Chaco: Peñasco Blanco

I look forward to the coyote serenade each night.  It adds to that special feeling of being at Chaco.  I am disappointed by the moon, though.  It is waning, and no longer bright enough to be confused with sunrise.  I begin to appreciate why the Chacoans developed an interest in astronomy.  Compared to city life, the sun, moon, and stars are so much more a part of life here.

Breakfast is scrambled tofu with a red bell pepper.  I find I forgot to bring an onion and also any oil.  But I have butter for oil and the onion is not missed.  Of course tofu is nothing without spices, which I brought premixed.  This is a very pretty dish with the red peppers against the yellow tofu, and as I write this I wish I had taken a picture.

One other thing I forgot to bring is a long-sleeved shirt.  Being out in the sun all day Wednesday, I have picked up a touch of sunburn, and I am afraid the bright sun will make me uncomfortable on this long hike.  However, nothing can be done for it at this time.

This is going to be a long hike, nearly 8 miles, so I decide to leave the Pentax in camp, and rely on rely on the new Panasonic point-and-shoot for any photos.  This allows me to carry my water and lunch in a Camel-back instead of water bottles stuffed in pants packets, and I can also carry a pair of binoculars.

I throw a couple extra water bottles into the panniers and ride my bike to the trail-head.  On the way I stop at the Visitor Center to see if they have any long-sleeve shirts. They don’t.  At the trail-head I fill out the back-country permit and bike the one mile to Casa Chiquita.  The trail has been realigned and the round trip to Peñasco Blanco is now 7.8 miles instead of 7.2.  No bikes are allowed past Casa Chiquita.  Casa Chiquita is unexcavated, and to my untrained eye it looks like any other unexcavated Great House, so I skip it and start walking. I can see my destination, the Great House Peñasco Blanco, up on the western horizon.

I take the Petroglyph Trail, a spur that travels at the base of the sandstone cliff.  From here I see six identified panels of rock writing.  Many of the petroglyphs are of Puebloan origin, and many others are Navajo.  The art styles are distinct, even to the method of marking the rock.  Puebloan glyphs tend to be pecked into the stone, while Navajo symbols tend to be scribed.

I follow the trail across the canyon floor to the Chaco Wash.  Ranger GB showed pictures at the Night Sky show of the wash as it was overflowing its banks just last week.  It hasn’t rained since then, and the wash is now down to a small muddy stream, but the trail is still officially closed, as it would be easy to slip and fall on the muddy bank.  A few yards upstream someone has placed a large rock in the middle of the stream and this has become the unofficial crossing.  I cross with no problem, and am walking through a thicket of greenery, so different from the brown landscape almost everywhere else.

5000 years ago a large star exploded in the constellation Taurus, and in 1054 the light of the supernova reached earth.  Chacoans were great astronomical observers, and they certainly noticed a new star that lit the night for a month, and was visible during the day.  The supernova event was during the height of the Chaco construction time period and it would make sense that they recorded the event.

I climb up out of the wash and approach the base of the cliff.  There underneath a ledge are three dark red pictographs: a hand, a crescent moon, and a star.  Taken together, these symbols can be interpreted as instructions for locating the Crab Nebula, which is the remains of the 1054 supernova.  Below the Supernova Pictograph is a fainter figure: three concentric circles.  This is interpreted by some as a depiction of Halley’s Comet, which made an appearance in 1066, only a few years after the supernova event.

So far the the trail has been fairly flat, with only a slight climb to the Supernova Pictograph.  Now I start the last 0.8 mile leg of the hike, up to the top of the West Mesa, to the Great House of Peñasco Blanco.  I pass a couple who had started early and are returning from the city.  Peñasco Blanco is where several Chacoan roads coming from the West converge; Pueblo Alto stands at the convergence of roads from the North; Pueblo Bonito is at the center.  From Peñasco Blanco I can see both of these Great Houses, even without the aid of field glasses.

