If you are looking for something to do this weekend, consider this: the fishing is free at Fenton Lake this Saturday. No license is required. And if you have children, just up the road from Fenton Lake, the Seven Springs Fish Hatchery has a large pond reserved for children under 12. Kids with even cheap bigbox fishing poles have been very successful there. But there is more to a weekend drive through the Jemez than fishing.
Some of the most interesting scenery in the state is in the Jemez Mountains. There are hoodoos, giant eroded ridges, warm springs, jumbled piles of basalt, volcanic ash flows, red rock canyons, and even pumice stones that float. And much of this is at an elevation that takes you out of the heat of the Rio Grande Valley and into cool stands of ponderosa pines.
This scenic side trip departs from U.S. 550 at San Ysidro. Take Rt. 4 north to the Fenton Lake turnoff (NM 126) at La Cueva. Follow route 126 and signs all the way to Cuba. After a hearty dinner there, the 83 mile drive back to Albuquerque is full of enough dramatic vistas to guarantee an unforgettable afternoon.
Here are a few of the highlights of this tour of the Jemez Mountains. Just past San Ysidro the road follows the river and arrives at the Jemez community of Walatowa. And then come those wonderful red rocks with the roadside stands selling fry bread and Navajo tacos. Beyond that is the town of Jemez Springs, home of several sit-down restaurants and two public hot springs.
The river cottonwoods gradually give way to ponderosas as the road climbs towards the head of San Diego Canyon. One of the most popular places to stop is Battleship Rock. This 200 foot tall formation of welded volcanic ash actually does look like the prow of a battleship and is unmistakable from the highway. There are two trails there. Trail 137 takes the hiker on a two mile trip to the storied McCauley Warm Springs. Another trail leads from north of the parking lot to Hidden Falls, a beautiful 25 foot high waterfall.
Continue driving north on Rt. 4 turning left on NM 126 at La Cueva. The road continues to climb before finally descending to Fenton Lake. Located at 7900 feet, Fenton offers both fishing and camping. The paved section of 126 currently stops at Fenton Lake, but if you have young kids, continue on through the construction zone to the Seven Springs Fish Hatchery.
Their brood pond is available for children under 12 to use. It’s stocked twice a month, so the chances for kids to catch a trout in this gorgeous little valley are pretty decent. The gravel route north of the hatchery is in good shape. It winds its way over the rim of the caldera once or twice giving up some absolutely wonderful views. The feeling of tranquility out in this part of the Jemez Mountains is just so welcome. Eventually pavement begins again and Cuba, nestled in the distance below the western horizon, beckons from below.
One great place to stop in Cuba for something to eat is El Bruno. El Bruno has been a fixture in Cuba for years. Recently they opened up a new restaurant in ABQ's north valley.
The 75 mile drive back to Albuquerque is generally regarded as one of the most scenic roads in the state, especially because of the large rock formations that line NM 550 to the south and west.
This drive through the Jemez is just a wonderful trip and now is the perfect time for it. Hope you get the chance to do it.
(Parts of this story appeared in September's NMMarketplace).