Walking Past Lions 06.04.16

I’ve just got back from Bandelier wilderness I think I have walked over 17 miles It is wilderness for sure, hot rocky sandy burnt and dangerous if your not careful. I had rolled back into Santa Fe. My hips, my ankles are sore and aching and my toes are blistered, again. The drive back into town through White Rock and past Los Alamos, peaceful and easy, though Hummingbirds lights are just not bright enough so I’d taken it easy, focused on the yellow lines to my left and white to my right coasted, freefalling through the pitch black turning round and round down and down, rather like an airborne sycamore seed all the way down to Pojoaque where there is a welcome oasis of bright road lights because of the City of Gold and Buffalo Thunder casinos there. Its about an hour drive I was really peaceful, almost didn’t hit a red light all the way back to Santa Fe, quietly gracefully and beautifully back into the light.

I really pushed it today. I was thinking on the trail back, who I know who would be enjoying this with me. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anyone, though honestly I really did. I imagined one or two cussing me had they been out there with me. I have to say that it was a tough one today.

I was a little fed up, maybe I was just really very tired when I got into Denny’s on Cerrillos road at around 9.30. I opened up my emails to find that a parking ticket I’d got In Boise that had been doubled had been halved again. I’d written and explained why I’d not been in touch, they emailed right back and put it back to the original fee, how cool is that. Also owner of Longworth Gallery Lisa J Rodgers wrote back too to correct me for missing a D out of Rodgers and to say she’d enjoyed the writing, really made me laugh. So I was back in the world.

I’d planned to go up to Bandelier for a while, had the topographical map and rough idea of where I’d be going in my mind. That morning I’d done some emails at Starbucks then breakfast wraps outside Albertsons, a guy collecting up the shopping trolleys stopped by to see what I was doing and started laughing, said

Downtown Santa Fe NM 06.04.162016-04-06 09.58.41

“Man you are the SW Car Trunk Chef”

I said Laughing “I most certainly am” Our friends Andrew & Donna at Vanilla Black in London would be proud of me. Fine dining it most certainly was, packed full of goodness, it always makes me laugh. I munched them all the way up to Bandelier. I was going to need all my energy today.

Bandelier is 33,677 acres or 55 square miles of rugged canyons, ash desert and 70 miles of trails. Back 1.14 millions years ago, the area had been smothered in a think layer hundreds of feet thick of ash from the Valles Caldera volcano just up the road. Then later human habitation has been dated there at around 10, 000 years ago. The natives of the region used the harder stones they found below the ash line to enlarge the voids and pockets in the soft volcanic ash stone called Bandelier tuff.

The later Puebloans took it a step further from around 1150AD began excavating the cavities further and built houses and wooden and stone structures around them. The famous site in frijoles canyon was abandoned at around 1600 when the inhabitants moved closer down to the Rio Grande river a few miles away. The ancestors of the surrounding pueblos we find today. The ruins contain 31 reconstructed buildings though frijoles canyon is dotted with I believe many more and in fact are all across the Bandelier wilderness out there.

Archeologist Adolf Bandelier visited the area in 1880 and looking over the mesa edge to the ruins below is reported to have said “It is the finest thing I ever saw” it was because of his efforts that the president Woodrow Wilson gave it National monument status.

A twist in the regional tale is that during World War II the monument was closed to the public for several years as the national park buildings were used to house staff and personnel working on the Manhattan project at nearby Los Alamos developing the Atomic Bomb. I’ve always found that an interesting polar opposite

It was an absolutely beautiful sun-shiny day though still a chill in the air. We zoomed though Pojaque on the 84 north then swung a left onto the 502 through San Ildefonso Pueblo and wound our way up towards Los Alamos on the Pajarito Plateau. I was really in the mood for it and it felt good to be going somewhere again.

Slowly through the quiet town of White Rock, which is really just a suburb of Los Alamos. Lori told me yesterday that Los Alamos is a very cosmopolitan little town due to all the scientists and their families from around the world who live and work there. We noted a certain squeaky cleanness as we coasted slowly through the modern little place.

