Jemez Adventures Newsletter September 2021
Jemez Mountains in General – GOOD NEWS - Fire danger in most areas is
currently MODERATE. This does not mean that fires can’t start if campers,
hikers, and fishers aren’t careful – please put campfires completely out.
The strong 2021 monsoon continued through August and the forest is beautifully
green, full of wildflowers, and the streams are running very well for late summer.
Forest roads may be muddy, and puddles will form in places. Letting roads dry a
day or two after heavy rains is always a good idea. In wet weather avoid roads that
have big mud potential like NM 126 west of the Seven Springs Hatchery.
Recent and coming highlights/overview in the Jemez outdoors:
The dry (dispersed) camping season continues, albeit a bit wet! 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. Responsibly tended campfires are allowed.
Trout stocking in the Jemez in August was limited to Fenton Lake. Fall stocking was skipped last year for Covid – let’s hope for a better in 2021!
In July a 23-inch rainbow was caught on the East Fork! A photo appears below in the fishing section – what a tremendous fish for our small stream waters to hold.
Fishing for wild brown and cutthroat trout was good through August and it appears that will continue in September.
Most organized Jemez SFNF campgrounds (CGs) are open, the exception still being Cochiti Lake campgrounds which remain closed due to Covid. The Cochiti campgrounds and Kashe Katuwi may open in August – see the phone number to call for status in the table below. NOTE: Puye Cliff Dwellings were added to the major Jemez attractions this month – as they should be. A visit to Puye is a magical experience.
Wildflowers are out in the high meadows and can be some of the most entertaining vistas in the Jemez. Take a scenic drive in September!
The table below summarizes access to popular Jemez public lands:
Regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic please respect New Mexico's outdoor guidance. Currently, masks are mandatory indoors but distancing when in the forest is still a
good idea. Crowds in the Jemez will wane after Labor Day – great time to get out.
NOTE: The Format for the Newsletter will be changing this month and October. Changes to date:
Future newsletters will be focused on last month’s activities AND next month’s, so August in the old version becomes September – albeit with other changes.
Hiking – Temperature swings at this time of year are often 30 degrees low to high. Carry a light jacket if out early or late. As always carry water, wear a hat, use sunscreen. Being careful is tedious - until you need it.
The early September short hike highlight is a bit odd – it’s the Las Conchas Fishing Access on NM 4 10.3 miles beyond La Cueva. A day-use only SFNF site at 8440 feet elevation it sits along the East Fork of the Jemez River. The first 1⁄2 mile or so has paved trails and picnic tables set in a gorgeous alpine meadow. This is a great place for a family picnic with a river to wade in and banks to explore – and not as crowded as the Las Conchas Rec Area just 1⁄2 mile west. After this segment, the box canyon continues upstream to the VCNP. The trail gets rougher as it follows the East Fork for over a mile to the VCNP boundary, but the scenery just keeps getting better. Be prepared to wade across the river and climb a few boulders in the canyon section. The fishing report below shows a 23-inch brown trout caught here in July.
September typically starts warm and cools down by month’s end. The aspens and cottonwoods begin to turn color toward the end of the month, and this year the grasses and brush are green. This is a great time to visit the VCNP – at 8600 feet it will be cool in the morning and evening and warmer in high sun. My favorite short hike in the VCNP is along Jaramillo Creek. An old road parallels the creek - it is slowly growing over but still easily followed. The road is on the left going in on VC01 and VC02 about 4.6 miles from the visitor center. The road (VC03 but not marked) and Jaramillo Creek (covered in grass) can be seen from VC02 – look for some collapsed wooden buildings on the left (south side) of the creek. A few cars can park in the pullout just beyond the creek on the right. Elevation change is small and a 1⁄2 mile in and return makes for a fun 1-mile round trip with views of Valle Jaramillo. The road continues to 1.2 miles from VC02
with a bit of rise and even better views. A back-country permit is required but
doesn’t add to the $25/car entry fee. Some days the $25 fee is waived – call ahead
to find out ((575) 829-4100 Option 3). For more information on longer hikes in the
VCNP try the book Hiking Trails in Valles Caldera National Preserve by Coco Rae,
and always ask for trail status info at the VCNP Visitor Center. There are many more short trails in the VCNP backcountry – we’ll talk more about them in the mid-
Drives – September may be the best month of the year for a drive in the Jemez. Skies
are at their bluest, the crowds ebb after Labor Day, and the weather doesn’t get much
better! Gas up, take water, hats, lunch/snacks, and go driving in the forest.
