There were probably better days for picture-taking to capture the views of Albuquerque from the South Crest Trail. The afternoon winds kicked up dust and dirt in the desert, making the air too hazy to see very far. But since we hadn’t yet been on this popular trail we got enough pictures to give a sense of the place and didn’t worry too much that they weren’t professional quality photos. After all, most of our photos have that problem.
Today we expanded our list of walking opportunities close to town by exploring a system of unofficial trails within the boundaries of Petroglyph National Monument. Just to the west of Albuquerque, this 17-mile escarpment has been set aside as public land to preserve its rich cultural landscape. There are 3 named canyons with trails to view the petroglyphs, as well as the Volcanoes day-use area for close-up views of the geology. All of these areas have become familiar friends for days when we have limited time but want to get out for a short walk.
But today Lee suggested doing something different with our afternoon. He had looked at a map of the Monument and thought there might be a way to walk in the southern section, even though it didn’t show any trails or labeled entry points. A named area on the map indicated that this area was called Mesa Prieta.
Our first stop was at the Monument Visitor Center. There we found a knowledgeable staff person who gave us detailed directions for finding the access point we hoped would be there. She also gave us interesting information about the history of that part of the Monument. Her prediction that we would enjoy our time there was exactly what happened. No better way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny, Albuquerque afternoon than walking in the desert, finding some early spring flowers and enjoying views of the city to the east.
There is a purple flower (weed?) now blooming everywhere we walk around the city. My friend who helps me identify wildflowers says it’s something she has to weed out of her garden but she couldn’t remember the name. As we walked to the Visitor Center today to ask about the area we wanted to explore I noticed a number of labeled plants along the sidewalk. Besides learning of a new walk, I finally learned what this plant is.
We can check off another classic Albuquerque landmark. I read that this one has been around at least 50 years. No one knows for sure who first painted the eye on a rock formation in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, overlooking Albuquerque. The legend is that the tears coming from the eye symbolize the Sandias weeping over the encroachment of new development, as the city continues to expand. This may have been more of an issue 50 years ago, but from what I’ve seen since we’ve lived here, there is now a genuine effort on the part of the citizenry to preserve Open Space and wilderness areas and prevent more development in the Sandias.
Whether its symbolism is still relevant or not, I’m thankful to whomever it is that takes the time to repaint the rock. Hiking up to see it requires a steep 2-mile climb through the foothills on an unofficial trail. But the trail is heavily used and with Albuquerque always in sight below, you wouldn’t get lost, even if you weren’t able to find the rock. I’m not sure I could have found it without the help of Sue and her GPS track that we followed.
It was a perfect day to be out hiking and a lot of the spring wildflowers thought it was perfect, too. Many interesting rock formations and huge piles of boulders added to the fun of being out. And, best of all, there is so much to see for miles around as you continue to climb higher and then as you get to the very top and can sit and enjoy the view and sense of accomplishment for having climbed so high. No weeping for me today.
After a lazy start to our Saturday we asked each other what tasks or plans we might want to accomplish with the rest of our day. My conclusion was that I would lounge a bit longer in my easy chair and then maybe I would be inspired about what to do next. Before long, an idea popped into my head which required me to get up and log in to my computer. I was just warming up at the keyboard when the phone rang. “We’re getting our stuff together now to head out for a hike,” my friend said, “and wondered if you guys wanted to join us.”. Wow, what could be better than going hiking, even on a day when we were planning to just be lazy.
Our friends were patient enough to wait for us to get ourselves ready and even offered to come by and pick us up. One of the many benefits of hiking is that it doesn’t take long to make a sandwich, fill up water bottles, grab a day pack and head out the door. When Ken and Sue drove up we were already outside waiting.
The trail they had selected was a short drive from town. What I feared would be a late start, turned out to be plenty of time to accomplish the goal.
The plan was to start near Placitas at the Tunnel Springs trailhead, a starting point for hiking up the North Crest Trail. We would go partway up that trail to the intersection with the Ojo Del Orno Route, a shortcut, steep descent back down to the starting point. I much prefer going up steep trails and suggested reversing the loop so that we would do the Ojo Del Orno first. The majority agreed so we quickly found ourselves huffing and puffing our way up to the Crest Trail.
As always, the energy expended is well worth it for the awesome views from the top and the knowledge that the way back down will be much easier. A short distance south along the Crest brought us to an overlook with a rock bench, perfect as a place to enjoy our lunch. After lunch, turning back north along the Crest, we still had the majority of the miles for the loop left to do. But it was easy walking with more views and wildflowers along the way, ending the day with a sense of accomplishment, grateful for another opportunity to get out and enjoy this beautiful land.