The landscape changes as you climb and pretty soon we were looking out from the top of the plateau right down to the Sandia Mountains in the south towards Albuquerque. As Juniper changed to Ponderosa pine, we breezed easily across the top of a flat and peaceful world, lovely in fact. The road up there is good and noticeably wide and clean as you’d expect from a place of such scientific importance. Back when they had first chosen this place for the site of the research lab, it wasn’t much more than a dirt road, chosen for its remoteness and inaccessibility and somehow it still has that feel to it now

It wasn’t long before we rolled onto the Bandelier monument road, then around and down into Frijoles canyon where most of the ruins are situated. It is instantly jaw dropping with the towering narrow pink and cream cliffs and a lush band of dark green ponderosa pines down below along the canyon bottom. A beautiful sight for sure.

I was really happy to be there and ready for off. The guy on the desk though was to be honest a bit of a dick, big inflated chest full of the wind of self-importance, a man with a badge and a uniform and all of the inherited overbearing wisdom and judgments that go with it, with some people

I’d asked about the painted cave hike. He was all sharp intakes of breath. I was told all about the flash flood there a few years ago, that many of the trails were now none existent down there, music to my ears. He then shared another fearful story about triathlon runners who they’d had to go out searching for. It was all negative. It’s good to be cautious of course but many people love to dwell on the negative, gives them an insider knowledge and I looked at him and thought, unkindly, I wont say what.

You see, I’d mentioned about the Stone Lions, which are some mythical naturally created rocks that resemble lions that the Pueblos Indians hold in high esteem. I knew the area they were in but had never seen them. Now if you have sympathies with the Pueblo Indians and you’d really rather people didn’t go, then just say so. But don’t give wrong directions

He’d brushed my enquiry aside with a wave of the hand “It’s over to the right behind some trees” and as I said earlier it’s 55 square miles of rugged wilderness. I was annoyed. It was a pity. I was and always am coming from a place or respect; though I suppose they don’t know that

A sweet lady ranger has suggested that I take a different road in. He quickly cut her and said

“That road is closed!”

I did say thank you but then took off. I was shirt off up and away on the top within a few minutes looking back across frijoles canyon at the honeycomb of the ancient ruins below, a little dotted line that had been eaten in right across the bottom of the ash cliffs

Last time I’d been here was around 8 years ago I had taken off in a bee line straight across the top of the mesa, I’d got across, but came up against the stunning Alamo Canyon which is absolutely impassable. I’d had to walk 5 miles around, glorious though it was. This time I wanted to go down into the canyon.Bandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 13.58.04.jpg

The air was warm and heavily scented with warm seductive pine, in the warm air up there in the mountains there is nothing quite like it, in those conditions the pine feels physical on bare skin, heady and sensual, wonderful on the senses. The sun beat down, long yellow tufts of grass fringed the trail, my feet were rhythmical clouds of dust on the trail around the obligatory twisted juniper, sky, blue and clear and wide and me a solitary steady driving pace, I stuck to the trail.

For some reason THE FITS my old band came back to mind, it was hard to shake it off, it gets better with time but there are still some uncomfortable feelings there. I reminded myself that had that still been ongoing I wouldn’t be there and where would I rather be? I smiled, of course, and after a few minutes managed to shack it off. Next the ‘Sex Pistols – I Did You No Wrong’ burst in, I love that song. The Steve Jones’s guitar was literally ringing around my head when we came out at the end of the trail for Alamo canyon. I love the way he plays the verse riff behind John Lydons vocal.Bandelier National Monument Alamo Canyon NM 06.04.16Bandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 12.30.50

Then bam!! Alamo Canyon is magnificent, it just says stop and drink me in. I have come to quite enjoy the butterflies in my belly when I look over the rims of these places and right then there was a whole cloud of them in there. Deeply impressive, I loved being there just looking into it. More wilderness than you could imagine, really beautiful. It makes you wonder about the forces for sure

I was stood on the rim just drinking it in when out of the canyon came a rhythmical booming sound, it pricked my ears up, animal? No!! Definitely man made. I searched for it followed it down into the canyon and there far below was a figure chopping a great fallen tree. I figured a ranger. I saw the slow swing of his axe as it hit the log and noted it took almost a second for the sound to reach me up there. It was a long way down.

I watched for a while then “Let’s rock” I said.Bandelier National Monument Alamo Canyon NM 06.04.16Bandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 12.52.10

It didn’t take too long to get down there, but I recall being shaky legged when I got on level ground again. I walked along the wet sandy bottom and came to where he was working. He looked a little startled at first, a stocky guy with shades on and a thick healthy Moustache.