It is now noon, the sun is overhead, and I am feeling yesterday’s sunburn.  I find a shady spot beside an ancient wall and have a sandwich and some trail mix for lunch.  After eating and a few minutes rest, I am ready for the 3 mile hike back to my bike.  Down by the Supernova, I meet three girls enthusing over the rock art.  Across the wash, on the way back to the Petroglyphs, I pass two men in succession, getting a late start on the hike.  By the time I reach the Petroglyph Trail, my arms and neck are prickling and my feet are dragging so I skip the spur and continue on to Casa Chiquita.

Bicycling uses a different set of muscles than walking does, so I feel better as I bike back to the trail-head.  There I find a couple having their lunch.  They speak what sounds like German among themselves, and we exchange only a couple of words.  I suck on my camel-back but nothing comes out.  Oh no!  I have drunk all my water, and I still have the bike back to the camp, in the heat of the day!  Then I remember the two bottles in the pannier.  Saved!  I shall survive this day after all!

Though it has a lower resolution than the Pentax DSLR, the Panasonic P&S camera has a more powerful telephoto lens, so I stop at the Staircase for some pictures.  I also stop at the Fajada Butte Overlook for the same reason.  Eventually I make it back to camp.  On the way a yellow VW camper van passes me.

Surprisingly, I am not especially tired upon my return, so I make a tour of the campground.  There is a Casita RV trailer parked at the far end; I want to meet the owners and ask them about the RV.  On the way I am hailed by a woman who says, “We passed you.”  She was in that yellow camper van.  We end up having an extended conversation on topics ranging from archeology, to economics, to health, to education, and more that I can’t now remember.  Christiana and her husband develop curricula for sixth graders that introduce them to soil, plants, and gardening.  They live in Albuquerque, where they do a lot of gardening.

I notice the girls are back from their tour of Pueblo Bonito so I walk over to their camp and we have ourselves a good “chin wag”.  The conversation is interrupted by their neighbor John pulling up in his truck camper.  He reverses a couple times so I walk over to see if he needs help.  He doesn’t, but offers a tour of the camper.  He’s very happy with the camper and explains lots of features he put in the truck to handle the camper safely.

Gayle and Bandhu go off to photograph Fajada Butte at ground level while Sor’a and I go to the top of the cliff to watch the sunset.  The trail closes at sunset and the Ranger yells up at us to be  “down here!” by sunset.  That admonition causes us to turn back earlier than we would have, so the photo of Fajada Butte from atop the cliff is partially obstructed by a closer cliff.

We are off the trail just at sunset, and join Gayle, Bandhu, and John (as well as everyone else camping that night – it is crowded) in the campfire circle to hear details about the next morning’s events.  First the head ranger (the one that yelled at us) explains the traffic arrangements, then Ranger GB explains the astronomical event that will occur.  GB throws in a lot of “informed speculation” about how the Chacoans may have utilized the astronomical alignments that are being found throughout Chaco.  GB emphasizes that only two facts about Chaco Canyon are known and agreed by everyone:

  1. A thousand years ago there were people here.
  2. They built large buildings.

Ranger GB is answering many questions about ancient astronomical alignments, but I have heard most of the answers at the Night Sky program on archeoastronomy.  We call it a night.  Gates to the park open at 5:45; we agree to carpool at 6:00.


Chaco: Penasco Blanco at EveryTrail
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Chaco: Pueblo Alto Loop

(click on any photo to enlarge)

The Chacoans pecked these basins into the rock on top of the cliff. There is lots of speculation, but we really don't know their purpose.

I am blessed by two coyote serenades in the wee hours.  This time I am not fooled by the moonrise and wait until the actual sunrise to start my day.  Breakfast is chipotle beans over rice.  The beans were pre-cooked and frozen, but the ice in the cooler has melted and I figure the sooner they are eaten the better. I take a leisurely breakfast, cook a Garden Patty for a lunch sandwich, pack water bottles in the bike, then reconsider and decide to drive to the trailhead.

Before they left, the Chacoans sealed openings to their buldings, removed the roof, and set them on fire. Why? It is part of the mystery of Chaco. This partially sealed opening is in Kin Kletso.

