Contributed by Charlie Stehman
If you happen to be going to the Los Alamos region of New Mexico for purposes of business or pleasure, there is a wonderful walk waiting to happen at the Tsankawi Trail. The Tsankawi Trail is just a mile or so out of Los Alamos on Highway 4 east of Los Alamos. A simple sign on the east side of this busy highway marks the trail. It is easy to miss.
Now, if you are going to the Los Alamos area you are either going there to conduct ultra secret business at the Los Alamos National Laboratories, or you are a tourist. As a tourist, the first time you approach Los Alamos you can sense that something is different there; it’s a little too sterile, too quiet and just a little spooky! The town doesn’t look anything like the countryside that surrounds it.
Tourists visiting Los Alamos can visit the Bradbury Science Museum, situated at the National Laboratories. This museum gives the history and some limited insight into the mission of the National Laboratories, but not many walking opportunities. Alternatively, tourists can and should visit the fascinating ruins of the Anasazi cliff dwellers, who inhabited this region from about 900 to 500 years ago.
Tsankawi is part of the larger Bandelier National Monument which consists of two historical sites situated at separate locations near Los Alamos: the larger and more frequently visited Frijoles Canyon and the beautiful Tsankawi Mesa which presents a wonderful walking opportunity.
The two-mile walking tour of Tsankawi takes a little over an hour unless you dawdle and stop to appreciate both the vistas and the remnants of a fascinating ancient civilization. The walk takes you up on top of and then around the mesa where the ancients lived. Once you reach the top of the mesa you will know that the inhabitants were “on top of things.” They chose a high fortress, which provided intoxicating panoramas and proximity to deity.
The only drawback to living on the mesa was that food and water had to be carried up to the top of the mesa from the fertile valleys below. Because the Anasazi were fond of hiking like you and me, trips to and from the valley were a pleasant part of every day.
In many places your way is well marked by a deep track worn down by centuries of foot traffic over the soft volcanic tuff rock of which the mesa is composed.
During my first visit to Tsankawi I noted, from the width of these footpaths, that the original inhabitants of the mesa must have been substantially smaller than me (about 5 ft 7 in).
In places you will scale the tuff using footholds carved into the tuff. At other spots you will see from the petroglyph’s carved into the rock that the same soft tuff rock was an excellent medium for artistic expression.
Of course there are many other walking trails in the beautiful state of New Mexico, but this is one that I personally favor. Just remember if you are going to New Mexico, summer or winter, take your sunscreen, water bottle and a friend with whom to share the beauty.
The Tsankawi Trail is 11 miles north of Frijoles Canyon on New Mexico Highway 4. Tsankawi is open from dawn to dusk. The trail is closed December 25 and January 1.