Located at the southernmost point of the Rocky Mountains, the Jemez Mountains house mostly undisturbed forested wilderness, containing rocky peaks, meadows, streams, lakes, and waterfalls, plus only occasional houses and villages. Other features in this range have been the result of past volcanic activity, including hot springs, sulfurous vents and a large caldera - a ring of hills comprising the remains of several long-extinct volcanoes. Adventure awaits for any outdoorsman who enjoys free primitive camping and a plethora of recreational activities.
The main route to enter the Jemez Mountains is down Hwy 4 from Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument. This scenic route follows the Jemez River for much of it before changing the landscape to the desert-like Jemez Indian Reservation. The drive begins through the high desert land of low mesas and exposed red sandstone formations, then into a wooded valley. An interesting section of the drive is near Jemez Springs where there are many hot springs and pools, some hidden deep in the forest but others quite close to the main road. A few are large (and safe) enough for bathing.
Nestled in the Jemez Mountains is the Jemez Historic Site, formerly known as the Jemez State Monument. This site protects the ruins of a 17th century Spanish mission that are centered on a large church with the remains of an earlier Native American pueblo that had been established around 1500. This site has been recognized as a National Historical Landmark as the church still has walls standing 40 feet high. The ruins may be toured by a 1,400 foot, partly paved, partial loop trail, and are accompanied by an informative museum. About one hour is the minimum time needed to explore the whole site.
Watch a quick tour of the Jemez Historic Site in this video:
Cover photo by Chris Murray via Unsplash.