Coronado Historic Site 485 Kuaua Rd.; (505) 867-5351; nmmonuments.org/ coronado
Range Café 925 S. Camino del Pueblo; (505) 867-1700; rangecafe.com
Sandoval County Visitor Center 264 S Camino del Pueblo; (505) 867-8687; sandovalcounty.org
JEMEZ PUEBLO AND PONDEROSA
Ponderosa Valley Vineyards and Winery 3171 N.M. 290, Ponderosa; (575) 834-7487; ponderosawinery.com
Walatowa Visitor Center 7413 N.M. 4, Jemez Pueblo; (575) 834-7235; jemezpueblo.org
Cañon del Río Retreat & Spa 16445 N.M. 4; (575) 829-4377; canondelrio.com
Elk Mountain Lodge 37485 N.M. 126; (575) 829-3159; elkmtnlodge.com
Giggling Springs 40 Abousleman Loop; (575) 829-9175; gigglingsprings.com
Highway 4 Coffee 17502 N.M. 4; (575) 829-4655; hwy4coffee.com
Jemez Fine Art 17346 N.M. 4; (575) 829-3340; jemezfineart.com
Jemez Historic Site 18160 N.M. 4; (575) 829-3530; nmmonuments.org/jemez
Jémez Springs Bath House 62 Jemez Springs Plaza; (575) 829-3303; jemezspringsbathhouse.com
Jémez Springs Visitor Information jemezsprings.org Los Ojos Restaurant & Saloon N.M. 4 at Abousleman Loop; (575) 829-3547; losojossaloon.com
Valles Caldera National Preserve 39200 N.M. 4 (22 miles N. of Jémez Springs); (866) 382-5537; vallescaldera.gov
Why Go Now
Slicing through a deep valley of red-rock cliffs and fringing the rim of one of North America’s largest volcanic calderas, N.M. 4—which makes up part of the Jémez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway—takes in eye-popping scenery and feels utterly secluded, like one of those hidden forest roads snaking through New Mexico’s remotest hinterlands. Yet coming from Albuquerque or Santa Fe, you can be well into your journey, perhaps soaking in a warm hot-springs pool or scampering through an ancient Puebloan ruin, in less than an hour. Late spring is a perfect time for a hike or a horseback ride in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, or for slipping into the Jémez River for a quick swim beneath Soda Dam—a bizarre travertine-limestone formation that recalls the surrounding Jémez Mountains’ tumultuous geologic origins. The rugged scenery along this sparsely traveled route formed as a result of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption more than a million years ago.
Start just north of Albuquerque in Bernalillo, where you’ll find plenty of lodging and dining options and can visit Coronado Historic Site, a memorable introduction to the area’s Puebloan heritage (see March’s “Kiva Revival, mynm.us/cor-kiv). Drive 30 miles NW via U.S. 550 and N.M. 4 to the visitor center and museum at Jemez Pueblo, briefly detouring afterwards three miles E. on N.M. 290 to sample wines at Ponderosa Valley Vineyards. Continue 10 miles N. on N.M. 4 to explore and spend the night in Jémez Springs, the region’s commercial hub. The next day, drive N. another 20 miles on N.M. 4 to visit Valles Caldera National Preserve, then E. another 30 miles—via either Los Alamos or White Rock—to Pojoaque, where U.S. 285/84 leads S. 16 miles to Santa Fe.
DAY 1: BERNALILLO AND JEMEZ PUEBLO
FUEL UP ON FRENCH TOAST
What better way to kick off an adventurous country drive than with a satisfying morning meal? The quirky Range Café, in downtown Bernalillo, filled with offbeat artwork and curios, serves delicious carne adovada huevos rancheros style, and downright decadent cinnamon-raisin French toast with apple-peach butter, whipped cream, maple syrup, and strawberries and bananas.
A PUEBLO AMID THE RED ROCKS
About eight miles after turning onto N.M. 4, at the small village of San Ysidro, you’ll reach the Walatowa Visitor Center, where a museum sheds light on the surrounding Jemez Pueblo, which is home to roughly 3,400 tribal members. Be sure to see the black-and-white photo exhibit, with depictions of Pueblo life during the early to mid-20th century, and step outside to visit a replica stone “fieldhouse”—used historically as base shelters for hunting and agriculture. Jemez artisans are highly regarded, and the museum shop carries intricately cast pottery, handmade moccasins, and fine jewelry and basketry. This stretch of N.M. 4 passes through a broad, serpentine valley of fiery-red rock formations. The picnic area across from the visitor center affords an especially fine vista.
If you have a little extra time, detour a few miles east to Ponderosa Valley Vineyards and Winery, where a bright-red 1950s pickup truck beckons visitors down a short driveway for a chance to sample Chardonnay, pinot noir, and more than a dozen other award-winning varietals. Vineyards have prospered in this valley, which benefits from well-drained volcanic soil and an ideal mix of hot days and cool nights, since the 1880s.
