Even in harsh conditions, we thrive

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White Sands National Park

Sometimes living in the desert I am struck by how harsh the living conditions are. Just a few miles up the Sandia Mountains on the outskirts of Albuquerque, the landscape is dry and hot, filled with cacti and rattlers. It is not a hike for the faint at heart, or those without water, especially on a hot summer’s day. I’ve also felt this oppressiveness at the Sand Dunes National Monument or at White Sands and even on the mesa near my house. And yet, plants and wildlife thrive in these environments. They have learned how to live and grow in beauty and be strong with the sun and earth conditions.

I’ve been thinking about this recently in terms of humans, and how we also thrive in harsh conditions, and sometimes we struggle to figure out how. A lot has recently been written on how children need grit in order to make it in the world these days. And by grit, researchers mean tenacity or toughness to make it through harsh situations. Other researchers call it resilience. And still others have said that to shelter children from harsh environments means that they will be unequipped to navigate them once they face them as adults.

Sometimes I feel like I shelter my son too much, and other times I worry that he’s so much in the world that he’s completely unsafe. But then, I remember . . . he is part of the world. He is connected to this world, and he interacts with it on his own terms, as a complete human being, whatever his age. I can help him interpret, but I cannot change that fact that he is a complete human and part of this world, a world that is harsh and beautiful. And I try to remember the beautiful part when I help in interpret. But heck, I need help interpreting too, and so I reach to others in the same way. It is always a matter of learning, seeking support and speaking to beauty, not just to harshness. Maybe it is just about always carrying enough water.

I think about the lizards at White Sands, and their feet, shaped to be able to race over the hot sand like tiny potholders protecting their bodies. Most certainly, this is a resilience adaptation for survival in their harsh conditions, a normal way of living for this little reptilian creature. Maybe the thing with humans is, we can’t figure out what’s normal — is it normal to need to live in a diverse community peacefully? or is it a threat? is it normal to  need tenacity in order to navigate unknown? Or maybe it is both? and holding opposites simultaneously in our thinking minds confuses us?

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Lizard hanging out at home in White Sands

If we look around us, the answer seems to inevitably appear. Diversity exists. Opposites exist together in the world all over. Every day and night, again and again. And again and again. Maybe navigating the world means venturing into this diversity, and whether that requires grit, resilience or just plain and simple loving, it has to be.

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Finding the Santa Fe Trail (Part I)

Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail

Sometimes things that aren’t lost are pretty hard to find. And once you discover them, you realize you’ve simply got to tell everyone you know because the treasure just might disappear forever if other people don’t know about it. This is how we felt about finding Fort Union National Park about thirty miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. It is just off I-25, about 90 miles east of Taos.

My son studied New Mexico history, like every student in New Mexico, and for the last couple of months he has been talking to me about different places around the state. Fort Union came up, and together we looked it up on the map. Seemed like a good day adventure. So we headed out of the pass toward Mora, and followed the Santa Fe Trail. The ruts along the road are still visible along the route.

Once we arrived at Fort Union, we got a serious history lesson from my son, but also from the national park itself. The brick chinmeys pierced the landscape while the June wind whipped the prairie grass, and we walked the Santa Fe Trail. Trail travelers generally ventured between 12-24 miles a day (between a 1/2 and full marathon at todays standards). From this major outpost, Santa Fe was still two days travel at least. Beautiful to consider, what it must have been.

More than 3,000 people lived at the Fort in the early 1800’s. There was a major hospital on the grounds that was the best in the region. The hospital had over 126 beds over its life. This Fort was a booming place. And we, along with the one National Park Service Ranger, had it to ourselves.

It takes just a few hours to explore the ruins and trail in this area so we drove into Las Vegas afterwards for lunch at the historic Plaza Hotel.  It is worth the 30 miles drive south to see the plaza.  The Plaza Hotel was built in the 1880’s when the railroad was built.

Fort Union National Park is a beautiful little day trip to explore the southern end of the Santa Fe Trail.  It is definitely worth the stop, taking a break from a long drive along I-25, or as a day trip from Taos, Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

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Sunday morning walk to Petaca Point

DSC3392-300x200A short drive over Taos Junction Bridge and up a steep dirt road with several switchbacks to the West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge will take you to the trailhead of Petaca Point Trail. Petaca Canyon is an easy four miles, along the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge. Because the trail runs along the ridge, the mesa grasses and flowers are beautiful, and the 360 views are amazing. The wind and sun can also be amazing, so early morning is the best time of day to take this walk.

The best part of this walk is exploring for petroglyphs. There are many along the rocks. Petaca means “case used to carry belongings when travelling” mostly tobacco or cigarettes. And it has been said that there is treasure hidden in the canyons along the Rio Grande. So we like to think that the travelers stashed their bags in the nooks along the Rio here. It is a good reason to explore. I don’t know if it has been said from a credible source or not, but it is credible enough to keep my husband and son exploring the rocks and canyons for years, so either way the “legend” is worth something in my family.

Located in the Rio Grande Recreation Area just down the hill from Taos. The trail is off the road from Pilar and the Taos Junction Bridge. It is a great morning hike–and the mud is fun too.

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Tent Rocks: someplace you gotta go, and my family thought they looked a little like something else . . .

Yes, they’re called tent rocks, but as you wander through the trail to the top of the mesa, it feels like you’re wandering through another world.  A bit like Star Wars or a bit phallus depending on your state of mind, but in either case, it is magnificent. The monument is about an hour north of Albuquerque and definitely off the beaten path, but so worth the adventure of finding it.  Truly, not much else could be said about it. Find it! Tent Rocks National Monument.

Tent Rocks National Monument
Tent Rocks National Monument

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Hidden spots in Bandelier

It has been warming up around here, and it makes me yearn for summer and weekend hikes. This weekend I’ve been daydreaming about places we’ve been and places I’d like to be if it were warm. So my next few posts will be my summer daydreams. Soon enough it will be warm and we’ll be able to venture out for an afternoon hike in shorts and baseball cap, searching a natural treasure along the way.

Bandelier National Monument is about 30,000 acres of beautiful canyonlands and mesa with petrogylphs and dwellings dating back 11,000 years. The main loop trail and visitor center is most certainly worth a visit if you haven’t been there, but we prefer the Tsankawi Trail. It is a bit off the beaten path, and it is one of my favorite spots for a short afternoon adventure.

The Tsankawi Trail is only a couple miles and it is not a difficult hike, but it follows ancient pathways and includes ladders along the trail up the side of ancestral dwelling sites. The petroglyphs and the ancestral pueblo village of Tsankawi are ghostly and beautiful on the mesa above Rio Grande.

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Pottery shards can be spotted along the trail
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Petroglyphs
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More . . .on the last part of the trail you’re surrounded by petroglyphs
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Dwellings
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Looking at over the mesa just as a storm is rolling in
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Chimney
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More pottery shards