Land prices have risen along with the ridgetop glass-walled mansions, but the areas attempts at chichi dont yet obliterate the layers of down-home funkiness found in places like the Victorian Jemez Springs Bath House a historical healing experience or the classic Western bar, Los Ojos, where the sounds of pool cues striking syncopate vintage Grateful Dead tunes from the jukebox, both in Jemez Springs. Still animating the place is the presence of spiritual energy marked by Catholic and Zen monasteries and retreats. Older still is the Towa-speaking Pueblo of Jemez, its green, well-cultivated fields of chile and corn visible from the road. Its ancestral 500 year-old pueblo, Giusewa (at the hot place,) at Jemez State Monument, which also includes the 1621 Spanish mission ruin of San Jose de Jemez, is just north of Jemez Springs.
A drive to Jemez is at this point in my life like turning the pages of a treasured scrapbook. Each stop along the way holds memories of my two-decades plus in New Mexico. There at the monumental red rocks, across the road from the Walatowa Visitor Center, I enjoyed fry bread and red chile served by a laughing mother and daughter from the pueblo on my uncles last visit here before he died. That day we visited several pottery studios where families sell there distinctive wares and bought a small, lovely handmade pot. Passing the Bodhi Mandala Center, I recall bathing in the hot springs and waking at 4 am to don black robes and sit Zazen. The noted rock formations at Soda Dam and Battleship Rock are places where Ive cooled my feet on hot summer days. On summer afternoons, wed take off to fish the Jemez, and Ive caught a few of those German browns before we picnicked under the cool Ponderosa pines.
The plaza at Jemez Pueblo, where I have spent so many snowy winter days watching the haunting Matachines dances with friends long gone, and where, still, I go every Christmas for the Buffalo and Deer dances, is inscribed in my heart as are the sounds of the drums and ancient chants, And Los Ojos Bar & Grill with its Famous Jemez Burger, came close to saving my life one frigid winter night with good hot green chile, when I entered nearly frostbitten, after skiing cross-country in and out of San Antonio hot springs.
Total round trip from Albuquerque: 122 miles, or, about a quarter of a tank of gas. Take U.S. 550 west to San Ysidro, go north on NM 4.
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