The plan for the day is to hike the Pueblo Alto Loop (about 5 miles) and then the South Mesa Trail (about 4 miles).  I figure that should take most of the day.  I stop at the Visitor Center to pick up a backcountry trail guide and overhear that there will be a special program at Pueblo Arroyo at 4:00.  That goes on my list and will replace the South Mesa hike if time runs short.

This is a trail? You must be kidding.

The trail up the face of the cliff is not as hard as it looks. And it looks harder in person than in this photo!

I fill out the backcountry hiking permit at the trailhead and circle the Kin Kletso great house before starting the climb up to the mesa.  The trail follows a Chacoan path up the face of the cliff.  My goodness!  Those ancient Chacoans must have been half mountain goat!  Except for the trail markers, it was nearly impossible to see a trail at all.  The Park Service has done a superb job with this trail.  Without being too dangerous, it provides a great challenge.  Up top, the trail is marked by rock cairns.  It provides a bird’s-eye view of Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl.

On top of the cliff, the trail is marked by rock cairns.

At this stage is is possible to return, but I decide to take the Pueblo Alto Loop.  This adds another three miles to the hike and takes in Pueblo Alto and New Alto before circling back to an overlook of Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito.  By the time I circle New Alto and get to Pueblo Alto, all unexcavated Chacoan cities are starting to look alike.  I don’t spend any time at Pueblo Alto and continue on the hike.

Sometimes the trail can get pretty challenging. It takes some scrambling, but I didn't think it was particularly dangerous.

For reasons that are not understood today, the ancient Chacoans built a network of roads (almost) connecting numerous sites.  By some counts, there may be as many as 150 Chacoan sites in the Southwest.  Chacoan roads are known for being 30 feet wide, straight as an arrow, and not deviating for obstacles.  Sometimes a road will end at a natural feature such as a bluff or canyon; sometimes a road will change direction for no apparent reason.  Most of the time a road will continue in a straight line regardless of obstacles.  There are many examples of a road ascending a sheer cliff by means of ramps, ladders, and stairways.

One gets a good view of Pueblo Bonito from atop the cliff.

The Pueblo Alto Loop includes several Chacoan construction features.  Along the bluff are stone circles and pecked basins.  Up on the cliff I see masonry walls thought to be water diversion structures.  On the way to New Alto I pass an excavated portion of a Chacoan road, including a small staircase carved from the rock.

The Chacoans constructed earthen ramps to aid in scaling the cliffs in the path of their roads.

By far the most impressive Chacoan artifact on the hike is the Jackson Staircase, named after the National Geographic photographer who popularized it.  I am on the way back from Pueblo Alto when I meet a pair of hikers going the other way.  They tell me the Jackson Staircase is just around the corner.  When I see it, I am impressed.  I see the remains of an earthen ramp leading from the canyon floor up to meet a series of steps carved from the sandstone of the canyon wall.  The Chacoans did not let small obstacles such as sheer cliffs stand on the way of their roads.

An earthen ramp leads up to the cliff. There was probably a wooden ladder connecting the ramp to the Jackson Steps carved into the cliff.

I follow the trail around to an overlook of Chetro Ketl and then further around to the original overlook of Pueblo Bonito.  From there I backtrack the trail to the path down the cliff.  I turn on my iPhone video camera and make the descent with the phone in my hand recording the adventure.

Video: Descent from Pueblo Alto

New Alto is not as covered with sand as is Pueblo Alto. This location is where several Chacoan roads from the north converge.

Back on terra firma, I retrieve my lunch from the car.  There are a couple picnic tables at the trailhead where I can eat in the shade.  By the time lunch is over, it is nearly 3:00.  That is not enough time to hike the South Mesa before the tour of Pueblo Arroyo at 4:00.  I pass the time reading and playing games on the iPhone.

From atop the cliff one can see both Chetro Ketl (foreground) and Pueblo Bonito (background). Note the Great Kiva in Chetro Ketl on the left, and the multi-kiva on the right. This is a structure where one kiva after another was rebuilt on the same spot.

