Exploring the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico | Day Drunk: Exploring the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico

March 18, 2015

Exploring the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico

Still shaking sand all the way out of Colorado, we were pretty excited to finally get to New Mexico and find some (hopefully) warmer weather. Our first stop was Santa Fe, where we checked into our base camp, the Santa Fe International Hostel. The hostel is a really friendly place where you can stay in same-sex dorms or rent private rooms with up to five beds inside! We chose the private room route so we didn't have to split up for a very reasonable price.

We had two main goals in Santa Fe: eat chile relleños everyday and check out the Jemez Mountain region. You might remember the story about how Nessa and I nearly got stranded in the woods here at night while looking for hot springs a few Septembers ago. Despite the brush with disaster, I just had to give it another chance! (Spoiler alert: We found them this time!)

On a sunny and moderately warm day in January, we headed off into the mountains to first check out Bandelier National Monument, an Ancestral Pueblo archeological site protecting the impressive canyon homes of the native peoples of the land. If you are thinking "cliff dwellings", than you are on the right page.

Once we took the windy, pine and snow speckled road into the Cañon De Los Frijoles, we grabbed a guide book for a buck and hit the trails along the canyon walls towards the noteworthy Alcove House. The trail, albeit leisurely, is an awesome way to explore the dwellings, sometimes reaching three stories high and accessible by ladders. There are also a lot of friendly rangers walking about to make sure you didn't pass by any petroglyphs without noticing.

The pinkish canyon walls of the Frijole Canyon are made of a volcanic ash called tuff that was deposited from the eruption of the adjacent Valles Caldera over one million years ago. The Ancestral Pueblo people were able to carve homes into the soft tuff and use the harder pieces as bricks. 

See the turkey?

At the end of the trail is the Alcove House, which you can reach by climbing 140 feet into the air on a few narrow ladders. The ladders are very sturdy and I wouldn't hurry to say that the climb was all that scary, but then again, I definitely didn't look down - a steady hand over hand was the perfect method for me.

The whole Jemez Mountain region was formed from volcanic activity triggered by an intracontinental rift (not associated with any fault lines) which also affords the area its many hot and warm springs. And I wasn't just about to give up on those elusive Spence Hot Springs!

Finding the Spence Hot Springs this time was a breeze and not at all as challenging as it should have been for me and Nessa last time! And yes, there is even a sign to the springs on the path and a bridge!

Now I wish I could rave about what a thermal paradise the pools are, but fresh from a few days at the paradisaical Orient Land Trust Hot Springs, these heavily used yet poorly respected pools didn't have the same spark that the might have had if I had found them during an adventure with Nessa.

The best thing about the pools is the spectacular view and the fact that the warm spring is fed from the mouth of a small cave - just the right size to squeeze into and maximize the warmth. Otherwise, the layers of soggy trash that surrounds the whole area kind of kills the vibe. Considering how easy it is to reach from the main road, that is not totally surprising, but still a bummer for someone trying to enjoy nature. Although I certainly was able to get a little relaxing in!

We looped around south of the mountains and back into Santa Fe in time for chile relleños and a little bit of dancing before resting up for more New Mexican adventures.


  1. oh this is beautiful! i am originally from the southwest but now live in the northwest. i miss that light so much!

    1. I love to visit the southwest - New Mexico is so so magical. Although the northwest is pretty special too. I'm imagining it must be pretty beautiful this time of year! Thanks for reading!