The Jemez Mountains

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11X14 Oil on Canvas

On a sunny, Albuquerque morning, the Boy, my Aunt, my Uncle and I loaded ourselves into their SUV and hit the road. My Aunt had planned the next two and a half days for us, packed with some of the most artistically inspirational moments I’ve had.

Our first stop was to meet my cousin at a restaurant in Cuba, NM. I hadn’t seen this cousin since he was fourteen years old. He’s in his thirties now and has his own family. I met his wife and kids and we had a good visit while devouring another delicious Mexican meal.

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We left my cousin and his family to tend to their day as we set out on our adventure. We took a leisurely ride up into the Jemez Mountains. Following the Jemez River on Hwy 4 through the Jemez Pueblo, we were treated to towering red cliffs rising above a tree covered valley.

Red Wall and Gate to the Jemez
Red Wall and Gate to the Jemez

We stopped at Soda Dam Falls. By Michigan standards, it isn’t much of a waterfall. What made it remarkable to me were the little caves and swirls in the rock. I also remember that it smelled like sulfur.

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Soda Dam Falls
The boy in a rock 'ear'. It looks like he's holding his breath because of the sulfur stink!
The boy in a rocky swirl. It looks like he’s holding his breath because of the sulfur stink!

Soon after the falls, the landscape became green with tall trees. We stopped again to admire the mountains and valleys.

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After winding and climbing some more, we reached Valles Caldera National Preserve. This is a wonder of New Mexican geology! The Caldera is an extinct super-volcano, active millions of years ago.  The great eruptions of this volcano have shaped and formed the landscape surrounding the Jemez.  The crater has collapsed in on itself and filled in with emerald grass. There were green, rolling hills ringed by large, dark mountains. It was raining, and quite a bit cooler at about 70 to 75 degrees F. It didn’t look or feel like New Mexico!

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Valles Caldera

My Aunt said there is usually a herd of elk in the fields where you can see them. Someone told us a film crew working on the new Lone Ranger movie had been there the day before, and the elk were nervously hiding. One of my favorite movies is an under appreciated film called The Missing, with Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett. The first thirty minutes or so of The Missing was filmed in Valles Caldera.

We were ready to head out of the mountains again. There was much more to see, including an unplanned stop at one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen!



  1. In Valles Caldera, I was sure there was a herd of antelope hiding from us. Well, my aunt just let me know it was a herd of elk! Now I’m bummed!

    I’m not sure how my memory messed that up! Good thing my story is being backed up by other witnesses!

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