Jemez Mountains in General - We’ve been in the Jemez for nearly 15 years and have never seen a monsoon as strong as this one. I’ve spoken to long-term residents of the Jemez and many agree this is one of the wettest monsoons they remember. The streams are full of water, everything seems too green for late August (not complaining), and the rain keeps coming. Hopefully, all this moisture is also filling our springs, they are the single most important factor in our ability to live in the Jemez Mountains. If one looks around the southwestern U.S. the drought is threatening many cities that depend on Colorado River water, which makes me doubly thankful that our springs provide some independence from distant water sources.
The rain and mud have made some outdoor adventures a bit more gnarly – hiking and camping are the most affected. Scenic drives on muddy roads can be dangerous and the fun of getting out to stretch one’s legs wanes when surrounded by mud. Fishing has been surprisingly good during the monsoon, especially at higher elevations. Watching the weather before venturing out is always a good idea and being prepared for inclement weather never goes out of style. Dive out between rains, leaving a day or two for roads and trails to dry out, and you will find the temperatures are nearly perfect and the forest is greener than you’ve ever seen.
There are still several closures in the forest due to flash flood potential or burn scar areas. FR 376 has been closed lately for maintenance, FR 289 and FR 10 remain closed, Jemez River recreation areas are closed (e.g., Battleship Rock, Soda Dam, the lower Jemez River fishing and recreation access sites), and Jemez Falls is still closed (but the front gate is open so you can drive in for ¼ mile or so before having to turn around. A few of the mountains’ outdoor recreation highlights (the “Jemez Jewels”) are closed (see table below and in Camping), but most are open for business, recently including the Puye Cliff Dwellings.
HIKING – Jemez trails should stay in good shape through September albeit with some mud issues. Our middle daughters’ family came to visit in mid-August, so I ended up doing 3 hikes between the 15th and the 25th – not complaining, they were all super! On 8/17 we hiked the Las Conchas trail from the NM 4 trailhead. I have reported on this hike many times, mainly because it’s so beautiful – it is the first trail I think of to take visitors. We had 3 adults and 3 children and felt never crowded or cramped. The parking area was full when we arrived, so we had to park in the rock-climbing area about 1/8 mile farther on NM 4 and walk back to the trail – which required a crossing of the East Fork. We all shucked shoes and waded across in bare feet – a bit rocky but not bad. The wildflowers were near their peak and the entire canyon sang with their colors. The Las Conchas had delivered again!
The crew wanted to visit the Valles Caldera so on 8/18 we went up to the VCNP and got a backcountry pass (still no fee entry). While driving out toward VC 09 on VC 02 we saw a coyote with a prairie dog in its mouth – dinner served! We went east on VC 09 to where the Rito de Los Indios joins the Rio San Antonio. The Rito is followed by ranch road VC 13 that makes a for great trail (no vehicles allowed) into the northern part of the Preserve. The trail starts in montane prairie/grasslands bordered by conifer forests. After about mile the trail splits into VC 13 going northwest and VC 14 going northeast. We did not take VC 14, but it sure looked like a cool hike. Above this trail juncture there was some welcome shade on VC 13 in the next ½ mile or so, and VC 14 looked as if it had some shade also. It was a cloudy day with storms building so we turned around at the 1.5-mile point and reached the car just as the rain started. I would recommend this trail for its beauty and isolation, with the caveat that there is not much shade in the first mile or two, so it is a good choice for an overcast day. Bring sunscreen and hats.
My third hike in late August was above the San Antonio Hot Spring. The Hot Spring trail is reached (from July 1 to December 31) by driving on FR 376 north of the NM 126 intersection. This road is rough, but it is in better shape than I have ever seen it – 2WD vehicles can make it when dry (go slow) and 4WDs can make it when wet (stay on the edges of the bigger puddles). At 4.3 miles in there is a parking area on the right on FR 376 just before the gate barring vehicular traffic. The walk to the Hot Springs is ½ mile long from here and very pleasant, going downhill at a gentle slope with great views of the Rio San Antonio below. Just as one approaches the Hot Spring the road splits, on the right is the trail to the springs, and the left turn is to the trail above the Hot Springs. This trail has a gate as one leaves the springs area and follows the Rio for the next 4 – 5 miles. On 8/15 Michael B. and I took the trail as part of a fishing trip.
The trail (as often occurs) is on an old roadbed. In most segments, the trail is in good shape, but there are 3 – 4 areas where the old roadbed has been overrun by a slide. Surprisingly crossing these slide areas was no problem – they are stable and prior hikers have established a route across them. At about 1.5 miles above the springs a conservation fence with a turnstile crosses the road/trail, and to the right is a ladder for access to the Rio.
