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Southwest Diversity


New Mexico Sets Out To Enchant

John McKinney

This was the most diverse day of the trip. We headed out from the Sandia foothills near Albuquerque and made our way to the red rock deserts on the way to something called the Soda Dam. The red rock deserts were a beautiful, vibrant red. They looked like they had been stained with blood. I’ve never seen anything like it. I felt like I was walking on Mars. To be honest, it looked fake to me. We only made a short pit stop to look at the red rock before rolling on. From there, we headed to the Soda Dam.

The Soda Dam is an interesting site to behold, to say the least. The dam was formed by minerals collecting, not really sure how the first minerals didn’t get washed away but I’m not a geologist. It wasn’t honestly overly pretty but it was just so odd you couldn’t look away. It reminded me of something out of a science fiction movie.

From Mars to the Woodlands

From there, our road took us into windy mountain roads that suddenly and dramatically changed. Gone were dusty Sandia mountains, the red rock deserts, or the science fiction Soda Dam. We were now in what resembled Colorado. Large pines covered both sides of the road. Apparently, New Mexico is one of the most diverse areas in the world and it was on full display.

Lunchtime, always a crowd-pleasing time, was spent at Jemez Falls. As beautiful as the Sandia Mountains were, I will always be partial to pine tree covered mountains. We spent a few hours exploring Jemez Falls. It’s not an overly large area but you can do a lot of exploring in the area you do have. Walking down the path from the picnic area we followed the path down to overlook the falls. We climbed up boulders, weaved through forest paths, and sat on the edge of cliffs. It was definitely a stop I would recommend.

Our next stop was supposed to be Bandelier National Monument but we rounded a bend and were compelled to stop by the sheer beauty of what we saw along the route, the Valles Caldera. The Valles Caldera is a vast plain surrounded by mountains. An extremely long time ago, long before humans roamed the plains, a supervolcano erupted and collapsed. This event created a wide circular depression that is now known as the Valles Caldera. This massive plain teems with wildlife, streams, and meadows. Elk can often be seen roaming the Valles, unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see any this time. It took all I had to heed the car’s wishes to move on so we would have enough time to see Bandelier. I started walking back to the car then realized my wife had not been able to start that walk yet. For her especially, someone who loves large meadows, this was like a glimpse into Heaven. New Mexico had certainly not disappointed and we weren’t even done for the day.

The large plains provided little in the way of anchor points to judge size, but as we kept driving and driving along the outside rim we started to realize just how massive the Valles was. We saw an SUV driving on a road in the middle of the Valles and couldn’t believe how tiny it looked. The Valles is a whopping 13 miles across. I would not have wanted to be anywhere nearby when that supervolcano erupted and collapsed.

Onward to Bandelier

Near Los Alamos stands a very interesting national monument, Bandelier. Bandelier is a collection of cave dwellings that were once occupied by Ancestral Puebloans. These people carved rooms right out of the canyon wall, it was incredible. As we rolled into Bandelier, so did the storms. After checking in at the ranger station to gauge their worry for the rain in the canyon we were informed that the storms typically stay up on the plateau and shouldn’t affect the canyon too much. With that in mind, we began our way down the path in a light rain.

After only a few minutes, the rain had completely subsided. We didn’t have to walk far before we saw the monument. Not only were there cave dwellings but on the canyon floor, there were the remnants of a rather large village. You’re allowed to enter a few of the cave dwellings. You have to do so just as they probably would have, with a wooden ladder. We skipped the first one due to there already being a small line to get in with a family waiting at the bottom of the ladder. Along our walk to the second dwelling as well as inside the dwelling, we say petroglyphs on the walls.

“New Mexico had certainly not disappointed and we weren’t even done for the day.”

Climbing Back in History

We made our way up the ladder and into the dwelling. As someone well over 6 feet, I would not have fared well in ancient times if I had to live in this dwelling. Glancing at the pamphlet we picked up at the ranger station, we learned the average male was 5 and a half feet tall and the average female was 5 feet tall. Even at that size, I’m not sure how someone could stay in those very long. I felt like Quasimodo.

The last cave dwelling we went in was much more my size, I could even stand upright in it. In reading about the hard life of the Ancestral Puebloans in the Frijoles Canyon, it made me happy to live in the time we live in. Their average lifespan was only 35 years old and they lived dangerous painful lives.

With the Sun setting early due to being in a canyon, we made our way to the exit and on back to our non-cave home to sleep in our nice comfy beds.

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