This community of about 3,000 tribal members settled in the area in the late 13th century, and Highway 4 runs through the middle of the 89,000 acres it still maintains; before the Spanish arrived, the Hemish people (which the Spanish spelled Jemez) had established more than 10 large villages in the area.
One of the few pueblos in the area that has not opened a casino, it’s quite conservative and closed to outsiders except for ceremonial dances; because Jemez absorbed members of Pecos Pueblo in 1838, it celebrates two feast days, San Diego’s (November 12) and San Persingula’s (August 2). It’s also the only remaining pueblo where residents speak the Towa language, the rarest of the related New Mexico languages (Tewa and Tiwa are the other two).
The pueblo operates the Walatowa Visitors Center (505/834-7235, www.jemezpueblo.org , 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Apr.–Dec., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. daily Jan.–Mar.), about five miles north of San Ysidro. The center is easy to miss because you’ll be gawking off the east side of the road at the lurid red sandstone cliffs at the mouth of the San Diego Canyon; vendors selling traditional Indian frybread are another tasty distraction.
The visitors center has exhibits about the local geology and the people of Jemez and doubles as a ranger station, dispensing maps and advice on outdoor recreation farther up the road, such as hiking trails, campgrounds, fishing access points, and the various hot springs that well up out of crevices all through the Jemez Mountains.