The canyon of San Antonio is downright gorgeous in this area with the stream running in a grassy meadow surrounded by a mixed conifer and aspen forest. Getting to the stream is generally easy from the trail, but it can be boggy in spots. Dogs are allowed on leashes on the trail but are not a good idea at the Hot Spring. Mornings are quite cool at this elevation (about 8500 feet) in late summer and a light jacket is advisable. As always carry water and snacks, wear hats, and let someone know where you are going – this is a remote alpine wilderness (with no cell reception).
DRIVES – I tried to do a drive on FR 534 on 8/19 only to discover that FR 376 was closed below the Gilman Tunnels. I assume the closure is related to the falling rocks problem that FR 376 has had since the monsoon got rolling. Add to this the closure of FR 289 and FR 10 and three of our most important access roads to the forest aren’t available, limiting the scenic drives options considerably.
I did take two drives on the way to hikes and fishing and both were fun. They were both discussed above in Hiking – FR 376 to the San Antonio Hot Springs and VC 02 and VC 09 in the Valle, and both are worth doing in early September. The wildflowers are at their best right now in the high country and this time of year is considered by many as the best time to get out on a scenic drive. Some other suggestions:
Fr 144 from NM 126 to near the top of the VCNP (about 8 miles one-way, after which FR 144 becomes nearly 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, are 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.
As noted in the last edition the Puye Cliff Dwellings are now open for the first time in the last few years. Puye is on NM 30 which can be reached from Los Alamos or White Rock (a 40-mile drive from Jemez Springs). Tours of the cliff dwellings and the mesa-top pueblo are offered by the Santa Clara Pueblo. Call ahead for tour times. If you haven’t been or haven’t been in a while, GO NOW – it’s totally cool!
This is a great time to explore the northern Jemez from NM 96. Forest roads accessible from NM 96 include FR 76, FR 103, FR 172, FR 316, FR 100, and FR 167 – all of which are well worth the trip.
NM 112 is also reached from NM 96 and is the road leading to the Nogales Cliff Dwellings (on FR 313) and Rattlesnake Ridge Ruins (on FR 390) of the Gallina Culture that thrived around 1000 AD and disappeared around 1200 AD.
CAMPING – Jemez organized campgrounds status is shown in the table below. Dispersed or Dry camping is open except in burn scar areas or flash flood prone zones – these are posted 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. The fires interrupted some planned campground maintenance and refurbishment efforts so check the relevant websites for availability.
My plan was to continue to log/map the dry camping areas for this edition focusing on FR 534 and/or FR 103. Both were problematic – 534 access was cut off by the FR 376 closure and getting to FR 103 coming from the west meant driving on NM 126 when very wet – never advisable! Both roads have extensive dry camping areas, and both should be in good condition and can handle RVs easily when dry. Until NM 126 is dry or lower FR 376 reopens FRs 534 and 103 are best reached from Cuba – for FR 534 take a right on FR 533 from NM 126 coming out of Cuba (23.5 miles) which eventually joins FR 534, and for FR 103 take a left from NM 126 at 30.4 miles from Cuba (mileages from Cuba are measured from the NM 126//US 550 intersection). Weather and closures permitting I’ll get detailed data for the dry camping areas on these roads soon.
Remember when dry camping that the agreement you have effectively made with the USFS is that you will clean up your site and pack out everything you packed in. This includes all garbage (do not bury it) and all toys, chairs, etc. It also means you are responsible for putting your campfires out completely, and obeying forest rules re fire and flood zone restrictions. The maximum stay for dry camping in the SFNF is 14 days, and the fee is zero.
FISHING – Waters will start to cool through September, and mid-month is the unofficial start of fall fishing season. Stocking will resume soon and hopefully, continue for a few months. A stocking issue now is that the closures for the flash-flood-prone areas are also often stocking sites, so until the flash-flood threat is over, we won’t be at 100% of the usual fall stocking rate. Wild brown trout will start bulking up late this month and into October for the November spawn. Cooling water temperatures will help all Jemez trout and that makes fall a special time to fish Jemez waters.
Stream clarity has been poor to none in the lower elevation waters (e.g., Jemez, Guadalupe, lower Las Vacas, lower San Antonio, lower Puerco). Higher altitude streams are clearer and have fished well for wild fish throughout August. Examples include the Rio San Antonio above NM 126, the Rio Cebolla above the hatchery, the Rio San Antonio on the VCNP, East Fork above Jemez Falls, Rio Frijoles in the Bandelier, steams in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, and the Las Vacas above the Girl Scout Camp.
