Go for a Loop in New Mexico's Jemez Mountains

Article excerpt

It's a scenic way to explore off the beaten path between Albuquerque and Santa Fe

THE MOST DIRECT route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe is also the most uninspiring: a humdrum 60-mile drive on Interstate 25.

A more roundabout but rewarding route through the Jemez Mountains covers twice as many miles and can easily occupy a full day or leisurely weekend. The loop drive we suggest packs plenty of history, Native American culture, and scenery into a 125-mile route, with opportunities for craft shopping, dining, and hiking along the way.

Begin the loop about 15 miles north of Albuquerque at Bernalillo by turning west off I-25 onto State Highway 44.

Immediately on the right is Coronado State Monument, where visitors can wander among the ruins of a prehistoric Native American village, climb down a ladder into a beautifully restored kiva, visit a small museum, and enjoy one of the finest views of the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. It's open 9 to 6 daily; admission costs $2 for ages 17 and over.

Next door, in bright green contrast to the surrounding desert, is Valle Grande Golf Course, owned by Santa Ana Pueblo, with 27 holes, a pro shop, and a bar and grill. Fees run from $16 to $21; for tee times, call (505) 867-9464. Next door, the Prairie Star restaurant (867-3327; reservations recommended) serves elegant meals in a restored adobe mansion. Entrees range from Rocky Mountain trout ($13) to pasta ($16).

Santa Ana Pueblo itself is open only for ceremonies, such as the annual feast day on July 26. It's best to call for dance dates (867-3301) as schedules can change.

Nearby, Chile Hill Emporium sells area crafts, including pottery as well as silver jewelry. It's open 9:30 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 Sundays.

Zia Pueblo (867-3304) is built atop a narrow mesa with a view of the Jemez River. Pottery is often for sale in artisans' homes.

Farther northwest in the quiet hamlet of San Ysidro, browse through shops such as Blue Onion Gifts, the Corn Maiden Gallery Trading Post, and Columbine Pottery.

Near the historic church in San Ysidro, the tour route branches north onto State 4 and offers a view of Redondo Peak. Some residents say the light green area near the top resembles a Native American thunderbird (eagle) and call this loop route the Thunderbird Trail.

At Jemez Pueblo (834-7359), the largest pueblo on the route, inspect the pottery for sale. Flat-roofed adobe houses and hut homes crowd around a quiet plaza that comes alive with color and movement on feast days. No photography is allowed.

Just north of Jemez Pueblo, at Red Rocks, dramatically colored cliffs rise above picnic tables set among junipers. …