Sitting Bull Falls, New Mexico

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The first piece of Sitting Bull Falls (October 2016)

Out in the middle of nowhere (well, a beautiful nowhere…), you’ll find Sitting Bull Falls. Just sitting around, waiting to be found. And to be honest, it really isn’t that difficult to find Sitting Bull Falls…it’s just takes a while to get there.

To get to Sitting Bull Falls you’ve got to drive about 45 minutes to an hour off of the main highway (either US-62 or US-285). As you get closer, you are rewarded with some beautiful views as you drive through the canyon (or what I think is a canyon). You also have to slow down as the curves become sharper. It’s all worth it to see an unexpected waterfall in a desert.

Sitting Bull Falls is more expansive than it appears. There are really almost two separate pieces to the falls separated by a few hundred feet at most. So at first glance, the waterfall seems limited (depending on the volume of water flowing), until you realize there’s more. It’s impossible to get both pieces in the same picture since trees effectively cover the second half. What also adds to Sitting Bull Falls beauty is the stone that is behind the falls. When you visit Sitting Bull Falls, you should also plan on visiting Carslbad Caverns National Park (and Guadalupe National Park). The rocks at the falls look a lot like the rocks in the caverns below. The dissolved minerals in the water flowing over the falls create a similar effect to the dissolve minerals in the caves below. And since there’s not as much rain to wash those effects away, these features probably stay around longer on the surface. It’s pretty awesome to see.

And while I don’t know if I’d go so far out of my way to see only the falls, you should absolutely stop and visit Carlsbad Caverns, which is really close as the bird flies, and yet about 1.5 hours driving time. I hadn’t realized that there were self-guided tours of the caverns, which allow you to explore at your own pace. And then across the border in Texas, Guadalupe Mountains provides even more awesome views.

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The hidden piece of Sitting Bull Falls (to the left of other falls)

Directions:

  1. If you’re on US-285, head southwest along NM-137. If you’re on US-62, take NM-408 west. NM-408 west will connect into NM-137 right before you take your next turn.
  2. You should end up on NM-137 heading south at some point in time no matter what direction you’re taking (unless you’ve taken some really weird route), and then you’ll turn right onto Sitting Bull Falls Road (NM-409). (If you continued along NM-137, you’d end up in the northern entrance of Guadulupe Mountains NP.)
  3. Continue on Sitting Bull Falls Road until you come to the end of the road after about 8 miles. The signage was very good, and so it was hard to miss the turns.
  4. Pay the entrance fee at the self-serve kiosk, and then take the short hike along the paved trail to the falls. (The falls are out of view from the parking area.)

Accessibility: 10/10 (handicapped-accessible)
Height: ~150′
Hike: 0.25 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Sitting Bull Falls?

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Lower Frijoles Falls, New Mexico

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Lower Frijoles Falls in September 2009 (Trees are now all gone)

Bandalier National Monument is an absolutely great place to visit, at least I think so. I’m really into waterfalls, and I’m also into exploring Native American ruins. Bandalier National Monument has both. The waterfalls, Upper Frijoles Falls and Lower Frijoles Falls, are not really the main attraction.

In one way, they are not the main attraction simply because they probably don’t have much water flowing over them usually. When I visited, there was water, which is good. I imagine early spring would be the best bet to see more flow. The rock colors around the falls are sometimes more attractive than the falls themselves. On the other hand, the hike to both Lower and Upper Frijoles Falls is not nearly as populated as the other areas, and so you’ll probably see only a few other people along your way. That can make for a very calm and enjoyable day.

Update: I visited in 2009…In 2011, there was a pretty intense flood. Check out the damage here. It’s no longer possible to get to Lower Frijoles Falls since the trail was pretty severely undercut.

Directions:

  1. From White Rock, head west on NM-4 to the entrance to Bandalier National Monument.
  2. Pay the entrance fee and start the drive down toward the parking lot.
  3. The first parking lot you enter is the best place to park to view the housing. There is a parking area to your left that might not be apparent at first. If you turn left and park at the end of the parking area, you will be closest to the trailhead leading to the falls.
  4. From the trailhead, hike the distance to the Upper Falls…that’s where this story ends now.

Accessibility: 0/10 (no approved way now)
Height: 90′
Hike: no longer possible

Where in the World is Lower Frijoles Falls?

Upper Frijoles Falls, New Mexico

Banadalier National Monument is a spectacular place to visit, and most people visit to see the amazing Native American history there. Hidden in a corner of the park, viewed by far fewer people, are two waterfalls on the Frijoles River. The two drops are actually significant, with Upper Frijoles Falls dropping about 80′ or maybe a little more. It’s hard to judge the height, as you’re actually standing above the falls.

The Upper Falls does get sort of lost in all of the rock surrounding the falls. The rocks are so colorful, that it can be difficult to see the falls in the background. This is one waterfall where a camera with a zoom is necessary to try to get a closer view in the picture. Pay attention to all of the different colors in the rock. At one point, you can look out and see the Rio Grande. As you’re looking out, the rocks have these amazingly colorful layers…reds, greens, oranges, and yellows all are present.

Directions:

  1. From White Rock, head west on NM-4 to the entrance to Bandalier National Monument.
  2. Pay the entrance fee and start the drive down toward the parking lot.
  3. The first parking lot you enter is the best place to park to view the housing. There is a parking area to your left that might not be apparent at first. If you turn left and park at the end of the parking area, you will be closest to the trail head leading to the falls.
  4. From the trail head, hike the distance to the falls. It’s an easier hike than I expected, though the last quarter of a mile is steeper.

Note: In 2011, there was a major flooding event that made Lower Frijole Falls inaccessible. The Upper Falls is now accessible via trail, but some of these notes may have changed.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 80′
Length of Hike: 3 miles round-trip

Upper Frijoles Fals in September 2009

Where in the World is Upper Frijoles Falls?

Soda Dam Falls, New Mexico

It’s not often that you see a waterfall like Soda Dam Falls. While it’s not a very big waterfall, it is very unique, and also very easy to visit. The Jemez River has somehow created this uniqueness. The waterfall actually flows under a natural bridge. Erosion is amazing, to say the least.

And as I said, the waterfall is very easy to find and view. The waterfall is right off of NM-4 north of Jemez Springs. Because of it’s ease of access, if you’re in the north-central portion of New Mexico, you should stop and visit. While you’re traveling along NM-4 in the Jemez National Recreation Area, you’ll also experience beautiful scenery include the deeply red rocks.

Directions:

  1. Head north on NM-4 from Jemez Springs for a little more than 2 miles. On your right you’ll find a rather long pull-off with a sign indicating Soda Dam.
  2. Jump over the fence to get a better view.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 10′
Length of Hike: roadside

Soda Dam Falls in September 2009

Where in the World is Soda Dam Falls?