The Jemez Mountains are a major mountain range in north central New Mexico. The range contains several important travel destinations such as Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument and part of Santa Fe National Forest. This article covers attractions in the Jemez not covered in the articles on one of those other destinations.
While the Jemez Mountains may look like part of the Rocky Mountains, they are distinct from the Rockies geologically, and are the remnant of a "super-volcano" that had a catastrophic eruption about a million years ago, with several lesser but still significant eruptions since then. This violent past shapes many of the attractions of the region: Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument sit on a great ash flow from the climactic eruption, while Valles Caldera National Preserve contains a number of volcanic features and preserves the eruptive center itself. You'll enjoy your sightseeing in the mountains more if you do a little homework to understand what you're seeing; informative web pages appear below under "External links."
The Jemez were the scene of several major forest fires in the latter part of the 20th century, the most serious of which destroyed a number of homes in Los Alamos and nearly 50,000 acres of forest. These fires have had lasting effects on recreational opportunities in the mountains. Several previously excellent hiking areas are either closed altogether or severely restricted because of fire damage. Considerable rethinking of fire-prevention goals and policies is in progress, with the result that limitations on open campfires, etc., may seem a little restrictive. Please honor these restrictions; several of the fires resulted from poorly-constructed campfires, and residents of the area are understandably skittish about it happening again.
The nearest major airport is in Albuquerque. Apart from brief (hours-long) closures due to snowstorms, state highways into the mountains (SR 4/502 on the southeast and southwest, SR 96 on the north and northwest) are generally passable year-round, unlike some of the roads in the higher Sangre de Cristo Mountains nearby. Be careful, however, about west-side access via SR 126 from Cuba to La Cueva. This road looks tempting on a map, and in summer can be an enjoyable drive, but it is unpaved for much of its length and has sections that can be hazardous or impassable following winter storms. Going the "long way" from Cuba to San Ysidro and then on 4 to La Cueva may be necessary at such times.
Drive. State highways within the range pose no problems getting around, with the one caveat regarding SR 126 in winter and early spring. High-clearance vehicles are desirable for many of the obscure forest roads as well as some leading to private homes, etc., in the boonies. There is no public transportation to speak of in this region, and traffic volume is so low over most of it that hitchhiking is likely to be unrewarding.
Los Alamos is the only community in the mountains with significant numbers of restaurants; see separate page. There are also a few restaurants in Jemez Springs (Laughing Lizard, Los Ojos including a satisfactory bar, others along SR 4) and sometimes an acceptable one at La Cueva. However, restaurants in the smaller towns tend to lead a precarious, hand-to-mouth (so to speak) existence owing to sparse clientele.
If you're planning on cooking your own food, provision up in Los Alamos or closer to your point of origin, but one tip: Jemez Pueblo produces delicious bread that can often be purchased at roadside stands along SR 4 west of Jemez Springs. If you're driving from Albuquerque into the mountains, keep an eye out for these stands, which may also sell other goods suitable for supplementing a picnic lunch.
Don't expect much night life in this highly rural region, although there are a few watering holes in Los Alamos and Jemez Springs. There are however two reasonably interesting wineries in the Jemez: Balagna Winery in White Rock (see description in the Los Alamos article) and Ponderosa Valley Vineyard and Winery, in the tiny town of Ponderosa south of SR 4. Web site http://www.ponderosawinery.com/ . The volcanic soil is surprisingly good for growing grapes, and the resulting wines are worth a try.
There are no major safety issues in this region. A few minor ones, however: