I recently had the opportunity to visit and explore the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico. The National Forest is in northern New Mexico and covers approximately 1.5 million acres of beautiful desert and mountain landscapes. Elevations here range from 5,300’ to 13,103’ at the summit of Truchas Peak. The National Forest itself is broken into several different sections, however I decided to explore the Jemez Springs area of the forest.
The Stable Mesa Trail
I went in mid-June, part of the summer season for the area, with a high in the mid 80’s being typical summer temperatures. At the start of the hike it was around 78F, but by the time I got to the top it was already in the 80’s. Make sure you bring plenty of water and sunblock with you while out wandering around that time of year. The trail itself took me three hours in and out, with an hour of climbing around exploring and photography fun at the top.
Using the app All Trails, a phone-based trail guide, I looked for hikes in the area that would give the most promising of views, but still give me time to see other parts of the forest. The trail I decided on was The Stable Mesa trail, a 5.4-mile hike out and back. The trail was labeled as moderate on the app with an 838’ elevation change. Finding the trailhead was a little tricky since there were no sign postings that the trail you see is the one you are looking for. Luckily however, a very friendly and helpful forest ranger was able to help me confirm that I was in fact at the right spot.
The hike starts out with a beautiful path that follows and winds along a creek. The grass and wildflowers have taken over a lot of the trail, but it makes for a very pleasant and serene trip through the flowers. After this I passed into a nice shade covered area under a group of tall pines. The hike itself is relatively easy until about the last quarter of the hike where an elevation change occurs. It goes from a grassy path to a rocky and steep incline along the side of the mountain. The view however makes up for the difficulty, and well worth it, as you break above the trees to an opening that overlooks the valley. The true sight though is from the very top, as massive boulder formations hang over the edge of the mountain top and give you a breath-taking view of the whole valley area. Additionally, you get the chance to see and explore rock formations that are almost like giant windows that while naturally created, make no sense as to how they were formed.
Highlights of the Jemez Springs
The Soda Dam is located up along highway 4 just north of the town of Jemez Springs. It is estimated to be about 7,000 years old and is a natural geological bridge made of calcium carbonate that formed slowly over time. It is technically a hot springs deposit, which makes sense with all the hot springs of the Santa Fe National Forest. The dam is about 300’ long with a width and height of about 50’. It sits over top of a stream that creates a fantastic waterfall and a neat little cave that you can crawl back up into if you so desired. Sadly, due to the highway construction next to it, the dam is slowly disintegrating. Another reason to go and see it while it is still in magnificent condition.
Further up along highway 4 you will find the wondrous rock formation called Battleship Rock. The area around Battleship Rock has places for camping and picnicking, however I simply stopped for a quick hike around the base of the cliff, and also enjoyed a nice cool dip in the Jemez river that runs below it. It’s an impressive landmark that was formed out of pyroclastic deposits also known as welded tuft. This area has a couple small and relatively easy hikes that go to more springs and falls, should you get the chance to do them. I know I will be going back to do them myself.
On the way to Stable Mesa trail, you get off highway 4 before Jemez Springs, and go onto road 485 which then turns into forest road 376. Along the 376, just before you get to the Stable Mesa Trail head, you will have the amazing venture and pleasure to drive through two giant tunnels cut out of the side of the mountain following along the Guadalupe river in the box canyon, these are called the Gilman Tunnels. These tunnels were originally part of the Santa Fe Northwestern Railway system that ran through the canyon and were used to haul lumber from the Jemez Mountains. The railway has since been retired and the path is now that of a drivable road. On the ends of the tunnels, you can pull off to the side and climb down to enjoy the river during the hot summer season if you wish. Despite enjoying the river or not though, these tunnels are well worth the detour from highway 4 to be seen in person.
In the End
Whether you are a solo hiker or a family on a road trip, the Santa Fe National forest is certainly one worth putting on the bucket list of places to visit. With beautiful sights, wonderful hikes, multiple amazing natural formations, and nature all around it gives you so much to see and do. I only covered a small portion of the forest in a single day, but without a doubt I will be going back to cover more of the trails and area there. It offers a multitude of things to do and I cannot wait to go back and see more of its beauty, and you should too.