I said ”Hello”

“Hi there” he said

“That is tough work on a day like today man” I said

“Yeah” he said “It’s hard to get back into it after the winter”

I told him I’d heard him from up on the rim

“Bet you thought that’s one hell of a big woodpecker eh” he said laughing

He turned out to be Ranger Kevin, he was out putting the trails right after the flash flood a few years ago. He was a different kind of guy altogether. He told me he came out for around 8 days at a time. Had walked all his tools and supplies in and had had to go back and walk his water in too.

He gave me good advice and showed me great camping sites on the map I had. I told him I was looking for the Stone Lions

He said and I quote “Oh you’ll see them up there surrounded by the circle of stones”

He advised me to go back up to the northern end of the canyon. He said it was really beautiful up there and there was running water but none down below where I’d been thinking of going. I thanked him and took off. Great guy. That’s what you want.Bandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 12.09.58

I went up the other side of the canyon towards the ruin of Yapashi. It was blazing dazzling sun at this point and I very nearly went back into the shade of the canyon but the ranger I felt had my interests at heart. So I took his direction. As I walked looking out across the high mesa I saw some ruins off in the distance I thought might go and see later, I thought they were the Yapashi ruins.

But a few minutes later on the top I came up upon the Yapashi ruins, very reminiscent of bronze age pit houses in the England. A circle of stones with what I though was an ancient hearth, two strange parallel stones laying side by side.

I took a photo and moved on to the place I remembered last time marked by a pair of dear antlers. The lions were around here, so I climbed up on a vantage point and scoured the area, but couldn’t see anything that stuck out. It sure is a beautiful place. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for only sure the guy back at the visitor center had told me wrong directions.

I asked the family but nobody answered. So after a while I thought that’s enough and made my way across the parched land to the dry to the cliff dwellings a mile or so away I’d seen earlier.

I’d said earlier “Ok, I’ll stick to the trail to the lions, but I’ll make my own way back” I think the family groaned. It was tough going in that heat.

I recall thinking as I left the ranger in the canyon bottom, what was the big deal anyway about going out to see the Lions, I had become focused upon it because somebody had said ‘sacred’ and somebody else had said ‘no’ If it was a sacred place to the Indians good, genuinely no offence, but so what, I was in a sacred place.

Don’t get me wrong here, but it just seemed there and then as I walked along dry mouthed in that heat that things become curious as soon as somebody says ‘sacred or no, private or can’t go’ Because somebody else has given something importance, but it actually has no significance to me at all. It was a marker on my road. I would have liked to have sat with them, opened and seen what happened.

If I’d been invited to go by the Puebloans I would of course have been thrilled, but really, they hold nothing special to me, it is the same with many things. I chewed over the idea of the sacred place and it is true some places do hold a certain atmosphere or energy for sure that a person can open to, but the real sacred was within me and all around me, I didn’t need a geological anomaly and if I wasn’t supposed to see it that was ok with me too.

Bandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 15.33.43I was off the trail now, I found the honeycombed caves I’d seen and they turned out to be pretty interesting. Ancient adobe still clinging to the walls in flakes, smoke blackened ceilings from long ago, a pair of antlers lay out in front of the place so I tiptoed around and it dawned on me why the Indians don’t really like people up here. Somebody had carved deep rows of crucifixes into the black smoked ceiling. The graffiti was dated 1933 and 1940 and though because of the dates it was curious, I just thought what a dumb thing to do. Claiming it for god. he, she, it, was already there. No wonder they try to put things off limit. I understood.

Bandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 16.03.21

I’d not found the Lions but thought it was a good place to rest. So in a shady spot up in the gouged rocks I sat back and had a wrap I’d saved and a drink of precious water. After I’d eaten I heard loud ringing. So I laid back closed my eyes and opened up. I went a little too deep really as I was sun baked and fatigued. But as I was coming round and I distinctly remember somebody, a man, say

“You’re rushing too fast” It really puzzled me and would do for the rest of the day. I thought I’d been taking it easier. It was also 4.30pm so I’d been out there 5 hours by then.

Bandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 16.12.30

I walked on across the ash and sand landscape, the place looked as if it had burned as blackened fallen ponderosas littered the whole place it looked like desolation in places. I had to climb over piles of them in the arroyos, then up rock faces and the loose sliding ash

I came back out at Alamo Canyon again. It was decision time. Go back the way I’d come or unchartered ground with no trail. I chose the later of course. It was tough going., I was looking for another way down into the canyon and after a couple of near, bad choices I had to turn back but decided to continue in that direction.

