High Mesa Adventure

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Hidden: This secret location is rich in history

 High atop the mesa and deep within the Jemez forest, lies a special place full of historical logging villages and pueblo ruins. This area sees little motorized traffic aside from the occasional 4-wheeler or dirt bike passing through.


Even those who pass through fail to notice the hundreds of cultural sites along the way. These sites are often completely camouflaged by natural foliage or rocks, only noticeable to those with a trained eye.  

Within just a few miles of mesa, adventurers can see a historical logging village, a large pueblo ruin, hundreds of lesser pueblo ruins, and rock art from multiple periods of time. Those who desire to find these places will find their way with a little research.

Please note, those who choose to visit cultural sites should enjoy them through photos and memories. Do not remove, destroy or deface cultural items at any archaeological site. It is quite common to find old trucks full of bullet holes and logs from nearby historical cabins lying charred in a campfire. Visitor should leave these places as they were found — if not better. 

Pueblo Mesa Dwellers

Nearly every mesa surrounding Jemez Springs contains a large pueblo ruin. Most of the larger ruins date back as far as 1200 A.D., with some of the isolated field houses dating back even further to when the area was only occupied seasonally for hunting and farming. 

Seasonal farmers lived in these houses each summer, harvesting crops and hunting meat to prepare their families for the cold winter months. They would then take their rations with them to the larger pueblos in more temperate areas and live with their families in the villages during the colder months. 

The ruins of these field houses are now merely mounds of rocks, noticeably out of place among the forest floor. Some will even have visible walls or corners complete with 800-year-old mortar between the adobe bricks. Closer inspection will normally reveal some sort of pottery shards or rock flakes to truly reveal the place’s identity. 

The Spanish began to colonize nearby Jemez Springs in the early 1500s, eventually building what is now Jemez National Monument. The Spanish Frays would often travel to these surrounding mesa-top villages to gather the native people down in the canyon, where they would remain under the watchful eye of the church. There, these people were forced into slave labor to build the large church that remains today. 

The Jemez people were not so easily subdued by the Spanish, rebelling often and retreating to nearby mesas to prepare for their next move. Some of these sites may have acted as refugee villages for people fleeing the Spanish oppression.  

One such site exists upon this mesa, and is probably one of the largest sites in this area. Some newer room blocks on the north side indicate that these probably housed some of the refugees, maybe even some fleeing from neighboring pueblo ally villages.

According to research papers from people like Edgar Hewitt and even Adolph Bandelier, Spanish eyes may have viewed this site. Its defensive location is disguised by expansive forests and exists on top of a steep mesa that appears not to exist from any major road. Furthermore, there is no archaeological evidence that indicates Spanish visitation at this particular ruin. On many other ruins, there is much archaeological evidence of the Spanish invasion. 

It is clear that people existed here over a long period of time. This ruin contains dozens of small kivas, a great kiva and pottery shards spanning hundreds of years. Some of the newer rooms still have their vigas intact and appear to have had multiple stories. 

This is the only Jemez ruin that was reportedly never discovered by Spaniards during the conquest or reconquest periods. There is even some evidence to support that this ruin may have been occupied after the Pueblo Revolt period; when many of the old villages were abandoned in favor of more defensive locations. This ruin retained its defensive location successfully in times of need. 

High Mesa Logging

Logging operations were in full swing in the Jemez during the 1930s with logging villages springing up across Jemez country to house the hundreds of employees and their families.  Many of these villages have been destroyed in various forest fires throughout the years, but a few remain and provide a rare glimpse into the history of this area.  

One such camp still contains around 22 structures including residential cabins, outhouses, barns and garages. The village is now hidden among the pines and aspens, and tucked away on a remote dirt road in the wilderness. Some of it was destroyed in recent forest fires. 

This particular camp existed between 1931 and 1936. The foreman of this camp is also associated with several other camps located in nearby mesas and canyons.  His family lived in the camp and his two older sons also worked in the operation. 

Some of the cabins still have floorboards, remains of built-in tables and shelves and intact door and window frames. Trash heaps reveal their eating and drinking habits, sprinkled with the occasional painted porcelain shard to remind visitors that both women and children also lived at this camp. The remains of both a woman and child’s shoe here are a further reminder. 

One garbage heap reveals an ax head, an old wood stove, various car parts and springs, cans, old tires and more table porcelain — real proof that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. These dumps can provide immense detail and information into the lives of the families and workers who lived here nearly 80 years ago. 

Logging operations were conducted near Jemez Springs from the early 1920s through 1941, when a flood caused enough devastation that the company could no longer monetarily justify the repairs. The operation was conducted mostly by train on tracks that eventually led to a lumberyard near Albuquerque.  After the flood, these tracks were removed and supposedly donated to the war efforts. 

 A watchful eye can spot many hidden treasures within the Jemez Mountains. A now quiet, desolate and overgrown forest can contain great historical and pre-historical wonders; evidence that humans have relied on this area for recreation, sustenance and profit for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years.   

— By April M. Brown