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ANCIENT FOOTSTEPS IN SANTA FE
By Lauren Kramer
For Travel Writers' Tales


A rustic wooden ladder marks the start of the 1.5-mile loop to see the ruins at Tsankawe, a part of Bandelier National Monument in Santa Fe.

Sante Fe is rich with murmurs from the ancient past and to hear them you only have to visit Tsankawi, an unexcavated site that forms part of Bandelier National Monument. Here, once you've trekked up the dusty paths and slipped through the narrow channels of the hillside, you find yourself on a centuries-old path where the ancestral Pueblans once lived.


The path up the mountain at Tsankawe leads hikers through narrow channels eroded into the soft rock face.

The stones that formed walls of their homes have long since surrendered to gravity. But as you step cautiously around those fallen walls you hear the crunch of pottery beneath your feet, shards that formed parts of their cups and bowls 600 years ago, and that still bear the smoothness of their careful sculpting, the decor of their precise hands.


Hikers at Tsankawe find the path littered with fragments of pottery belonging to ancient Pueblans and dating back 600 years.

I couldn't ask for a better guide than former archaeologist Janet McVickar, a guide with Adventure Partners at Four Seasons Rancho Encantado Resort in Santa Fe. She examines the shards that litter the path around us, pointing out hollows in the ground called kivas that were used for Pueblan religious ceremonies. "This here must have been the midden," she says, gesturing towards an area where the soil is distinctly darker. "That's where they'd clean out the ash from their fires."

To the naked eye the high desert around Santa Fe doesn't hold out much hope for a hungry traveler. But those intimately familiar with this landscape know it's rich not just in archaeological ruins, but also in edible plants. The pinion juniper woodland contains pinion pines known for their pine nuts, blue grass with nourishing, edible seeds and juniper berries, all of which formed part of the ancestral Pueblans' diet.

Twenty minutes' drive away, the visitor center and gift shop at the larger Bandelier National Monument site receives thousands of visitors a year and is well excavated. But the same is not true of the Tsankawi Ruin, where we find ourselves alone with the whistling wind on the 1.5-mile trail.


The mountainside gapes with caves whose interiors still bear remnants of the plaster used to create them, and black ceilings from 600-year-old cooking.

We pass caves once inhabited by the Pueblans, their interior walls still bearing signs of plaster and their ceilings blackened by fire from food preparations that date back six centuries. There are mysterious petroglyphs on some of the rock faces and stair-like indentations that indicate how and where the nimble-footed Pueblan ancestors climbed this terrain as they moved between their hilltop homes and the grassy meadows of the valley below where they likely farmed. It's a trail full of ancient history whose artifacts can be touched by visitors, which makes the experience much more immediate than that of touring the glass exhibits in a museum.


Old steps carved into the rock at Tsankawe mark where the trails used by ancient Pueblans.

Perhaps it's the artists' influence or the energy fields around Santa Fe, but whatever the secret to the city's magic, its vast, open sky and timeless red-hued mountains tugs at many hearts.

One heart that clamored loudly for Santa Fe belonged to Georgia O'Keeffe, one of the most lauded artists of the 20th century. To see why she fell in love with the landscape we head northwest towards Ghost Ranch, her home and inspiration from the 1940s until the 80s. We hike into an area she called the White Place, one of her painting spots distinguished by its massive sediment hoodoos and columnar mountains that nature has lined up with almost military precision.


The 'White Place,' so-named by Georgia O'Keeffe because of its white rocks, is located a few miles from her home and was among her favorite painting sites.

We walk through the dry valley, the shrill sound of cicadas in our ears and the dipping, diving white-throated swifts our only companions. At peace in her own company, O'Keeffe found refuge in this landscape where shadows dance across the mountains and the rock colors range from whites to oranges, reds to browns.


At Ghost Ranch, Georgia O'Keeffe's residence between the 1940s and 80s, visitors can hike and explore the mountainscapes that inspired her art

On the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch there are hiking trails, horseback trails and two small museums devoted to anthropology and paleontology. O'Keeffe's home on the ranch is not open to the public and another property she owned in nearby Abiquiu offers tours by appointment only, to limited numbers and with strict rules. So visitors who want to learn more about O'Keefe and what inspired her must content themselves with the impressive views and the vast, unlimited silence.


A log cabin built and used for filming of the 1991 movie City Slickers, stands empty on the outskirts of Ghost Ranch.

Not much has changed out here over the years, and were O'Keeffe's ghost to return, she'd likely be glad that murmurs from both the ancient and the more recent past still hang, almost audibly, in the New Mexico air.

IF YOU GO:

" Adventure Partners, a tour company exclusive to Four Seasons Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe, leads a variety of active half- and full-day tours in and around the city. Learn more about their tours at adventurepartners.com, call (505) 946-5700 or visit fourseasons.com/santafe

PHOTOS by Lauren Kramer

1. 726: A rustic wooden ladder marks the start of the 1.5-mile loop to see the ruins at Tsankawe, a part of Bandelier National Monument in Santa Fe.
2. 728: The path up the mountain at Tsankawe leads hikers through narrow channels eroded into the soft rock face.
3. 731: Hikers at Tsankawe find the path littered with fragments of pottery belonging to ancient Pueblans and dating back 600 years.
4. 741: Old steps carved into the rock at Tsankawe mark where the trails used by ancient Pueblans.
5. 745: The mountainside gapes with caves whose interiors still bear remnants of the plaster used to create them, and black ceilings from 600-year-old cooking.
6&7 819 & 826: The 'White Place,' so-named by Georgia O'Keeffe because of its white rocks, is located a few miles from her home and was among her favorite painting sites.
8. 832: At Ghost Ranch, Georgia O'Keeffe's residence between the 1940s and 80s, visitors can hike and explore the mountainscapes that inspired her art.
9. 834: A log cabin built and used for filming of the 1991 movie City Slickers, stands empty on the outskirts of Ghost Ranch.

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

 


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