Tent Rocks National Monument – New Mexico Hiking with Tom and Priscilla
Tent Rocks was a national monument with unique conical rock formations. We saw pictures online that piqued our curiosity, and right away, we knew we had to hike the trails no matter how tough it was going to be. Tent Rocks was also conveniently located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, making it a good detour as we headed towards Santa Fe.
Hiking Trail at Tent Rocks National Monument
At the entrance to Tent Rocks. The trail winding through the brush on the way up.
The trail started off on flat and dry sandy ground, but it soon turned into massive rock walls on both sides, technically described as a slot canyon. Parched-looking trees with gnarled roots attempted to trip us as we navigated the canyon.
We squeezed through tight sections of the slot canyon and scrambled over large rocks in our path. The views in front of us seem to magically morph with each step forward, culminating at the summit with vistas that were literally heart stopping. At the summit, we could see the tops of the strange conical rocks, juxtaposed with desert land as far as the eye could see. The view that had inspired us to visit was right in front of us, but more vivid, and with much more depth, breadth, color and even a palpable sense of danger that we would step slightly off the path and slide down into the canyon below. The scenery was absolutely phenomenal. And, the hike was surprisingly manageable to boot. The elderly who completed the hike could attest to that.
Slot Canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument
In the slot canyon a human can barely fit in between the carved rocks.
View up the expanse of carved rocks in the Slot Canyon of Tent Rocks NM.
A little size comparison… It may be slighty distored from my wide angle lens, but it’s an imposing atmosphere.
With the sun setting, we hiked back down to the slot canyon and back to the open desert. Along the short loop path at the base of the canyon, there were a number of smaller conical rocks that jutted out here and there, and even an ancient man made cave that had probably sheltered a few people in its heyday.
Tent Rocks was a lot more majestic and surreal than the pictures that brought us there. It was certainly well worth the detour to visit.
New Mexico was a spur of the moment trip. A friend who had visited a year ago came back with gleaming eyes and charming description of her time there. The excitement was so contagious that a year later, we found ourselves on a plane heading for Albuquerque. The green and luscious landscape of the upper Midwest summer gave way to the southwestern landscape of brown sand, rocks and cactus. Adobe homes hinted at an unfamiliar culture that existed in New Mexico, and most buildings were of a brown hue that blended into the desert. The sharp color contrast from Chicago’s scenery was a hard reset for our minds.
Day 1 – Arrive to Albuquerque (ABQ) New Mexico – Time to Eat!
Our first stop was lunch at Tia Betty Blue’s, a small café that served simple New Mexican fare. The café appeared to be housed in a single-family home repurposed with a commercial kitchen and small dining area. Stepping inside the little space, we were greeted with a large board displaying the menu and were immediately stumped by the food options. Blue corn waffles? Green Chiles? Christmas sauce? These were all really unfamiliar to us. The friendly lady taking our order explained the options, and introduced us to “Christmas” which was New Mexican speak for a combination of Green and Red Chiles. Slightly wiser about New Mexican cuisine, we bravely ordered away, asking for Christmas on every dish. The food turned out to be refreshingly delicious, and we amazed ourselves by devouring the burrito bowl, blue corn waffles with soft poached eggs and omelet all in half hour. You could never have too much good food…
Albuquerque New Mexico – True SW Cusine at Tia Betty Blue’s
ABQ – Petroglyph National Monument
With our bellies full of corn and Chiles, we headed to the Petroglyph National Monument. To our surprise, we found that the areas dedicated to the monument were scattered right behind people’s homes, and the monument was a completely casual affair with few signs for where to go and what to look for. We walked around any path we could find, scrambled up rocks, dodging lizards, feeling like explorers on an archaeological mission. We did spot a good number of petroglyphs, which were ancient carvings of mostly human and animals on the rocks. And then we found ourselves scorched by the sun and were forced to seek shelter. Clearly, we were not used to the sunlight that New Mexico seemed to have an abundance of.
Exploring the Petroglyphs in New Mexico
Sandia Peak – Take a Flight On the Longest Tram in the U.S.
The next stop was Sandia Mountain, located just east of Albuquerque. We had initially planned to hike up the mountain, but the sun and our filling lunch wore those ambitions away, so we took the tram instead. The tram was reputedly the longest in the US, and the ride turned out to be a quite a fun experience in itself with some great views. As we zipped up the mountain, the tram operator described the geological landmarks, calling out the canyons and waterfalls that we would have otherwise missed trekking on the ground. The tram ride also made clear how tough the hike would have been by giving us occasional glimpses of a steep and narrow path zigzagging upwards. One thing we knew for sure, the tram ride guaranteed that we would make it to the peak.
