Jemez Falls & Valles Caldera National Preserve


The next scenic stop in our scenic loop along the Jemez Mountains Trail Scenic Byway is Jemez Falls.  If you’ve made the drive from Cuba on NM-126, you’ll find Jemez Falls on the right side of the road, just a few minutes after you’ve met up with NM-4.

From the parking area, you’ll need to take a short walk through the woods to reach Jemez Falls.  The waterfall is only about 1/4 mile from the parking area.

Many people probably stop at this viewpoint (pictured above).  It’s the best place I could find to take a picture of the falls, which were pretty muddy during my visit.  I could hear thunder in the distance, and I think there must have been a storm upstream that was increasing the water flow and stirring up some dirt.  The impending storm made me worry about a possible flash flood, so I scurried around quickly taking pictures.

I found my way over to the brink of the falls, where the view is not spectacular…

… but you do get a good, close look at the rushing water.  There may be more places from which to view the falls, but I didn’t take the time to find them, because of the impending weather.

If you have time for a longer hike, it’s 2 miles (one way) to McCauley Springs.  I’ve read that they’re quite warm and relaxing, and you can camp nearby.

Valles Caldera National Preserve

A few miles after Jemez Falls, NM Route 4 drops into a strange valley, that’s wide and flat, and surrounded by low hills.  Much to my surprise, I was suddenly inside a collapsed volcanic crater.  This area is the Valles Caldera, and it’s only recently (in 2000) been taken over by the federal government as a National Preserve.

I drove out the dirt road to the middle of the caldera, where a small visitor center has been set up.  Because of the bad weather, there wasn’t anything I could do outdoors, so once I reached the end of the road, I took a couple of pictures, turned around, and headed back to the highway.

There are several hiking trails inside Valles Caldera Preserve, as well as a couple of trails along NM-4 that are available for free, “spontaneous” hiking.  The preserve also offers hunting and fishing opportunities, skiing and snowshoeing (and even sleigh rides!) in the winter.  Check out its webpage for all the details.

Back on NM-4, the road passes through an area scorched by wildfires, before dropping down (passing huge cut-out mountainsides) to the Los Alamos area.  You can either take NM-501 to Los Alamos, or stay on NM-4 to White Rock.  Flooding had closed NM-501 during my visit (I avoided most of the rain, but there were much bigger storms nearby), so I stayed on NM-4, headed east.

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from the NM-126/NM-4 junction to White Rock, New Mexico:

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