Jemez soda dam and late April snow
Every spring I take a few days off work to get away from the Big D grind by taking a road trip to New Mexico. This is the second year I decided to base my photo expedition in the quiet little town of Cuba, with the friendly, clean and quiet Frontier Motel serving as HQ.
Situated at 6,900 ft. above sea level, the air here is clean and fresh and the nights are typically pretty chilly in the spring. Here on the edge of the Colorado Plateau, one can expect little rain (or even clouds) this time of year, and such had been my experience on prior trips. This year, however, I ended up having to alter my plans for driving down secondary dirt roads in search of badlands because of a surprisingly persistent rain event – soaking all-day rains converted the dusty trails into muddy bogs, impassable to most cars and trucks (mine included).
So I opted to drive back south a few dozen miles on Hwy. 550 before taking Rt. 4 towards the NE, toward the village of Jemez Springs, a town I’ve read about but never visited. It rained off and on during my drive; my original (albeit loosely-constructed) plan involved continuing up the road to Los Alamos, with the intent of visiting a museum there. However, the sight of cars and trucks coming down from the higher elevations with snow accumulations on their hoods clued me in on the possibility that I might very well have to alter my plans once again.
Sure enough, a few more miles up the road the raindrops changed to snowflakes. I pressed on far enough to determine that I wouldn’t be making it to Los Alamos, then pulled off the highway to formulate a Plan C for the day.
Even at 37 degrees, my light jacket proved sufficient to allow for an enjoyable walk along the top of the Jemez River soda dam – a curious geologic formation born out of the volcanic underpinnings of the region (ref. Valles Caldera, just to the NE). With only a light drizzle to worry about, I was able to keep my camera under my coat until a photo op presented itself.
The atmosphere of this idyllic-appearing stream can only be fully “appreciated” in person, given the unexpected stench of sulfur that permeates its surroundings. The pungeunt fumes result from the same mineralization that led to the formation of the dam itself. Off-putting at first, but the warmth of the emerging spring water somewhat makes up for the odor for those adventurous enough to bathe in the pool below the falls. (No one was doing so on this Sunday morning.)
It remained to be seen whether the rain would end soon enough for the badlands approaches to dry out sufficiently before my three-day visit was over. But at least I could enjoy the inestimable goodness of the enchiladas de pollo at El Bruno’s while nature decided on its course.