Spring will be here before you know it, Wild Ones, so it’s time to plan another road trip! I found one that can’t be missed in the mountains east of Santa Fe and North of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There are so many natural treasures along this trip, you’ll be surprised it can all be covered in one day.
- Starting from Santa Fe, take US-84 West and NM-502 to East Jemez Road. Turn right onto East Jemez Road (501).
- Use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto NM-501 West.
- Turn right onto NM-4 West. Watch for signs for the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
As you drive the NM-4, the tree line will suddenly open to a breathtaking site: A 13-mile wide circular depression which is the result of a volcanic eruption 1.25 million years ago. Now a vast mountain meadow, the area contains abundant wildlife and crystal-clear meandering streams. If you’re lucky, you may spot New Mexico’s largest herd of elk who make their home in this meadow.
Technically, the Valles Caldera is considered an active volcano, and one of the youngest large calderas on earth. The area is dotted with marvelous hot springs, providing further evidence this volcano is active. But fear not! The most recent eruption was about 40,000 years ago, so you should be safe. Probably. Most likely. (Ah, go for it anyhow!)
Return to NM-4 and head south.
Soda Dam Springs is situated on the east side of the road and nearly impossible to miss. This bizarre yet scenic geologic feature is a natural bridge composed of calcium carbonate and travertine deposits from groundwater that gushes up at this point, creating a spectacular waterfall.
Return to NM-4 heading south. Turn left into the Jemez Historic Site.
The Jemez State Monument Heritage area is not to be missed, both for it’s historic architecture as well as its natural beauty. A small museum and a series of interpretive trails will guide you around the site. This is the ancestral territory of the Jemez Indians who, around AD 1350, established a great pueblo on these fertile lands next to the Jemez River and hot springs. The first Europeans arrived in 1541 bringing livestock and Catholicism, as well as taxes and forced governance. The Spanish Franciscan mission and the San José de los Jemez Church was established around 1621. Over time, with Native uprisings and resistance, the mission was eventually abandoned. The massive walls made of of yellow cut limestone are all that remains.
Before traveling, remember to review an updated Google map, and click on the destination hyperlinks above to discover timely details about road conditions and park closures.
Itinerary to Jemez Springs and Albuquerque:
Return to NM-4 heading south. You’re just minutes away from the village of Jemez Springs as well as the Jemez Springs Bath House, established in 1876. If you have time for an extra treat, their hot and cold mineral baths are legendary. If you’re willing to hike or venture further afield, other spas and naturally occurring hot spring dot the area. Refer to the Jemez Springs Municipal Office and website.
To return to Albuquerque, continue on NM-4 heading south, then turn left onto US-550 South, then use the right 2 lanes to take the ramp onto I-25 South for Albuquerque.
If you’ve traveled this itinerary, I’d love to hear from you. Drop a message in the comments below!