The sun was now creeping up the opposite walls of Alamo Canyon, I was in thick undergrowth and the Ranger words came home to roost. It’ll take you longer than you think along the rim there are lots of surprises up there. Gosh he was right also my throat was now parched and dry, I had water but was saving itBandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 15.11.22

To be honest I was getting a little worried, I knew there was a trail up ahead that ran underneath mesa to the north but it was proving tough going getting there. Gulley’s and deep gorges appeared that I had to navigate. I had a lighter to make fire if I got caught out there, but I just knew there was a trail up ahead; somewhere. I pushed on, it must have been an hour or more, the voice I’d heard kept going around my head “You’re rushing to fast” I was confused I said “I have to move now, I need to make some distance before the sun goes down” I reckoned I had about 2 hours of daylight.

Bandelier National Monument NM 06.04.162016-04-06 16.29.59

I thought I’d found it at one point. But was a streambed. I knew even when I found the rail I was miles out. I remember coming down over tumbling rounded rocks just as the shadows moved over the lip of the canyon.

And then there it was. Damn it was a good sight. I had said ‘no water till I find the trail’ I realized then that I was getting short and I was parched now.

The trail though incredibly beautiful turned out to be absolutely littered with burned fallen trees and parts of it had fallen into the ravine below. But I put on steam

Once down there it was almost twilight. The whole bottom of the canyon floor was just shattered trees, huge boulders and banks of gravel. Though somebody had thankfully made a trail of cairns to follow, it must have been the ranger, I thanked him, he’d also been right about the water too. The stream was strong and clear and cold. I put my face in the chilly waters and sucked it up. Wonderful. In the daylight it would have been fun hopping and skipping through it all but, I was anxious to get up on the other side of the Alamo and I be on home ground so to speak.

I filled my bottle and took off up the trail it was quite a struggle in the fading light.

I heard a whisper that said “You will make it back just after nightfall”

“Ok” I said “cool” I have learned to trust the whisper, though I was still puzzled by what I’d heard about rushing. I had to move quickly now if I didn’t want to be caught by the night out there?

Eventually I came up on top and a sign said 5.2 miles to the visitors center

“Damn 5 miles?” I said. My heart was pounding my with the exertion, but no time to stand around and get my breath, though the twilight was upon me now I really was loving it and good news was, I was up on top now

I am not sure how long it took to get back, I’d picked up a staff below from the debris of the flood and was strolling along at a good pace, just enjoying it all now. I saw there deer coming out for the evening nibbles, a bob cat ran in front of me, a great horned owl flew above me and then sat on a burned tree and watched me pass by, the sky behind me now deep blood red all shadow gone now

I reached the lip of the canyon just as the sun took its light to other lands below the horizon and I descended down the last 1.1 mile in blackness.

I was really glad to be back at the car. A park ranger obviously saw car trunk lights on. She pulled up in a huge 4×4 truck she was ok, just doing here job.

She asked if I was on my own. I told her I was just getting in. She said the park was closed. I shrugged my shoulders, told her I’d asked before I left and said I’d be back around 8pm. She looked, it was 8.20pm besides I’d been told the gates stay ope

I said “I could think of worse places to be locked in”

As I say it was a nice ride back to Santa Fe and as I sat writing this I googled what the Stone Lions look like I thought somebody must have posted a picture of them and to my astonishment, I realized I had seen them and I have a picture of them. They were the two strange looking stones in the Stone Circle at Yapashi just as Kevin had said. I had been looking for, I suppose Great Big Lions as I knew stone lines from back home. I’d actually seen them, but I had been rushing to where I remembered the antler markers to be from last time I had been there.

Bandelier National Monument Lions NM 06.04.162016-04-06 14.18.19

One part of me was really annoyed but that soon passed as the other part of me was awed, again at the guidance of the voice. It had said “You are rushing too fast” The guide was real authentic and correct, it had puzzled me all the way back. I had rushed to get to a marker I knew. It had been glaring sun shine and my throat had been rasping dry.

I’d said water at the lions. It was and is a wonderful confirmation, the voice had been real, I had found a beautiful spot to sit. How wonderful, and by the way the lions weren’t to the right behind the trees they were to the left in the open in the stone circle.

And I have been smiling ever since



  1. Mick, loved, really, reallyloved your journal. You don’t give yourself much credit. You feel the land and the area and the people and you make me feel it again as i it was my discovery trip. I wonder if people who have never been to this land can appreciate it or do they just think that this guy, Mick, has a good creative imagination? z.


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