Climbing ‘Til the Cows Came Home

The South Trail up Tomé Hill is only a quarter mile long but mounts 1,200 feet in that short distance. The excellent brochure supplied at Tomé Hill Park at the start of the trail refers to the climb as “somewhat steep and strenuous.” That’s an understatement, especially at a mile high elevation, especially when breathing is already a touch problematic courtesy of allergies.

I made that climb this weekend with my husband, Jim, and our friend Michael Wester.

It was a beautiful day, clear and bright, with a light breeze holding just a kiss of winter chill. Tomé Hill (pronounced “toe-may”) is south of Albuquerque, near the town of Los Lunas. The hill is volcanic in origin. It stands by itself, surrounded by mostly flat plains, drawing attention, even in an area framed by much larger mountains. It has been a place of pilgrimage from prehistoric times, a tradition that continues through the present day.

The South Trail is technically packed sand but, as I carefully placed my feet, I wasn’t looking at the sand, but rather at the myriad small and not so small rocks underfoot. Most of these were quite rounded and those that were not rounded were wobbly. When I realized that I was spending most of my time concentrating on my footing or on catching my breath, I decided that I needed to take time to enjoy what I was doing.

What could I see from the south face? Other than a herd of black Angus cattle, not much was moving. The whine of a circular saw blended with the lowing of the cattle. Otherwise I could have been looking at a painting.

Turn and climb, maybe another thirty paces. Jim is up ahead, forging on, using short, tight paces, his skill honed by years of walking archeological survey. Michael is somewhere off to one side. I stop and look down again.

To my astonishment, thirty paces on this steep trail has changed the vista completely. Now I can see several more ranches. In one, three horses are pastured. As I watch, four riders come by, pacing the pasture’s fence line. The pastured horses amble over to say “hello.” The sounds have changed, too. An ATV is tearing up the hills to the southeast. A raven soaring below us calls to some friends in the cottonwoods.

Another thirty paces. Another. Each time, the vista alters. At last the trail evens out as we parallel the crest. Now we can see all around us. Near the base of the hill on the west are some very elaborate houses. Further away are some small towns, clustered as if in memory of the Comanche and Apache who raided through this area in the not-so-distant past.

Scattered around the crest is evidence of the many religious traditions that have used this for their ceremonies. Prominent are three enormous crosses, smaller crosses near their base. Jim points out some clusters of rock that are probably prehistoric Pueblo Indian shrines. Pecked into the basalt are petroglyphs, some quite ancient, others relatively modern.

Eventually, we make our descent along the more easily sloping western trail (also called “The Way of the Cross” for its role in Christian celebrations). A cluster of basalt boulders conceal more petroglyphs, reminding once again how many traditions have called this way sacred.

The sun is getting lower as we examine these, marveling how even a slight change of angle can make an image vanish. Sandhill cranes cry out, sounding rather like chickens. Below us in one of the pastures, a pick-up truck trundles toward some cattle (Hereford, I think) who had been lolling under a cluster of cottonwoods.

The cattle, knowing their dinner is in that truck, rise and chase the truck back to the opposite side of the field. It’s funny to see such heavy animals running – the calves are particularly adorable, all long legs and knees. We continue our descent, having climbed Tomé Hill up and around ‘til the cows came home.

Tome Hill West Trail — the easy one.

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5 Responses to “Climbing ‘Til the Cows Came Home”

  1. Tom Says:

    wow. About the only way I’d find climbing fun is second hand, but that description almost makes me want to try…

  2. Jane Lindskold Says:

    We had a really great time. New Mexico is a wonderful place for hiking. You don’t even need to leave town to do it.

    Michael is a gem for finding neat places to visit, indoors and out. We already have a date to do something next month.

  3. Tori Says:

    I always enjoy looking at that volcanic area on the west side. Of course, one of the first things I think about is what kinds of lizards and snakes might inhabit those warm sun-absorbing rocks. 🙂 I don’t suppose there are any this early in the year…?

  4. Dominique Says:

    That sounds like so much fun, especially because you get to take Jim, architect extraordinare! I love looking at petroglyphs and old areas full of history. I always wonder how disappointed future persons will be when they see all the stupid things our generations write on rocks and carve into stone. 😉

  5. Melissa Jackson Says:

    Wow, reading that really made me miss New Mexico. Reading these each week is like getting a taste of home, so thank you Jane. You know, I always notice that when I go hiking or any kind of walking I catch myself just staring at the ground constantly worried about tripping and twisting an ankle haha… I should really try to focus more on what is around me and not what is directly in front of me.

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