The peak of Sandia sat at an altitude of 10,378’ with noticeably cooler air and exhilarating views. If you stood at the right spot, you could see Santa Fe in the far distant and Albuquerque on the other side. The views were unobstructed and expansive with mountains even taller than Sandia abound in the surroundings. Hiking along the crest, we headed towards Kiwanis Cabin, which was built as a refuge for long distance hikers. Although, according to the tram operator, the stone cabin had to be rebuilt a number of times because it was so prone to lightning strikes. Safety issues aside, the vista upon arriving at the stone cabin was equally, if not more, breathtaking. Beautiful deep blue sky coupled with seemingly endless desert and mountains. We stood still, breathing in the clean crisp air and soaking in the panorama until a gust of chilly wind hit us and storm clouds appeared. The benefit of being on high ground was the ability to see far ahead, which gave us plenty of time to head back towards the tram before the drenching rain came. The hike on Sandia was surprisingly easy for the altitude, and came with plenty of scenic views. We are avid hikers but not athletes, so in our humble opinion, hikes that were relatively easy on the body and rewarding for the mind offered the best value.
Sandia Mountain, 10,378’ – Just outside of Albuquerque New Mexico
Day 2 – Exploring the “Old Town” area in Albuquerque New Mexico
We spent the next morning leisurely strolling in the Old Town neighborhood of Albuquerque. Old Town was centered around a plaza, with San Felipe De Neri Church on one side, and a ring of charming adobe shops on the other sides. We were told that locals avoided this area due to some tourist-trap characteristics, but as outsiders, the historical San Felipe De Neri Church was still worthy of visiting. The Church was quiet that day, with a few tourists in the front yard snapping photos, and a few venturing inside.
A lively melody drifted over from the plaza, and we followed the music to find an ensemble of men and women playing harps and various guitars, and singing in Spanish. A small group of people had gathered around the band, clapping to the lovely cheerful music. Check out the video!
We wandered around the shops and found some charming alleyways with delightful little shops on both sides. The shops included some small galleries with intriguing and affordable local art, niche boutique stores selling local honey, handmade soaps and other curiously curated collections of wares.
Albuquerque New Mexico – Around Town with Tom and Priscilla
We had an amazing afternoon in Pondicherry as our final stop on our voyage South in India. The city has a uniquely European and cosmopolitan feel with an abundance of history tucked in every corner. Take a walk through the town with us as we explore Pondicherry!
Travel with Tom and Priscilla to Pondicherry India
Priscilla had found the Eco Village Resort as a pretty well rated place to stay, but at $40 bucks a night, I was let’s just say a bit skeptical… Wow was I wrong! This is true paradise that feels as if you have been dropped onto another planet of beauty and lifestyle.
To find the Eco Village, you turn off the paved highway to a pothole ridden dirt road passing by a few less attractive residences… Then you pass through a large gate to circle drive and gravel parking lot to check in. At this point you still don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into… “Alright let’s try it out” and we parted with our driver for the night and jumped aboard the mini-van fully equipped with a tiger painting.
Bumpty bump on into the resort along a small one lane dirt path lined with palm trees and mini cottages with thatch roofs. We were really into the village now! As we approached our lodge, the “Flex House” as it is named, was magnificent little rustic cottage with an other worldly feel. Pop open the padlock and enter to a spacious room with a boxed-in bed, high ceiling that exposed the natural roof, and totally cool translucent walls with flower photos printed on them. Wow.
We only had one night here, so we were off right away to explore the property. Exotic trees and plants fill every view as we walked through the property at sunset. It was amazing, each “house” on the property was unique and had an authentically different experience. Some had outdoor showers, one was built high above the rest to give the ultimate view of the Indian ocean, and all had a feeling of true India. As we explored the area, we found the farm on site with a number of cows and fresh vegetables. The village was developed to be generally self-sustaining, minus the beers and a few other modern conveniences.
One of my most vivid memories from this stay were the sounds. Our lodging was located just off the beach from the Indian Ocean and the sound of the waves breaking set the baseline for the atmosphere. Then early in the morning, the temple just outside of the village began with chants that remind you that you are definitely not in Illinois any more. Check out this video for a snippet of sound from the early morning hours.
Driving in India is always an adventure and the first few minutes in the car will surely confirm that you are not in Illinois anymore. Our friends Anusha and Barath had arranged for a driver for us and for good reason, because the Indian style of driving is absolutely best left to the professionals. Once out the city and on the Indian “highway” you will notice that no one drives on their side of the road because there is always a need to pass something or other. Maybe because the roads are shared modes of transit including cars, trucks, busses, cows, dogs and humans. My brother the safety guy would have blown a gasket with the regular “close calls” of near death on the road.
But we made it alive to the first stop on our South Indian tour: Mahabalipuram, The Underwater City. As we got the area there were a number of people that approached the car wanting to give us a personal tour of the area. We felt that it may be a scam, but found one man that agreed to a somewhat reasonable rate so we agreed, parked the car and went for a walk around the area to learn about the Underwater city of Mahabalipuram. The story goes something like this: A King built the great monuments, then the sand covered it long ago, and then a number of years ago it was dug up and is still there today. The sculptures and and structures are quite cool and VERY OLD.
Travel with Tom and Priscilla to Mahabalipuram, India