!
A drive I always enjoy at this time of year (assuming the rains relent a bit) is FR 10. It has a wide range of elevations starting in the cedar-studded hills and reaching aspen-friendly heights. It also has interesting side roads, including FR 270 – the road to the Cerro Pelado Fire Lookout which is now open. Some FR 10 side roads lead to the field house and pueblo ruins – if you chance upon them, please look but do not touch. On one trip we took a side road in the foothills and found an abandoned car that was stuck in a rock garden – it was surrounded by beer bottles and lunch remnants. It was there for at least 2 years, but eventually, the car was gone - and predictably they left the trash. We hauled some trash out and others have done the same, so most traces of the event are gone now. The last few miles of FR 10 go through private property in Sierra Los Pinos before FR 10 intersects NM 4.
Late October is currently looking as if it will be drier, which makes for good scenic drive conditions. Grab a map and/or guidebook and see the mountains before the snow season precludes high-country access.
CAMPING: For Jemez organized campgrounds status see the table below. Nighttime temperatures are now routinely in the 40’s so be prepared for chilly weather. Dispersed or Dry camping is open on all forest roads and will be that way until snow falls. Backpacking is open in the Bandelier, San Pedro Parks, and Dome Wildernesses, and in the Santa Fe National Forest. As in all 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: The streams are full, and the weather is getting colder – great combo for late fall Jemez fishing! In typical years, the fall fishing is often over by mid-November. Stocking shifts to the lower Jemez River for winter, sometimes starting in December. Wild fish are active during this transition time, with brown trout spawning in November and cutthroats trying to fatten up before the snows. The 6 weeks from now until the end of November can be good fishing if the weather stabilizes – particularly during those nice warming periods we get in late fall. Dry fly dominance begins to wain and nymphs and streamers become important again as the weather cools. Bait fishers need to be more concerned about getting and staying close to the bottom. Spin fishers would do well to switch to jigs with a bit of flash fished deep.
Stocked Fish: The table summarizes recent stocking in the Jemez. Stocking reports are posted weekly at the NMDGF website. The September 23 stocking hit most of the Jemez sites. For those willing to travel the Chama River below El Vado Dam, the Pecos River (and Mora and Holy Ghost tributaries), and the Rio Grande above and below Pilar were all stocked on 9/30.
Michael B. and I fished Battleship Rock on 9/30. It had been stocked the week prior and fished hard. The most popular pools were nearly fished out and finding a fish or two in them was tough. We did find a honey-hole below the last riffle above the YMCA Camp bridge and between us caught a dozen and a half or more and released them all in good shape.
Wild Fish: Fishing for wild brown trout fish should be good through mid-November, but not as hot as early October. I have always fished the brown trout spawn with streamers and have recently started tying euro-jigs to try them out – they get deep fast and stay there.
Cutthroat fishing will be inconsistent to none by November, but there may be time yet to do a last trip into the San Pedro Parks, the Bandelier Wilderness, the upper Cebolla and San Antonio, or the Canones and Polvadera Creeks in the northern Jemez. Do not put it off – go now or wait until spring!
We had visitors from Colorado the week of the 24th of September. I had fished with Peri G. many times over the last 20 years, and she brought John and Judy – he a fishing guide in Almont Colorado, and his sister from northern California. It would be hard to assemble a nicer group of fishers – we all fished together on the East Fork and the Rio de Las Vacas, and John and Judy fished the Guadalupe and upper San Antonio that week. Here is a brief report:
Rio Guadalupe 9/23 – John got a solid 14” brown trout on a black wooly bugger plus a few smaller fish.
East Fork at Las Conchas Trailhead 9/24 (photo right) - Peri G. and I stayed with small (#16 or #18) dry flies and caught about 10 brown trout between us with a big fish of 10 inches. John and Judy stayed with black wooly buggers and saw a lot of action also.
Lass Vacas 9/26 – The Rio had been stocked the week prior above the Girl Scout Camp. Everyone caught lots of stockers; I fished a two-nymph rig with an egg on top and a pheasant tail flashback below and caught and released more fish than I deserved. Between us we got 4 brown trout, all small. We had intended to go back up FR 20 to the water just below NM 126 where the big brown trout live, but the skies were darkening and the thought of driving NM 126 in a hard rain drove us back around 1 PM.
Upper San Antonio above the Hot Springs – John and Judy caught some nice brown trout and some cutthroats in the area upstream of the hot springs where the conservation efforts have resulted in a renewed/revived fishery. They commented that it was a beautiful place – I totally concur.
I was pleased that they left with a good impression of the Jemez in general and that the fish cooperated so well while they were here. They were shocked at how uncrowded and pristine the Jemez is – do not worry - I swore them to secrecy! Dry flies should be effective for another 2 – 3 weeks if they are small and the weather does not crash to low temperatures, but their run is waning. Usually, at this time of year the streams are at their lowest, and fishing nymphs and streamers work, but thanks to the 2022 monsoon we have high water and fishing deeper is easier. Streams can be a bit off-color with the rains, but that combined with high water is a perfect setup for euro nymphing. Look up occasionally - the fall forest is worth it! Tight lines.