The Sun Dagger is located on Fajada Butte. The Chacoans constructed a ramp to ease access.

The tour leader at Pueblo Arroyo is Elissa, the SCA intern who had led the tour at Pueblo Bonito the day before.  Much of the material is similar to that presented at Pueblo Bonito, though there are enough differences to keep it interesting.  After the tour I head back to the campsite.

Even a Turkey Vulture has to rest sometime.

I make inroads on the rest of the watermelon, which is surprisingly good for being in a cooler without ice all day.  A woman is walking past the campsites.  We exchange waves and she comes toward my site.  I meet her and find out she’s in a group of three women on a road trip.  They are camped in the RV area because all the tent sites are taken, and she invites me to see their camp.  Bandhu likes to sleep under the stars, but Sor’a has a unique european-design tent that is tricky to set up.  Through some trial-and-error, I help her get the tent put together.  Meanwhile Gayle has her tent set up and is inflating the air mattress.

This is how I met Sor’a, Bandhu, and Gayle.

A remarkable group of women on a road trip: Bandhu, Sor'a, and Gayle.

Mouse over the pins in the map to see a thumbnail of the photo. Click on the Everytrail link to see a slide show, linked to the location where the photo was taken. The slide show contains many more photos than are in the post above.

Chaco: Pueblo Alto Loop at EveryTrail

Piedras Marcadas Canyon

As well as being part of the Petroglyph National Monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon is part of Albuquerque Open Space. The city provides a parking area with a short walk through a neighborhood to get to the canyon. (Click any photo to enlarge.)

Petroglyph National Monument has several distinct areas.  The volcanoes had been visited last summer.  Today we visited Piedras Marcadas Canyon.  This is a short hike in the area where the west mesa joins the sandhills on the west side of the Rio Grande river valley.

Albuquerque can be seen on the east side of the Rio Grande.

It was a wonderful afternoon for a hike; some thin clouds diffused the sunlight so it was not too hot.  Rain the night before had cooled off the areas to a pleasant temperature.  The sandy path is along the base of the mesa, with opportunity to clamber on the basalt rocks if desired.

The basalt boulders on the slope, covered with a desert patina, are ideal for inscribing various images.

As its name implies, Piedras Marcadas (“marked rocks”) is known for the petroglyphs inscribed on the blocks of basalt.  In ancient times, a lava flow covered the area west of the river in a layer of basalt.  The flow stopped before reaching the river, and over time the softer soil was eroded from underneath the lava, leaving a ledge of rock.  The ledge eventually broke, creating a jumble of boulders along the edge of the west mesa.
Weathering created a patina on the rocks.  People would remove this patina to create contrasting areas that form the petroglyphs.

Aspiring artists across the ages have left their marks on the rocks.

I was not able to identify all the wildlife that was seen in the canyon.  There was a pair or mourning doves, a small sparrow, several lizards, a chipmunk, something that may have been a large chipmunk, gopher, or ground squirrel (it was far away and shone white in the afternoon sun), and a jackalope!  OK, so maybe it was only a jackrabbit, but it could have been a jackalope!

Later visitors don't always respect previous artists' work. Not the bullet holes some marksman has placed in the images of the hands.

I tracked the jackalolpe … er … jackrabbit across the canyon floor, attempting to sneak close enough to get a good picture, but the creature was too wily and cunning to allow himself to be captured that way.  These animals can blend in to the desert landscape so well that they become practically invisible unless they move.  When motion is first detected, out of the corner of one’s eye, this rodent can easily be taken for a coyote, based on size alone.  They can be huge!

Not all petroglyphs are from ancient times. People have continued scribing images int modern days. This one looks like Spongebob Squarepants to me!

I just bought a point-and-shoot camera and this was the first outing for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10.  Why do I need this camera?  When hiking in the desert and mountains, one should always be prepared with water, jacket/blanket, first aid kit, etc.  A day pack works nicely for carrying this kit.  But I carry my Pentax DSLR in a Targus backpack, and this leaves no room for another pack.  A small P&S camera can be carried on my belt so that a day pack can also be carried.

