Another blog in the drive category! This time around, the subject is the wonderful road that winds through the Jemez mountains (pronounced Hay-mes) north of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Los Alamos NM, famous for the National Labs, is nestled in the middle of these mountains. From Albuquerque, it’s about a 2.5 hour journey – just perfect for a lunch trip. You drive up, enjoy the mountains, and catch a bite at a local diner. Northern New Mexico green chile is not to be missed. And then you turn right around and drive back the same way you came. Or you can drive a loop through Santa Fe in time for a mid-afternoon snack if you’ve had your fill of mountain roads.
But, really, for a road this nice, you have to drive it twice.
550 to NM-4
We left revlimiter.net headquarters at 8 am sharp. The early departure was due to the insane afternoon temperatures Albuquerque has been experiencing. My backyard saw 108*F on the day of this drive. That’s extremely unpleasant for a top down Miata with no air conditioning.
That’s right, no air conditioning. Flipper (Geoff’s blue 92) had no a/c. Sharka has a fairly weak a/c. It works in low 90s, but when the temps hit triple digits, coolant temps spike and I need to turn the air off. Rooster (Steve’s white 96) was blessed with the coldest a/c this side of a 90s Chevy truck. However Rooster doesn’t have cruise control, so long highway stretches are a little annoying for him.
550 is a well-maintained highway from Bernalillo (just north of Albuquerque) to Farmington and beyond. If I stayed on it, I would find myself at Flyin’ Miata’s doorstep in Grand Junction, CO. But for this drive, we only used about 15 miles of 550 to arrive at NM-4.
And that’s it. That’s the one turn. Follow 550 to NM-4 and turn northwest (right) on NM-4 and you’ve found the road you’re looking for.
You’re not in mountains right away. Before you get to the mountains, there’s a good 30-40 miles of high desert through the tiny towns of San Ysidro, Jemez Pueblo (stop for the fry bread) and Jemez Springs (has a great bar).
The curves are few. There are many MANY locals who drive slowly. And the #1 rule of any tiny town in New Mexico is that you DO NOT SPEED THROUGH IT for fear of police intervention. So, the non-mountain stretch of NM-4 is pretty slow and boring by Miata driving standards. But… the beauty. The photos above speak for themselves. The landscape defies description.
Before you know it, you’re in the mountains. The change happens right past Jemez Springs. Suddenly you smell evergreens and notice you’re turning the steering wheel a whole lot more often.
Looking at the map, you can see the sort of fun this road offers. For the most part, the turns aren’t as violent as the drive up Sandia Crest, but a few gems are offered. Mostly you get a lot of high speed chicanes and sweepers as you slowly go from 5500 to 7300 feet above sea level.
This is one of my favorite drives in the whole state. It’s relaxing and exhilarating, stark and lush, enjoyable and terrifying all at the same time. NM-4 from San Ysidro to Los Alamos is not to be missed.
From the ABQ airport, drive I-25 north to Bernalillo. Exit on 550 and drive west to San Ysidro / NM-4. And then go from there. Drive the speed limit through the tiny towns. Stop often to take in the beauty. And if you don’t feel like lunch, you can take NM-4 past Los Alamos to White Rock for a few extra curves.
Aside from a crop, resize, and watermark, this is straight out of the camera. It really looks this perfect out there.
This last shot is my favorite from the day. We had just left Los Alamos on the way back down NM-4 when a huge gravel truck cut in front of our little group. He’d only been parked on the side of the road for a half hour or so (we saw him driving into town). He waited till Flipper was 10 feet from his back bumper to pull back into traffic.
There wasn’t going to be any passing that huge gravel truck in the tightest sections right near Los Alamos, so we pulled into this little clearing and waited. We just kicked back in the shade and chatted for 10 minutes. I snapped this shot. It’s nothing extremely special. This shot just seems to capture the feeling of the day for me. The three cars parked. Not lined up carefully or anything. Just very relaxed.
To Geoff and Steve – thanks for the good times and a great drive!