A September drive on the VCNP is real treat. The weather is cooling down, the views are stupendous, and with luck, you may hear a bugling elk. The VCNPs’ backcountry drive permit allows driving along VC01, VC02, and VC09. A short drive of roughly 25 - 30 miles round trip if one doesn’t count the distance to get to the VCNP entry gate. At 1.8 miles from the entry gate stop at the VCNP visitors Center to pay the entry fee and get a backcountry permit, and a fishing permit if that’s your intent (both permits are free after entry fee). The VCNP publishes a 2-page Backcountry Driving Companion which can be downloaded on their site - it includes an overview map, VCNP rules, safety, and other helpful information. Also, it’s worth getting a VCNP map at the Visitor Center – It's $15 but well worth it for the detail it provides, and the description of the VCNP’s geological origins on the back is great. Jaramillo Creek is 4.6 miles from the visitor center (see trail discussion above). Many VCNP roads are closed off with a cable gate – that means do not drive here – but you can walk all you want! Thus, old ranch roads become “trails” - as an example, VC04, at 19.0 miles from the Visitor Center and is a super walk. At about 25.7 miles VC02 dead-ends at a T-intersection Jaramillo Creek TH 4.6 mi. from VCNP Vis. Ctr.
Coming up – Next month other short trails off VC02 and VC09 will be discussed. An interesting feature going east on VC09 from the intersection is the Rito de los Indios and its Valle (via VC13). Six miles after the turn east there is a parking area and a sign on the left for Los Indios and VC13. The trail high point is nearly 9000 feet. The Rito de los Indios feeds into the Rio San Antonio near here. The Rito was flowing in late August and is a perennial stream, albeit very small. Unfortunately, the VCNP cattle herd has trampled this section of the San Antonio badly, so if fishing - go west!
Camping – September and early October are my favorite camping months in the
Jemez. The weather stays cool and comfortable, and the air is filled with the fresh
smells of autumn forest and flowers - perfect for camping.
All organized public Campgrounds in the Jemez Mountains remain open except the
two at Cochiti Lake. The table below shows most Jemez-organized campgrounds but
does not include Group Campgrounds.
Dry (Dispersed) Camping – Tent and RV dry campers will find September to be a great month to enjoy the Jemez (with October being a close second). Dry campers are welcome to stop along forest roads and pitch camp for up to a 14-day maximum stay. The most popular (and crowded) dry camping road is FR 376 south of NM 126. A quieter experience can be found along FR 36, FR 10, or FR 103.
Assuming the monsoon continues to be strong both organized and dry camping should
remain unrestricted through September. A great September dry camping road to try is
FR 534 and FR 533 in the western Jemez. Reachable from FR-376 just below Porter
Bridge (FR 534), or from Cuba (FR 533). Road conditions were excellent as recently as
July and this should continue through September.
Fishing – Jemez streams continue to run well and clear for this time of year. The
strong August monsoon should keep these conditions going through September –
hopefully! The big (breaking) fishing news is that a goliath brown trout of 23-inches has
been caught in the upper East Fork. The lucky fisherman, Mel Brown, caught it above
Las Conchas Fishing Access near the VCNP border. He caught it in a rainstorm on a fly tied by his wife Deborah.
I fished this same water about 2 weeks later and my biggest fish was a 6-inch chub – and I have a picture to prove it!! Mel’s fish could have eaten my chub in one gulp.
I Did some blue lining (searching for fishable water) with Michael B. trying to fish Chihuahueños Creek, a cutthroat stream in the Northwest Jemez. No luck – but I’m not giving up – next time we’ll intercept it at a lower altitude (where there’s water!).
Red C. submitted a report on the Rio San Antonio on the VCNP. In July he had had a rough day up there. The new report: Went to the VCNP again with my stepson and had a good time. I caught the biggest brown I’ve ever caught in the Jemez – let alone the San Antonio – 14 inches! Hoppers and Adams did really well. Mornings and minimal wind were critical factors.
This is shaping up to be a great early September for fishing. Typically, a round or two of stocking takes place in the Jemez streams in the fall but was skipped last year due to Covid. Fenton Lake is still being stocked, the Cebolla will probably be stocked, and hopefully the upper Jemez and lower San Antonio.
This is still a time for dry flies, and particularly terrestrials. Don’t forget hoppers (size # 10 or #12) all month. For a different looking dropper, I like a wet ant in a #14 – a fly that’s simple to tie, is a go-to anytime, and it sinks fast. Perdigons are usually associated with Euro-nymphing, but they can be a great dropper – especially when tied in caddis colors and shape. Tight lines – see you on the stream.