Does this look like a musical note to you?

Of course, I always carry my iPhone with me, and it take good enough pictures for my purposes.  However, the iPhone (and most P&S cameras) does not do well for taking photos at a distance.  Birds and wildlife come out as little black dots because they are usually too far away.  The DMC-ZS10 has a 16X zoom, and this is the feature that sold me on it.  The features of this camera are:

The ZX-10 was not impressive in finding wildlife on the max zoom setting. Autofocus is slow, and without a viewfinder, I found it difficult to locate the aim point. Do you see a jackarabbit in this photo? Me neither.

  • 14.5 Megapixel resolution
  • 16X zoom, both wide angle and telephoto
  • Still and full HD video modes
  • GPS for geotagging photos
  • anti-shake

Of course, the rabbit did not make things easier by always moving to keep brush between himself and me.

Here he is in a rare moment out of cover.



Here’s what I learned about this camera today.  Note this is the first time I have used it, so there may be some learning curve still to come.

  • I was expecting the camera to have a “sleep” mode where the display would go off and the lens would retract after some time of unuse.  It does not have this, so I ended up turning the power off after each shot, mostly so the lens would retract and the camera would be easier to carry in my hand.
  • The zoom does indeed bring in distant objects and the anti-shake helps steady the photo.
  • There is no viewfinder; one uses the rear LCD screen to compose a shot.  I prefer using a viewfinder, but I did not expect lack of one to be as big an issue as it became.  Especially when zoomed in, I found it difficult to locate the subject on the screen.
  • The GPS has settings for ON, OFF, and Airplane.  The airplane mode turns the GPS on and off with the camera.  When ON, the GPS continues to run (and drain the battery) when the camera is turned off.  I elected to use the Airplane mode mostly so I would not forget to turn off the GPS at the end of the day.  However, this is not a good choice, as the GPS takes a while to locate itself when it first starts up.  As a result, my first few pictures on this adventure did not have a location.  Problem solved when I set the GPS to ON and let it run continuously.  Of course, I did forget to turn off the GPS when I got home, and by morning the battery was 1/3 depleted.


Adventure Maps

Short Hike in Piedras Marcadas Canyon at EveryTrail
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Tent Rocks National Monument

After last week’s boring volcanoes, it was time to find an adventure among some spectacular scenery. The hoodoos at Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument provided awesome eye candy.  I had been there years earlier, and this visit was even better than I remembered.

The Monument is surrounded by private land, which is traversed by the access road. On the drive one can see signs of currently active ranches, as well as older, non-active ones.

Federal “stimulus” money had paid for repaving of the road into the monument.  This led to an increase in the number of visitors.  The parking lot at the trailhead was full, leading to a 20 minute delay before we were allowed to enter the park.  Entrance fee is $5 per vehicle.

While waiting for the gate to open, I talked with the couple driving this truck camper. They had traveled all the way from New York.

There are two well-groomed trails.  A man-made cave is the attraction on the Cave Loop, while the Canyon Trail goes through a gorgeous 1000-yard slot canyon on its way to the summit.

At the entrance to the trails is a sculpture of the tent rocks. Perhaps the real ones are not artistic enough.

There’s not much I can say about this adventure that can’t be better expressed by a photograph, so I’ll post a representative sample of photos taken along the way, without much commentary.  Click on any photo to see a larger version.

Kasha Katuwe means White Cliffs in the Keresan language of Cochiti Pueblo. The Tent Rocks are erosional features carved by water from soft volcanic deposits. The volcanic ash gives the rock its white color.


Each "tent rock" is capped by a boulder that protects the softer volcanic ash below from eroding. Should a tent rock lose its boulder, it will erode down to nothing.

The Canyon Trail takes one through a long slot canyon and then up to the top of the formation.

This shorter tent rock shows the boulder that protects the lower part from eroding.

