JEMEZ SPRINGS (KRQE) – Businesses in the village of Jemez Springs nestled near the Santa Fe National Forest have a simple formula for survival in an average year: “Locals are our most important thing. But right below that is the tourism and we survive off of all the great people that come and visit and spend their money here. This is how we make it through our winters,” says Rachael Montaño, general manager of Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon.
However, when the Cerro Pelado Fire forced the closure of the Santa Fe National Forest in April, the steady stream of tourists dried up. “It’s been super slow, due to the fact that nobody wants to come up here because they’re worried about all the fires, the smoke especially,” says Audrey Magdalena, massage therapist at Jemez Springs Bath House.
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The situation forced businesses to get creative to make ends meet. “It was super dead, it was really hard for us. We were struggling really hard through the fire. We ended up selling burritos to the firefighters—try to get as much business in as we could,” Montaño says.
Montaño says they didn’t have to lay anyone off, but they had to cut people’s hours and they lost more than 50 percent of their usual sales: “People were making 20 dollars in tips a day instead of 120 dollars in tips. So it was really hard on everybody here.”
Down the road, it’s a similar story at the Jemez Springs Bath House. “It’s been really slow. As a massage therapist, I don’t know what I’m coming into. Sometimes I’m coming into nothing, sometimes I’m coming into one [client]. Some days we have a lot of people booked but they cancel because of the fact they’re worried to drive up here,” Magdalena says.
Businesses are remaining resilient after COVID and the fires—and now, with flash flood warnings closing some areas up the road they’re hopeful it won’t keep people away from their town. “I hope it’d be back to normal but just like where it had burned was in a burn scar so there’s nothing holding that mud back and the trees back and stuff now,” Montaño says.