The Jemez Mountains
The road winding to and through the Jemez Mountains northwest of Santa Fe takes you on a circuitous route highlighted by a Native American pueblo, prehistoric ruins and cliff dwellings, a vast volcanic crater and the birthplace of the atom bomb, all worth a day-tripping visit.
San Ildefonso Pueblo: Home of the renowned potter Maria Martinez, whose matte-finish black-on-black pottery revived the ancient craft and took the Pueblo art form to a new level in the 1920s, San Ildefonso artisans still produce high-quality pottery. The pueblo has a number of shops featuring the work of resident Pueblo artists. Call 505-455-3549.
Los Alamos: Once the home of an elite school for boys perched atop an isolated plateau, Los Alamos, NM, became the site for the US government’s top-secret nuclear research during WWII and the birthplace of Fat Man and Little Boy, the first and only nuclear arms ever to be deployed. Today considered one of the world’s leading scientific institutions, the Los Alamos National Laboratory continues to attract brilliant scientists from around the globe.
The Bradbury Science Museum: The historic Fuller Lodge, once the main building of the aforementioned boarding school for boys, now houses this museum dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of Los Alamos, from its volcanic origins some 1.4 million years ago through to its status as the home of the Manhattan Project. Call 505-662-6272;www.losalamoshistory.org
Bandelier National Monument: The Anasazi, ancestors of today’s Pueblo culture, once occupied this complex of cliff dwellings carved into the side of a mountain. Visitors can follow paved paths to investigate the interiors of some of them, or branch off onto hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty, throughout the monument. In summer months, evening star-gazing walks offer a compelling glimpse of what Anasazi life was like centuries ago. Call 505-672-0343;www.nps.gov/band/
Tsankawi: An outlying extension of Bandelier National Monument, these unexcavated prehistoric ruins, left in a more natural state than Bandelier, are reached by an ancient two-mile trail that winds through the rock formations, offering a panoramic views.
Valles Caldera National Preserve: With a diameter of 16 miles, the largest collapsed volcanic caldera in the world is the product of a massive eruption that took place a million years ago. A private ranch until 2000, the 89,000-acre property, located 15 miles west of Los Alamos, is now open to the public for hiking, fishing, horseback riding, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh and wagon rides and group tours. The number of visitors allowed is deliberately kept low to keep the area pristine, so reservations for outdoor activities at Valles Caldera are required. Call 505-661-3333 or 866-283-5537; www.vallescaldera.gov.
Jemez Hot Springs: Natural mineral hot springs are located throughout the Jemez Valley. Some are on public land, others are on private land and open to the public for a fee. Bathing suits are required at all public springs, and littering and fires are strictly prohibited. The Jemez area includes the following public hot springs, which are day-use only from sunrise to sunset with no overnight camping: Soda Dam - Located 1 mile north of Jemez Springs, the Jemez River pours through this amazing rock formation, a small mineral spring trickles nearby. McCauley Warm Springs - Accessible from either Battleship Rock, 5 miles north of Jemez Springs on Highway 4 or Jemez Falls Campground, 14 miles north of Jemez Springs, with parking at either location for the roughly 2.5 mile hike in to the springs. Spence Hot Springs - 7 miles north of Jemez Springs, where a a large gravel parking lot marks the short trail down to the Jemez River and up the other side to the springs. San Antonio Hot Springs - 9 miles north of Jemez Springs, turn west at La Cueva onto Highway 120. Proceed approximately 3 miles to National Forest Road 376 northwhere the springs are located 5 miles north on 376. Note that route 376 is typically closed in winter due to the extreme snow conditions that occur at this elevation.