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NM4 Valle Calderas s(u)

The summit area of this climb is, as the name says, is a large caldera, ie. a big remnant of a collection of craters, left after a period of volcanic explosions. Compared with the next big caldera to the north, the Molas Caldera in Colorado, this one looks very different. It gives the appearance of a pleasant high grassy bowl, surrounded by countless high hills, shaped like upside down soup bowls - a few cups amongst them. There are no rugged peaks here, like in the Molas Caldera. This can be a good place to escape summer heat in New Mexico.

1.START-END WEST:jct NM4 - NM485, north of Jemez Pueblo
2.Jemez Springs
3.jct with NM26 on left
4.entrance into Valle Calderas Reserource area
5.TOP:9100ft  NM Valle Calderas s(u)
6.jct NM4 - NM501
7.Los Alomos
8.NM501 rejoins NM4, after its detour to Bandelier NM
9.START-END EAST:low point on NM4, where it crosses Rio Grande, south of Otowi


From West. The profile starts roughly, where NM4 enters Jemez Canyon. Jemez Springs is located a few miles up, in this wide canyon, now delimited with vertical walls on both sides. Several cafes and a community park with a water spigot hide in its shadowy recesses. When rolling down into this village from the other side, the site of the old Jemez Pueblo can be missed. But climbing towards the east remnants of old natural stone walls next to the road make one take notice. If that isn't enough there is a modern catholic church doubling as a monastery on the other side of the road.

The climbing is fairly continuous. After a major workout (major - especially it it is hot, like my last time), the road passes a viewpoint on the canyon just climbed. If you stand on one of the benches and jump up and down high enough you might even be able to see the road and canyon below through the trees.

The road continues to roll along, climbing little by little, until it reaches what seems the edge of what first looks like a typical western mountain park, ie is an expansive grassy valley, surrounded by mountains, even if they are not quite as high here. This is the caldera, and the "mountains" or "hills" bounding this park are the most recent extrusions of volcanic rocks left long after the original explosions. But there really is no descending into the caldera. Instead you just keep traversing up a ridge with ever improving views onto the huge lawn below.

From East.
(also described upwards). The lower part of the profile runs through sage covered dessert with pueblo housing in the distance. Two routes, one from Santa Fe, the other from Espagnola, unite shortly after (or relative to the profile, before ) point 9.

At the point where the route enters the dissected plateau and starts climbing, there is a choice to make. Staying on NM4 is a longer and quieter ride, leading by the entrance to Bandelier National Monument. NM501, shown on the profile, climbs directly into Los Alamos - more interesting views of the landscape and the fairly spectacular setting of the most modern New Mexco settlement. But it also has a lot more traffic, and no shoulder in some of the steeper parts. The route leads through Los Alomos and its numerous off-limit entrances. At least there is a grocery store and a park with museum one could visit if so inclined. The road keeps climbing by more numbered "tech area entrances" leading to boxed in mystery technology and research.

On the outskirts the two approaches from Los Alamos and from Bandelier NM unite again. The junction is a popular shoulder summit for Los Alomos cyclists, combining these two roads in a loop. I saw the most cyclists in all of New Mexico here on this trip so far - about 20 of them, dispersed into small groups or riding solo. They are also the only cyclists I have seen in New Mexico since entering the state more than a month ago, not counting two children within 500ft of their homes. Every one of them rode the loop in question in the opposite direction (ie down NM501, up NM4)

From this upper junction of NM4 and NM501 the road climbs up the bare mesa with a single, radical switchback and two steep ramps. Bingo - we're on the slanted edge of another mesa shelf. The road gets a chance to straighten out, and crosses into Santa Fe National Forest land. There is an unofficial camping area in the woods here - actually the last chance next to NM4 for many miles. Over the next miles the road changes several times between National Forest land, National Monument and National Reserve land status, and camping is not allowed in the last two.

The climb from here along the plateau often shows off far views with the Sandia Mountains, a vague shape in the haze, in the foreground a burned matchstick forest leading to the edge of  a canyon.

Soon the road enters high rolling forest At what feels like the top two trails take off from the the road, one to a high cerro above the Valle Calderas, the other one down to a canyon overlook. Both are good for a short hike. But the actual highest point on the road was an inconspicuous roller hill before that.

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow

Dayride with this point as highest summit:

( < US Hill Summit | NM126 Fenton Lake - jct FR20 > )

NM4 Valle Calderas s(u) x2 : camping spot next to NM4 at 8160ft, a couple of miles west of jct NM4 - NM501 <> out and back NM4 west <> Valle Calderas s(u) << turn around point in Jemez Springs community park: 64.6miles with 5420ft of climbing in 6:08hrs (garmin etrex30 r4:21.6.10).
Notes: 94 degrees in Albaquerque, reasonable morning and hot afternoon at 9000ft. Lower part of the profile was recorded during a second ride, with jct NM4 - NM501(sh) as two way summit, and additional approach from above.