Jemez National Recreation Area--copy - Merlin Emrys

Jemez National Recreation Area

About 1.14 million years ago a huge magma bubble welled up in an older volcano crater, and the resulting eruption deposited a layer of volcanic ash hundreds of feet deep over the surrounding countryside. The volcano then collapsed, forming a 1000-foot deep basin, surrounded by a jagged, mountainous rim.

NM State Road 4 traverses this area, beginning at San Ysidro in the south and ending near Los Alamos 68 miles to the northeast. We traveled its length yesterday, exploring some of the beautiful areas along the way.

San Diego Canyon

This gorgeous red rock canyon and the Jemez River which flows through it drain an enormous, ancient volcano crater called Valles Caldera (crater of valleys.) Initially, a lake formed in the crater, but about 500,000 years ago erosion breached the rim and the lake burst through and into the river. The resulting catastrophic floods scoured out much of the canyon.

Soda Dam

This is a large hot spring travertine deposit, made mostly of calcium carbonate. Water from underground hot springs has flowed for centuries. The buildup of mineral deposits has formed a unique and spectacular natural dam that blocks the Jemez River.

The Soda Dam hot spring waters start at the Valles Caldera, heated by the hot rock and magma beneath. They travel as hot ground water through Pennsylvanian limestones and shales, and rise to the surface along a fault at the dam.

The waterfall actually flows under a natural bridge. Erosion is amazing, to say the least.

Jemez River Just Above Soda Dam

Las Conchas Trail

The trail follows the East Fork of the Jemez River through a lush canyon full of magnificent tall trees (ponderosa pine, douglas fir, blue spruce), incredible rock formations, various willows and shrubs.


The shady areas have lots of lichens and mosses, adding to the magical feeling of walking through an enchanted forest.


The excitement of the day was happening upon a cinnamon-colored bear, drinking from the river. Respecting its space, I did not attempt to take a photograph, and it ambled off along the trail and into the woods.

All in all, a spectacular and deeply meaningful day.


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