layers of memories

May 07, 2023  •  5 Comments

Today's blog is courtesy of a question asked a month ago by friend and photographer extraordinaire, Steve Immel.  In the process of curating photographs of California to select ten of his best for an article, Steve asked how would I do the same when it came to New Mexico.  It was truly a brain game that made me look through numerous slides and prints, as well as digital images.  I certainly know what some of my favorite places are, but found representative photographs sorely lacking.  From Bandelier National Monument, to Jemez Springs, Soda Dam, Battleship Rock and Valles Caldera, the Jemez Mountains are rich in volcanic formations and ponderosa pine forests (also known as western yellow pine). They form the southernmost part of the Rocky Mountains.  I almost feel as though the area is part of my DNA, having spent two weeks each summer for ten years at Girl Scout camps in the area.  In my opinion. the sensory richness of the area is very nearly unmatched.  So you now have fair warning that much of my photographic work for the coming summer months will be a revisit to some of the most beautiful and compelling parts of the area. 

Since the beginning of April when temperatures began to warm, the small towns of San Ysidro and Jemez Springs, New Mexico, experienced flooding from the runoff of excellent winter mountain snows.  The snow melt prompted warnings about not pulling off the side of Highway 4 because of the rushing water.  Every time I checked the state of New Mexico highway conditions map, indications were given about the highway being patrolled and police telling people they would not be allowed to utilize the shoulders for parking.  But the latest warnings were from the third week in April and I decided last week might be a good time to take a photographic trip to Soda Dam, north of Jemez Springs and Jemez Pueblo.  The drive would be enjoyable even if pulling off was not allowed.

As it turned out, the day was perfection, and the small parking area near Soda Dam was not only open but empty short of one vehicle.  For at least forty-five minutes, we had the place to ourselves.  I mentioned the sensory richness of the Jemez earlier.  As we opened the car doors, the smell of sulphur took us back, I am not certain where or even to what time, but it was the start of a heady experience - a delicious stew of smells and sounds.  The roar of the water made me realize why the authorities cautioned people not to go near the river.  Although there are many more public swimming pools in the state than during my childhood, there are still a good many who do not know how to swim.  The speed and intensity of the water would have taken even skilled swimmers for quite a ride. 

It is best to begin with a full shot of Soda Dam and the Jemez River going through the calcareous rock.  Layer upon layer of history deposit themselves in the formation, which, according to, is fifty feet high and fifty feet wide at the bottom.

Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 15Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 15

Within the body of the dam are small caverns and gnarled, contorted layers, shaped and worked by nature.

Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 21Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 21

Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 24Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 24


The noise of the water rushing through the opening was impressive, shown in the trio of progressively closer images.

Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 1Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 1

Soda Dam, New Mexico 2023 7Soda Dam, New Mexico 2023 7

Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 5Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 5


The other-worldly nature of these formations cannot be overstated.  It is seriously complicated by forces geologists can identify but the likes of me cannot.  

Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 18Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 18

A detail of the lower right hand part of the formation (travertine deposit) in the image of above makes me think of a wood burl.  

Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 28Soda Dam, New Mexico - 2023 28

Finally, since Soda Dam is part of the Jemez area, filled with geothermal features, and the dam is fed by 117° water from Valles Caldera, several types of algae or cyanobacteria, thrive here.

Soda Dam, New Mexico 2023 30Soda Dam, New Mexico 2023 30

Thanks for coming along for the ride, and my appreciation goes to Bill P., Barbara F. R., Christina, Lisa S., Jean and Sam, Steve, and Catherine for commenting last week.  Some very uniquely layered red dirt will be the feature of my next biog.

until next Monday,


a passion for the image©



Fascinating series of shots. Have never focused on the volcanic areas of New Mexico as I have here at home in California. What an eye-opener.
New Mexico geology and landscape are stunning and you have captured it beautifully! Thanks!
Steve Immel(non-registered)
Springtime on the road has been good to you and your writing today is really strong. The memories you have of your beloved New Mexico ring rich and deep. My early memories of California are so vivid they’re more indelible than any photograph could be. I can still smell Camp Cazadero, my summer camp above the Russian River in Sonoma County in the late Forties or the towering redwoods in Muir Woods or the fog shrouded Bay Bridge for the first time.

Today you’ve introduced me to places I’ve never seen or heard about like Soda Dam and Battleship Rock. They make me yearn for the road. It’s a joy to rediscover places and find they’re as special as you remember them. Your phrases “sensory richness” and “a delicious stew of sights and smells” reveal deep feelings and love for the land. I would not have computed that the Soda Dam is fed by the 117-degree water from Valles Caldera though it makes perfect sense. Each of today's photographs gives me a sense of place. I can feel how it felt.

I still wish I had images that could touch on the California’s visual wealth as seen through my lens through the decades.

And finally, thanks for the nod.
Very cool! Thanks
Jim Watkins(non-registered)
Amazing (landscape and photos)
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