On the internet I had stumbled across a place called Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Santa Fe. We hadn't been on a hike in several days and my legs were begging to be stretched.
According to what I'd read, there was a loop trail of about two miles and some interesting rock formations. But when we got there, we discovered that there were two trails, one of them through a canyon with 600 feet of elevation gain. It was a surprise, but nothing we couldn't handle.
There was another less pleasant surprise. When we arrived we were overjoyed to see a school bus and a parking lot full of jumping, frenzied middle-schoolers, all ready to ruin our day. We rushed to the trailhead hoping to get ahead of the horde. For a while we had the trail to ourselves, admiring the tall white cliffs with peculiar pointed peaks.
Before too long we started to enter the canyon, which rapidly narrowed into a lovely quiet slot. Although I wanted time to enjoy this special place, I didn't want to be caught in this slender channel with a bunch of screaming kids. I swiveled my ears to the rear, listening carefully for the coming onslaught, and we kept up our pace.
The slot continued to shrink in width until we were almost straddling the walls for a few waddles. As we neared the end, we met another couple coming back. I remarked on the narrow space we'd just cleared, and the other man said, "It's about to get STEEP."
We emerged from the slot canyon and started to climb, slowly at first, then more precipitously. In a few spots there were railroad ties set into the hill to make steps, but in at least one place the "step" was about three feet high. My knees can't handle anything taller than they are, so it was turn-around-sit-down-and-push-up time. But it was all worth it. The scenery just got better and better as we went up.
I'd been hearing rumblings behind us and knew the urchins were catching up. We did manage to get close to the summit before the first and fastest of the kids passed us. As we reached a clearing at the top, they started to dribble past in small groups, chattering like monkeys. We sheltered behind a bush while the kids kept going on the trail, which continued down to a viewing point. We decided we'd skip that leg and sat down to nibble on the snacks we'd brought and take a few photos at the top.
In too-short order, the little darlings hurtled back up to the clearing to open their lunches, occupying all the available space. It was time to flee. We retraced our steps, hoping that lunch would delay the kids long enough for us to enjoy the return trail, which was just as lovely going the other way.
Along the way, we found a fuzzy caterpillar trying to scale one of the huge white walls. Convinced he was lost, I tried to scoop him up on a leaf and get him to a food source. He wasn't cooperating. Then we started to hear the thundering herds coming for us, so I unceremoniously grabbed the worm and set him in a tree, leaving without even a thank-you.
Our luck ran out before we cleared the slot canyon and a phalanx of six headlong-running, yelling boys caught up with us. We resignedly stepped aside and found a cubbyhole where we could wait for the rest of them to pass. Eventually the path cleared, the air stilled, and we continued in peace.
Near the parking lot the canyon trail connected to the "Cave Loop", so we took the fork. The cave turned out to be a man-sized hole about five feet up the cliff face. The sign explained how such man-made caves were easily excavated because the base of the cliff was a harder sediment, while the cave layer was formed out of softer settled ash from a long-ago volcanic eruption. The roof of the cave was burnt black with soot from the fires of ancient humans.
The rest of the trail was unremarkable compared to the canyon, but at least we were alone and it was quiet. We ended the loop in a garden of stone goblins, while behind us the formations seemed to be marching to the top of the cliff like a troop of petrified soldiers.
Driving back on the highway, we took a short detour to Cochiti Lake, formed by an enormous dam that we'd seen on our way in. The lake was OK, rather small and flat, but there was a beautiful uncrowded RV campground along its shore. We met a local ranger near a picnic spot, and he told us the dam and the lake are strictly for flood control on this section of the Rio Grande.
Still no microwave turntable. Apparently the FedEx guy didn't come at all today. The Pony Express is not-so-alive or well in New Mexico!