SANTA FE NATIONAL FOREST— When you come here, you will want to stay a week.

There are countless ways to appreciate the beauty of the Jemez Mountains near the town of Jemez Springs, less than 200 miles southeast of Farmington. Not every activity is for everyone, but there is always s chance to see something new.

Farmington is unique in that an hour's drive brings you into three states. But you do not have to go to Colorado to gain elevation in the mountains or to Arizona to see radiating red rock.

Just a little more than two hours outside Farmington is the San Diego Canyon, a grand entrance into the Santa Fe National Forest and Jemez Mountains.

"It's absolutely stunning," said Vera McGibbon, who, along with her husband, Allen McGibbon, hiked the Las Conchas Trail on Saturday.

The couple, who live in Southport, U.K., enjoyed the area while visiting their son and daughter-in-law, who live in Albuquerque.

The trailhead of the Las Conchas Trail the couple hiked is almost directly below the wall that their son, Chris McGibbon, was rock climbing Saturday.

"It frights me to death to watch them," said Vera McGibbon, unable to take her eyes off her son as he steadily made his way up a route on Gateway Rock while his wife, Irene, belayed him.

Although Vera McGibbon was briefly uneasy, she said the family enjoyed the getaway from the city.

Even the trip to the Jemez Mountains is worthwhile. To get to there, head south on U.S. Highway 550 and then take a left onto N.M. Highway 4 in San Ysidro, about 40 miles south of Cuba. If highways were rated on the variety of outdoor activities their roadside stops offer, Highway 4 would be near the top of the list.

You can fish at several spots on the Jemez River. Most of the fishing sports aren't visible from the road, but the abundance of cottonwood trees in the valley signals their presence.

Chris Keating clips into his first quickdraw on Saturday as Chris McGibbon ascends the neighboring route while rock climbing on Gateway Wall in the Jemez
Chris Keating clips into his first quickdraw on Saturday as Chris McGibbon ascends the neighboring route while rock climbing on Gateway Wall in the Jemez Mountains. (Molly Maxwell Special to The Daily Times)

Various hiking trails begin at pull-offs along the highway and meander into the woods. Jemez Soda Dam, a natural formation of minerals on the Jemez River, is located on the road, and it's a popular spot to stop and shoot photos.

The climbing walls that make up Las Conchas climbing area, Gateway Rock, Cattle Call Wall, the Sponge, Chilly Willy Wall and several others are grouped around the Las Conchas Trail trailhead, and they run along the first section of the trail.

Varying landscapes are another part of what makes this roadway unique. Entering the Jemez Pueblo just a couple of miles after turning onto Highway 4, red rock dominates the landscape for just a short time. As you enter deeper into the valley, the bluffs stand taller and become the sides of mesas on either side. Finally, the growing thickness of pine trees and aspens welcomes you into the mountains.

The rock continues to change because of its volcanic beginnings. Obsidian, which looks like black chipped glass, glints in the sunlight from the sides of cliff faces.

Welded tuft makes up the surface for rock climbing on the Las Conchas walls, which draw people from all over the state, toughening soft fingertips and allowing rubber soles of climbing shoes to grip to "nothing."

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

In the past couple of years, the San Diego Canyon area has been struck by the Las Conchas Fire and the Thompson Ridge Wildfire, among others. Fire affects the land, as well as trails and campgrounds.

Climbers enjoy the sunshine on Saturday at Cattle Call Wall in the Jemez Mountains.
Climbers enjoy the sunshine on Saturday at Cattle Call Wall in the Jemez Mountains. (Molly Maxwell Special to The Daily Times)

“If people are planning to visit a national forest, it's a good idea to call the ranger district to find out about restrictions, anything they need to know. It makes for a nicer visit,” said Linda Riddle, ranger for the Jemez Ranger District.

Contact the Jemez Ranger Station at 575-829-3535. For more information, go to fs.usda.gov/santafe

Molly Maxwell covers outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at mollykmaxwell@gmail.com.