Stocked Fish: The table summarizes recent stocking in the Jemez. Stocking will increase with lower water temperatures and lower flash flood threat closures. Fenton Lake, Rio Cebolla, and the Kid Pond were stocked in late August.
I fished Fenton Lake on 8/23. I got there at 8 AM and there was only one parking space left (out of 4) near the peninsula where most fly fishers wade. I fished a two-nymph rig beneath an indicator and was casting 30 – 40 feet with a depth to the first fly of about 30 inches, and the bottom fly was 12 inches below that. All my hits (about 6 total) came on the bottom fly. The best-producing bottom flies were a #16 Hare’s Ear and a #18 Blood Midge. My first and largest fish was a nice 13+ inch rainbow. Shortly after landing it, I began to realize that my waders were leaking but I figured I could tough it out for the morning’s fishing. My next fish was a foul-hooked 9-inch fish, but by then the cold had begun to set in – I wasn’t shivering yet, but it was clear I was close! At around 9:10 I caught my last fish - another 9-incher but fair-hooked – and by then there was no doubt I was shivering. I headed for home and dry socks.
Fishing at the lake was kind of slow but decent, and it was nice to get that one good-sized stocker. Fenton Lake has only been stocked twice since the fires and should only improve through September with more fall stockings. While fishing I did see an Osprey line up on a trout and make a tremendous dive. The bird did get hold of the fish and we Post Fire NMDGF Triploid Rainbow Stocking Entries are a number of fish Stocking Date ‘22 Fenton Lake Rio Cebolla Kid Pond Jemez River Las Vacas Rio San Antonio Thru Aug 25, 2204, 500 1087 0 0 0 Thru Sept. 10 Thru Sept 25 could see the fish thrashing beneath the bird as it attempted to take off – but after dragging the fish for about 6 – 10 feet it was becoming clear that taking off was a problem! Evidently, the fish was too big for the Osprey’s motor. It made a couple more attempts before giving up its breakfast and talking off empty-handed. Initially, I was rooting for the fish, but that bird worked so hard that I began to hope it would succeed – bummer.
Wild Fish: Wild fish activity should improve with lower water temperatures. Grasshoppers will be important through mid-September, and the Blue Wing Olives (baetis) should come back in good numbers, albeit a bit smaller, in the fall. Some thoughts and notes:
The Jemez River has been murky but as it clears the brown trout fishing should improve. I ran into a fisher on the Rio San Antonio on 8/21 that had caught a few browns at the Rincon Fishing Access on the lower San Antonio using dries. He said he had tried nymphs and streamers to no avail and had gone fishless before switching to dry flies. I have not heard anything about the lower East Fork due to the Battleship closure, but it tends to clear before the San Antonio and fishes better the farther you hike up trail #137 – let’s hope the Battleship Rock access opens soon! I have fished this section with nymphs before, but never in September - the dry fly fishing is just too good! The upper East Fork (above Jemez falls) is fishing great.
FR 376 has been closed a few times recently just below the Gilman Tunnels. This means that access to the Rio Guadalupe and lower Rio de Las Vacas is from the NM 126//FR 376 intersection west of La Cueva. When I saw those streams last - about 8/11 - they were both running clear with very good flows. I was collecting camping data and didn’t fish (and yes, it hurt). Streams in the Porter Bridge/ Peggy Mesa area should fish well through September. The Cebolla has been running clear along the FR 376 stretch. Watch for the two conservation-restricted zones – the easiest Cebolla water to access is the stretch from the bridge upstream for 1.8 miles.
Michael B. and I fished the upper San Antonio above the San Antonio Hot Springs on 8/19. The 4.3-mile drive on FR 376 to the hot springs parking area was in good shape, and there were about 6 cars there by our arrival just after 8 AM. We hiked the ½ mile to the springs and continued through a turnstile to head upstream. This area has a series of natural material weirs that have deepened the Rio channel and created trout habitat in the process. We hiked and fished from the streamside fishing trail for a couple of hours and eventually came to a conservation fence that also crossed the road/trail.
A fishers’ ladder over the conservation fencing had been installed for stream access. Up to this point I had caught 3 or 4 small (<6”) brown trout and quite frankly was about to write it off as a ho-hum day. I caught a 10-inch brown trout on my second cast inside the conservation fence.
This was followed by 3 or 4 more in the 8 – 10-inch range – 2 of which were Rio Grande Cutthroats! It was at this point that I became interested in the road/trail that lines the west side of the canyon floor – particularly as a shortcut to the conservation fence in future trips. See Hiking for a description of the trail/road. There seem to be fewer places where one can fish and have a wilderness experience at the same time - the upper San Antonio is one of those few places, treat it well and enjoy – tight lines.