Jemez River -- Fall Colors



The Jemez River flows out of the Jemez Mountains past Jemez Springs and the ruined Jemez Mission (1622) through the Jemez Pueblo lands on its way to join the Rio Grande. Jemez is the old Pueblo tribal name -- pronounced Hay-messh but spelled as if the Spanish thought it up.  I spend as much time up there as I can — it’s not far from my house and the drive is enjoyable. Every part of our country has some expression of beautiful fall colors but here, in a desert environment, we rely on the cottonwoods for the annual show. There are some aspen groves here and there up in the mountains or the high meadows and a famous and colorful stand of maples over in the Manzano Mountains but the cottonwoods are the big performers. 

We are also pretty liberal with the title “river” around here. I’ve mentioned this before. I’ve been here just two years and my way of looking at it, so far, is if the stream has water in it all year long, and maybe some fish, its a river. If it has water most of the time but might go dry once or twice, it’s a creek. If it is dry most of the year and might have water briefly once in a while after big rains, it’s an arroyo. We seem to have more arroyos than anything else.

The Jemez is a nice little river with some trout but on the day I visited it was running very muddy due to some big rains and muddy runoff from the fire-damaged mountain slopes way upstream. These mountains were created by fire long ago and still struggle with it.



 The canyon is a very historic area. The local Jemez Pueblo Indians have lived here for centuries after a long migration down from the Mesa Verde area where they lived for many generations. The Spanish showed up in the late 1500s and built, or more likely had the Indians build, the massive stone mission church and complex in the middle of Gisewa Pueblo. The mission church and supporting convento buildings date to 1622 but are in ruins now, surrounded by the ruins of the old pueblo. The Spanish brought the true religion, hard labor and disease. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish out for a while but when they returned in the 1690s the Jemez people were not happy to see them and there was some hard fighting and reprisals. Walatowa, the current pueblo town, sits next to the Jemez River. The tribal visitor center offers a good deal of information and history of the area.  Los Alamos, of Manhattan Project fame, was secretly tucked into the eastern edge of the Jemez Mountains and is still there.


San José de los Jemez Mission

The Jemez Mountains are volcanic in origin. Much of the bare rock is consolidated volcanic ash (tuff). There are numerous hot springs and the remains of one of the largest super volcanoes in North America, the Valles Caldera. There is still a lot of heat down below.

One wouldn’t know about the history or geology of the place just looking at the beautiful fall colors. On some weekends the road is clogged with folks taking pictures. One really must get out of the car to enjoy and experience the colors. Walking among the trees gives a very special perspective. I was there on Halloween day and, in that context, some of the forest was a little bit spooky.








This is a “Bosque” forest…growing up on either side of a stream. The soil is deep on the valley floor and the place is well watered.    




This is artist country. The New Mexico artists, including Georgia O'Keeffe and Gustave Baumann, were inspired by the color and light of northern New Mexico. Rather than me running my mouth, or my keyboard, I’ll just post some pictures. If you are ever in New Mexico I encourage you to visit the Jemez Mountains any time but especially near the end of October.  There is a nice little winery up one of the side canyons.







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Comments 2

Rosy Cole on Friday, 20 November 2015 13:21

Spectacular post! Great info and atmosphere. You live in an enthralling landscape, full of wonderful contradiction.

Thanks, Ken!

Spectacular post! Great info and atmosphere. You live in an enthralling landscape, full of wonderful contradiction. Thanks, Ken!
Ken Hartke on Friday, 20 November 2015 18:04

Thanks, Rosie. New Mexico is called "the Land of Enchantment" but sometimes (half) jokingly "the Land of Entrapment" because it is so hard to leave.

Thanks, Rosie. New Mexico is called "the Land of Enchantment" but sometimes (half) jokingly "the Land of Entrapment" because it is so hard to leave.
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