And where once there was only a tiny general store, now there are several small gift shops selling native crafts, a day spa and even a small, family-owned winery where the friendly owners pour out glasses of their vintages and share the local gossip.
Perhaps the biggest change in Jemez has been the creation of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, where gigantic volcanic eruptions more than a million years ago spewed ash for miles, creating the tuff cliffs from which Bandelier's cave dwellings were carved and forming two great calderas. Although the larger caldera, Valle Grande, is situated right along New Mexico 4, much of the federally owned preserve is operated as a fenced-off recreational area where small groups of visitors can go (only by reservation) for such activities as fishing classes and hay-wagon rides in summer or cross-country skiing and sleigh rides in winter.
My most recent visit included my husband and two children, so we looked online and found a house to rent along the Jemez River. We wanted a comfortable living space and the flexibility to prepare meals in. (Consetta's, a charming restaurant next door, is open only at certain times of the year, and the only exceptionally good food we found in the area were the blueberry-corn pancakes at Deb's Diner.) At $95 a night for the four of us, the house, called Ranchito Milagro, was a bargain. It's owned by documentary filmmaker Kathleen Phelan, who moved here from Venice Beach.
It wasn't exactly like renting a guest house; Phelan, it turns out, stays in another part of the home, separated by a folding room divider, and her two dogs frequently wandered in through the back dog door for friendly visits.
Jemez is still unspoiled enough that these kinds of setups are common. Residents run little tourism-related businesses but generally need other jobs to keep going. For instance, the owner of Consetta's is a librarian at the Jemez Pueblo, and the owner of Giggling Springs doubles as a real-estate agent.
We were comfortable enough with the casual arrangement, as well as with the dogs. And Phelan, who is working to set up a tour-package business, proved a helpful guide.
We fished in the river out back (the house was without a river view, but it was a short enough walk there that we let the kids wander down by themselves) and hiked to waterfalls and hot springs. Soda Dam, just off New Mexico 4 north of the village, creates a little pool of fresh river water, great for swimming.
Phelan also helped us set up a 90-minute horseback ride that was supposed to take place at an offbeat, rustic spot. But the stable instead took its horses that day down to the ritzy Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa at Santa Ana Pueblo, an hour's drive. The horses were excellent, not the typical drab, plodding trail steeds, and unlike on most guided trail rides, we were allowed to let them trot and canter. But the terrain wasn't particularly scenic, the sun was brutal, and though the kids enjoyed it, at $75 a head, it was an experience I could have skipped.
Night life in the Jemez area is limited. Locals head to Los Ojos, an old and still-authentic Western-style saloon and diner, for a beer and conversation. For those inclined to quieter pursuits, the Milky Way puts on a spectacular show in the clear night sky.