Dining venues in tiny Jémez Springs (pop. 250) are few, but the charms of the down-home Los Ojos Restaurant & Saloon are many. This rollicking 1947 roadhouse, filled with mounted elk and mountain lions, vintage rifles, and offbeat Americana, specializes in no-nonsense comfort fare: bacon cheeseburgers, chicken-fried steak, green chile stew. There’s a good mix of craft beers on tap, wines from Ponderosa Valley Vineyards, and strong margaritas. Check the venue’s online calendar for upcoming live music shows and pool tournaments.
In the heart of Jémez Springs, the serene six-room Cañon del Río Retreat & Spa is situated amid cottonwoods and aspens along a rocky stretch of the Jémez River that’s popular for fly-fishing. Each unit is named for an indigenous New Mexico community and decorated with colorful tapestries and textiles, and an intimate, beautifully designed spa opens to a gracious terrace and rectangular in-ground pool. Visitors can book salt glows, mountain mud wraps, and deep-tissue massages. Another fine option is Elk Mountain Lodge, an upscale, contemporary log cabin with five grandly outfitted guest rooms and a large deck overlooking a dense pine forest. It’s on N.M. 126, just off N.M. 4, close to Valles Caldera and about 10 miles north of Jémez Springs village.
DAY 2: JÉMEZ SPRINGS AND VALLES CALDERA
In this historic town, named for its abundant geothermal activity, you’ll find several hot springs retreats. The vibe at these affordable soaking centers is both unpretentious and friendly. At the municipally owned Jémez Springs Bath House, which dates to the 1870s, a 25-minute soak in a private tub will set you back just $12; massages and herbal wraps are also available. Another option is Giggling Springs, which has a large communal red-rock pool and flagstone terrace adjacent to the Jémez River; one-hour soaks cost $18. You can also hike to several free natural pools in the area, including McCauley Warm Springs and Spence Hot Springs—visit jemezsprings.org/hotsprings.html for directions.
PASTRIES AND PAINTINGS
Break for lunch at cheerful Highway 4 Coffee café and bakery, which produces delicious, made-from-scratch quiches, mini-pizzas, and panini and baguette sandwiches, plus flaky fruit tarts and buttery almond croissants for dessert and artisan-roasted Novo Coffee. It’s a few minutes’ walk from Jemez Fine Art Gallery, a collective gallery that represents about a dozen local talents—look for James Vigil’s stone-and-bronze sculptures depicting Jemez Pueblo culture and the boldly expressive paintings by internationally renowned artist and New Mexico native Betsie Miller-Kusz.
A JÉMEZ HISTORY LESSON
The Jémez Valley’s original inhabitants were forcibly relocated by the Spanish, at the end of the late 17th century, to their present site at Walatow (now Jemez Pueblo). Prior to the arrival of Coronado, some 30,000 indigenous inhabitants lived among several settlements throughout the valley, one of the most prominent being Guisewa (meaning “place of boiling water”). Its remains have been excavated and preserved at Jemez Historic Site, along N.M. 4 just north of Jémez Springs village. An easy one-third-mile trail leads from the visitor center through circa-1300s Pueblo ruins as well as the sturdy adobe walls of San José de los Jémez Mission Church, which was constructed around 1600 as part of the Spaniards’ contentious efforts to Christianize and colonize the Jemez people. You can cool off afterwards with a swim at nearby Soda Dam, a huge mineral formation that the Jémez River flows through.
The vast Jémez mountain range forms a roughly circular ridge around Valles Caldera, the remains of a giant composite volcano that erupted and then collapsed in upon itself more than a million years ago. N.M. 4 skirts the southern rim of this massive caldera, which is about 14 miles wide, roughly 10 times larger than the crater created by the eruption of Mount St. Helens. You can see across only a portion of it, as soaring lava domes—the highest being 11,253-foot Redondo Peak—obstruct the view. Designated in 2000 as
Valles Caldera National Preserve, this 89,000-acre wilderness is popular for all sorts of outdoors activities—fly-fishing, wildlife photography workshops, elk and turkey hunting, horseback riding, guided hiking—requiring reservations and a fee. No advance planning is necessary, however, to pull off at one of the scenic pullouts along N.M. 4 that overlook the largest and most accessible valley within the caldera, Valle Grande. Along this stretch, you can also access the only two hikes in the preserve where neither fees nor reservations are needed, the three-mile round-trip Coyote Call Trail (at mile marker 40.8) and two-mile round-trip Valle Grande Trail (at mile marker 42.8). These short, moderately easy treks reward hikers with breathtaking views. ✜