The slot canyon is so narrow that a camera cannot capture the feeling one gets looking at the towering cliffs. I took several photos and stitched them into a panorama to give a simulated "fish eye lens" view of the canyon wall.


Looking up an eroded chimney in the wall of the slot canyon.

On the other side of the slot canyon, the trail takes a steep upward path.

The top of the formation is a good place for meditation.

The hoodoos look just as amazing from above as from below.

The return requires one to duck under this boulder to re-enter the slot canyon.

Though we did not see any snakes, the management saw fit to warn us of their presence on the Cave Loop Trail.

The cave was dug out by Native Americans from the soft volcanic tuff, probably using sticks.


Adventure Maps


Tent Rocks National Monument

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You can see the gradual ascent through the slot canyon, then a steeper climb to the summit. The Cave Loop Trail is the little rise on the way back.

Piedra Lisa Canyon

The weather is finally warming up and it is time to begin this year’s hiking adventures.  There is still snow on Sandia Mountain, so the chosen adventure was located at Piedra Lisa Canyon in the foothills on the West side of the mountain.  Elevation was between 6000 and 7000 feet, low enough that the snow was long gone.  Besides, it is the East side of the mountain that gets more snow.

Fortunately no rattlesnakes were seen on this hike. We did see quite a few wooly caterpillars, though.

Piedra Lisa Canyon is an informal loop only 2.8 miles long.  This being my first mountain hike for the year, I wanted to keep it short while my body regains some of the conditioning it lost during the winter.  Richard, being 40 years younger, had no problem with the hike, but was a good enough sport to slow down and keep me in sight for most of the way.

Cholla cactus were in full bloom at the lower elevations.

This hike had an unexpected bonus – we did the first part again on Sunday.  Keep reading to find out why.

The Whitewash

Cholla were so prevalent at the foot of the mountain that it gave the impression of hiking through a cactus forest.

The big draw at Piedra Lisa Canyon is a sheer cliff of light-gray granite known as The Whitewash.  Most people head straight for the cliff, but we were following the instructions in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles – Albuquerque, that had us approach The Whitewash from above.

Also known as a Desert Sparrow, this Black Throated Sparrow perched on a Cholla close enough for a recognizeable photo.

A pair of Curve-billed Thrashers were flitting about the boulders and brush, probably in the process of building a nest.

We started out on the Foothills Trail #365 going North.  The Foothills Trail is on the boundary between the city of Albuquerque and Sandia Mountain.  On the right, the mountain towered above us, while on the left we could see into people’s back yards.  Flowers were in bloom, but they were on Cholla Cactus, reminding one more of Christmas in the past than Spring in the future.

My thick Carhart dungarees protected my legs from cactus spines, and facilitated sliding down slippery granite.

This hike is rated as moderate to difficult, so I elected to leave my heavy long lens at home.  This was a good decision from the aspect of carrying gear up the mountain, but put a limitation on getting good wildlife pictures.  However, a Curve-billed Thrasher and Black-throated Sparrow did cooperate by perching close enough to allow a recognizable portrait to be taken.

The climb to the top was up an arroyo, and was a fairly steep 900 foot elevation gain.  It included several scrambles up steep slabs of granite.  This was a challenge for me because my hiking shoes tended to slip on the smooth rock surfaces.  While I don’t believe there was any real danger, a fall would have resulted in considerable bruising.  Richard loved it.  “This is the most fun hike we’ve been on!”, he enthused.

Here’s a series of photos of Richard scrambling up the boulders.  I followed him up the same path.  Click each photo to enlarge.


At the highest elevation of the hike, one has a wonderful overview of the Rio Grande valley.

At the top we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the city of Albuquerque.  Then the trail continued on toward another arroyo and the main attraction – The Whitewash.



The canyon above The Whitewash is full of boulders to be navigated.

The approach to The Whitewash from above is down the canyon.  There is not much of a trail as seasonal water washes away any trails that are made.  It would be an awesome sight right after a mountain thunderstorm, but I would want to be up on the mountain and not in the canyon as the flash flood roared by!



