East Fork Jemez River
The East Fork of the Jemez River originates as a small meandering stream in the vast grassland crater of the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico. Through the upper recreational segment, the river winds its way through small riparian meadows, creating a pastoral scene. The recreational segment has one developed site, Las Conchas Fishing Access, and the Las Conchas Trailhead, which accesses Trail 137. This portion of the trail closely follows the river for a mile, and its gentle grades and spectacular scenery make this a popular stretch.
Within the wild segment, the river enters a rugged stretch of canyon where cliffs and huge boulders emerge among slopes densely covered with mixed varieties of conifers. In places, the river flows from canyon wall to canyon wall, making passage impossible without wading or using footbridges along the stream. However, anglers often hike up the box canyon to their favorite fishing spots. Occasionally, a bend in the river will lead to an open meadow alive with seasonal wildflowers. Half a mile in from the highway at each end of the box canyon, people access the river for a variety of other recreational activities. The very large boulders and deep pools in the river create popular sites for jumping and swimming. Snowplay, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling also occur in this area.
The scenic segment of the river continues through another rugged canyon, and tumbles over the bedrock creating Jemez Falls, a cascade dropping more than one hundred feet. From the falls, the river flows through a steep canyon with limited access. The canyon opens up as it approaches the looming solid rhyolite monument of Battleship Rock; here, the riverbanks provide exquisite beauty. The many varicolored cliffs around the confluence thrust up to a typical azure sky; shadows and sunlight playing across the landscape complete a dazzling mosaic. The scenic segment is a destination for anglers from all over the state, especially the urban areas of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Access is primarily up the river from Battleship Rock. Other visitors take Trail 137 along the ridge to McCauley Warm Spring and Jemez Falls. This affords the opportunity to experience a truly stunning landscape view across to the walls of Jemez Canyon.
June 6, 1990. From the Santa Fe National Forest boundary to its confluence with the Rio San Antonio.
The river passes through a variety of vegetation communities, including meadows, conifer stands, riverine habitat, rock cliffs, and volcanic formations. Each community is comprised of a mosaic of smaller habitats. The elevation is as high as 8,600 feet at its eastern edge to 6,700 feet at Battleship Rock. This variety has resulted in a diversity of ecological systems within the corridor.
Two unique plant species occur within the corridor, giant helleborine and bunchberry dogwood. The giant helleborine is proposed as a rare species in New Mexico, and the bunchberry dogwood population is thought to represent the extreme southern range of this species.
The East Fork, as part of the Jemez River, once hosted the largest populations of Rio Grande cutthroat trout (RGCT) in the Jemez Mountains. Historically, the native fish assemblage throughout the East Fork was comprised of RGCT, Rio Grande chub, Rio Grande sucker, longnose dace, and fathead minnow. The current native fish assemblage excludes RGCT, last found in this drainage in 1950. Since then, German brown trout, rainbow trout, Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and other non-natives have replaced RGCT.
Due to the geology of the area, habitat diversity is dynamic, creating chutes, waterfalls, deep pools, cascades, and meandering channels. The Jemez River, fed in part by the East Fork, has a regional reputation for high quality cold-water fishing, a phenomenon rare in the arid Southwest.
From sheer cliff faces to pock-marked tuff exposures, flat-topped mesas to lush canyon bottoms, the wide expanse of the Valle Grande to the domed peak of Redondo, this extraordinary landscape was created by eons of gradual and cataclysmic geologic events.
North of the river, the preserve contains nine miles of headwaters for the East Fork. Cataclysmic eruptions rocked the area 1.2 million years ago, and 50 cubic miles of volcanic ash and rock were ejected. Around 85,000 years ago, the volcano erupted again. This recent geologic event produced Battleship Rock, a colorful, striking vertical abutment at the confluence of San Antonio Creek and the East Fork. Battleship Rock was put in place all at once by a volcanic flow into an ancient river canyon cutting through sedimentary rock formations. Weathering over time has removed the relatively softer sediments, leaving the “prow” of the battleship exposed as a towering monolith.
The river corridor has long been a recreation destination for visitors from the region, as well as from around the country. Local users center their recreation activities around multi-generational family gatherings where there is water. For some, a hike along Trail 137 is not complete without a relaxing dip in the natural pools at McCauley Warm Spring. Throughout the river corridor, day use is high in the summer months, and overnight use, both in developed sites and dispersed sites, occurs spring through autumn. Commonly observed activities include hiking, fishing, camping, photography, and sightseeing. After snowfall, day use is again high when cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, tubing, and snowshoeing are popular.
The scenic beauty of the landscapes within and surrounding the river are extraordinary. The geology of the Jemez Mountains provides a variety of dramatic landforms with vibrant colors. Scenic attractions include striking views of conifer-covered mountain peaks, open mountain meadows, impressive volcanic rock formations, dazzling multicolored rock cliff faces, and the tumbling river with its lush vegetation. The color, variety, and vastness of the landscapes are unique when compared to the arid landscapes beyond the Jemez Mountains where the river flows.
The wide variety of vegetative communities allows for a diverse complex of wildlife species. Periodic surveys and field visits by wildlife biologists have revealed the variety of wildlife species throughout the corridor. During certain times of the year, the river becomes a passageway for wildlife moving off the preserve (e.g., Rocky Mountain elk). People have seen bear, elk, deer, mountain lion, and bobcat within the river corridor.
The river provides suitable habitat for a few species listed as federally threatened or Forest Service sensitive, such as Mexican spotted owl (threatened), Jemez Mountains salamander (sensitive), and northern goshawk (sensitive). Some uncommon species, such as the spotted bat and black swift, have been found within the river corridor. The black swift is of particular interest, since it is the only known colony in the state of New Mexico.