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Running The Jemez Valley


vanion2

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It had been a while since I had taken my hard working girlfriend (Jenni) for a ride on the VFR. Summer had rolled in and with it the overwhelming heat that makes you feel as if you had walked into a baking oven. I needed a place that was away from Albuquerque (but not too far as this was only a day trip) and had some water to play in and cool off with. What better place than the Jemez Valley located a mere 1.5 hours northwest of here? Contained within was a variety of natural marvels including the famous (at least here) natural hot springs, the Jemez River that runs the length of the valley, the Jemez Fall, the Soda Dam, and more scenic stops than you can shake a stick at. And let us not forget the most important aspect to any true blooded VFR rider...a road loaded with twisties from top to bottom. Around each bend a vista of Nature's wonders await your hungry eyes as you go from dessert red sand to lava rock embankments climbing higher until you find yourself in a lush, green pine forest that absorbs all sound and leaves you with a feeling of serenity that only a motorcyclist can understand.

So let's start at the beginning shall we? We left Albuquerque all geared up at 2pm on one of the hottest afternoons to date. Heading north on I-25 for about 10 minutes brought us to 550 West. From there is was about 45 minutes to San Ysidro where we took 4 North. There is a Reservation there aptly named the Jemez Reservation and if you find yourself traveling this way keep to the speed limit. The pueblo police drive nice silver SUV's funded by strict control of their little stretch of the road. I have yet to pass through there and not see at least 2 or 3 speed traps set up at one end of the town or other. Fortunately they control a mere 2 miles and you quickly find yourself leaving the place in your rear view mirror. Then the real fun begins.

The speed limit is a mere 40 mph but I always find myself going quite a bit faster as the road leaves straight a long way behind. The first thing you notice is it is slightly cooler as the road is lined with leafy green trees to the west and tall red sand walls to the east. The road twists so much that there are blind corners combined with short stretches of open road with turn after turn after turn. It is both beautiful and invigorating to run. You can thank the Jemez River that parallels the road on the west side behind the wall of trees for that. Man may have laid the road but Mother Nature made the path.

We enjoyed the scenery and the drive for a bit and then made our first stop at one of the many State Park river access points. While I have done this run several times without stopping, this time we wanted something more sedate and after sweating myself to death for the last hour and a half I wanted to play in the damn water.

Stop1-JemezRiver.jpg

It was better than I could have hoped for. Dark thunder clouds rolled over head just enough to block the sun. A few drops of water fell here and there and I was splashing away in the river like I was a kid again. If the water was a degree over 70 I would have been surprised so I settled for refreshed and content instead. Of course the scenery didn't hurt things either.

JenniVFR.jpg

Er...I meant this scenery... wink.gif

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We enjoyed a bit more time in the shade of the trees and the clouds letting the heat dissipate from our bones before gearing up once more and driving further north into the valley. One of these days I will invest in a camera mount and let you see this wondrous road for yourselves because I cannot begin to convey what a spectacular ride it is. And then just like that you find yourself driving through the small town of Jemez Springs. It has a pretty good deli on the west side of the street and a Harly clone biker bar on the east. There are a few art stores and then you are once again climbing up the valley, leaving the red sand behind and finding yourself in a world of volcanic rock and the permeating scent of sulfur. You come around yet another bend and there to the east is the Soda Dam.

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The Jemez River stops for nothing.

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It's almost always crowded as the Dam is literally right off the road and it saddens me to say that even in the absence of people you can still see their evidence in the form of litter. How people can make the time to travel to see something so natural and wonderful and then leave their garbage behind baffles me but then so much in this world does.... This combined with the power of sulfur made our stay short. While I have an appreciation for nature, the smell of rotten eggs always seems to leave me wanting in this situation. :rolleyes: So with tears burning in our eyes I quickly throttled up and took us to higher ground on the road that never wanders straight. The volcanic rock proves it is fertile by hosting pine trees tall enough to top 100 foot spans easily. Still more impressive is the rock formations that tower above these evergreens. Which brings me to our next stop, the Battleship Rock.

Stop3-VFRBattleshipRock.jpg

The formation gets its name from the fact that it looks like the front end of a battleship. My picture does it no justice because you are only seeing one side of it but while driving up the road you have a clear view and a complete understanding of where the rock got its name. What's more is there is a State Park picnic area located in the shadow of this monolith where the Jemez River runs along the bottom of it. Here you quickly find plenty of shade, picnic tables and grills, and a place to rest that is out of the way.

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Here we spent most of our day just relaxing and enjoying what Man and Nature can accomplish when working together. The forest absorbed the noise of the people combined with the gurgling of the river made for a very peaceful atmosphere. Once again I was wading into the river just to feel the cold water on my skin and forgetting for a moment there was anything else in the world but this place. My only regret was I didn't have a pair of swim trunks so I could just sit down and let the cold of the water make me forget the memory of heat all together.

There was still one more stop I wanted to make before we called it a day. While the hot springs were tempting, we were hot enough as it was and that just didn't fit the bill so as we continued our ascent up the winding river valley we finally broke away from the river and circled around to end up heading east. There the volcanic formations were replaced with pine forests so tall that even on a nice open two lane road we were forever in the shade. Grass grew wildly along the road and pine trees as far as the eye could see from there. It was into the State Park site aptly named Jemez Falls that I detoured off the beaten path once again. I had been here only once before but the site awaiting us was worth the return. I pulled up to a stop in the day area and the two of us hiked down a good five minutes to find this awaiting us:

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To put things in perspective the pine tree to the right of the picture is about 200 feet tall and you are only seeing the top half where it descends to the river below. The falls themselves approach about 100 feet and make a nice roar that can be heard even from the parking area through the forest. Last time I was there it was pretty crowded so going in the middle of the week late in the afternoon paid of well. It was quiet and other than a mother/daughter couple standing some distance away we had the place to ourselves. It was the perfect way to end our day and headed home shortly there after.

Of course I have to mention that when we were headed to the Falls from the parking area a group of about 8 people came wondering out of the forest heading to their vehicles. All stopped and stared in awe at the fastest color Red 2002 Honda VFR parked there in all her glory. Even from where I stopped to observe and make sure no one opted to go beyond looking I could hear the phrase "awesome bike" float across the way. The two male adults circled her several times pointing out key features to each other before finally following the rest of the group over to their trucks. My girlfriend, being the wonderful woman that she is said, "It's your fault you have such a sexy bike." :D

And thus we traced our path back the way we came and I kept finding myself forcing to slow down so my girlfriend would not have a heart attack as we leaned and turned through curve after curve descending down into the valley making one last stop at the entrance of the valley so I could tighten down the right bar end weight as the screw had come loose and was driving me crazy with distraction. That was my only complaint for the 167 miles I drove her that day. After topping off the tank I had even achieved 50 mpg. Now how is that for a sweet ride.

Stop3-VFRJemezValley.jpg

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