There are supposedly bolts set into the rock for rapelling down The Whitewash, but most people climb the canyon walls around it.

The descent is steep, but not especially difficult if one is careful, as I was.  My biggest worry was losing my footing on loose gravel or a slab of slippery granite.  “Piedra lisa” means “smooth stone” which becomes “slippery when wet”.  I walked through some water seeping into the sand then stepped onto a dry rock.  But the soles of my shoes were wet and “whump!” I was sitting down on the next step below!  Lesson learned — fortunately on an 18-inch drop and not 18 feet.



The Whitewash from below.

The Whitewash itself is impressive and looks impossible to climb up or down.  However, there are plenty of boulders to either side of the granite slab and the descent is not as impossible as it seems at first.  We met many people climbing up The Whitewash as it is a popular destination and not far from the parking lot.


The Battle of Piedra Lisa

A boulder left over from the battle.

Stacked boulders ready for hurling at the defenders.

It is a little-known fact that after the fall of Mordor, when the trolls were expelled from Middle Earth, the trolls made an attempt to take over the middle Rio Grande valley.  Just after sunset the rocky invaders boiled out of Piedra Lisa Canyon.  Having been warned by the Sandia Dwarfs, noble Anasazi warriors gathered from all over the Southwest, opposing the invading trolls at Piedra Lisa.  The Elves Different marched down from Santa Fe to aid the Anasazi, but the battle was a close-run thing.  The Anasazi, elves, and dwarfs held off the trolls all night, but were on the verge of being overrun just before sunrise.  Sensing victory, the trolls mounted a massive charge, rolling over and crushing many of the last brave defenders.  However the trolls, not being the brightest of creatures, were caught in the open as the sun rose over Sandia Mountain.  Their massive bodies were turned to stone by the sunlight and evil was once again defeated!

Petrified skull of a Troll.

Today you can still see the massive skulls of petrified trolls on the mountain, along with remnants of fortifications and boulders the trolls used as weapons in their final charge.  (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Ruins of a defensive rampart.

The Case of the Missing iPhone

While still on the approach to The Whitewash, I made a little jump and reflexively put my hand to my belt to check on the iPhone I carry in a belt holster.  I use an Otterbox case for my phone, which I admit is ugly and bulky, but provides a great deal of protection.  Neither the phone nor the belt clip were there!  What could have happened?  I backtracked to the last little hop I had made, but there was no iPhone in sight.

Retracing our steps up the mountain.

I almost always carry my phone with me on hikes.  Usually there will be cell service to call for help if needed.  It seemed unlikely the holster had fallen off during the hike; I have a hard time getting it off my belt on purpose!  I had not used the phone during this hike, and I reasoned I had had a Senior Moment and simply forgot to put it on my belt.  It was probably in the car.

The phone was not in the car.  Probably I had simply forgotten to take it and the phone was sitting on the kitchen table.  Besides it was 5:30 and too late to retrace our steps; we did not want to be on the mountain after dark.

"I've got to climb that again!"

The phone was not in the house.  I know because the house has been turned inside out several times, as has the car and the garage.  Phone calls kept going to voicemail.  I left a message offering a reward to whoever found the phone and returned it.  It seemed time to apply Sherlock Holmes’ principle: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  The phone must be on the trail somewhere.

Sunday morning Richard and I retraced our steps of the day before.  Amazingly the parking lot was nearly full even early in the morning.  We met several people and their dogs as we climbed back up the arroyo.  It seemed unlikely the phone would be recovered; someone had probably already picked it up, and even if not, would we be able to see it?

A miracle happened.  Just over half way up the slope Richard found the phone, in its holster, lying in a patch of sand.

The missing iPhone is found! This is just the case; I was using the phone to take the picture.

Adventure Maps

Click here to see more photos of Piedra Lisa Canyon at EveryTrail.
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Elevation profile for the Piedra Lisa Canyon hike. The second peak is when we returned the next day to search for the lost cell phone and found it half way up the mountain.