Thursday, February 10, 2000
Highlights: An excellent winter hike at one of New Mexico's most important religious sites, where it's not just the views that are inspiring. Location: Southeast of Los Lunas, east of N.M. 47 Difficulty: Easy to moderate Round-trip distance: 2.5 miles Elevation: 4,850-5,223 feet Cautions: Heat, exposure, unsteady footing Best seasons: Fall, winter, spring Maps: Los Lunas USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle Printable map
El Cerro de Tomé
Despite the scientific and technological advances of our age, the power and significance of El Cerro de Tomé endure.
No one knows when humans first worshiped at the turtle-shaped volcanic hill extruding on the Rio Grande floodplain near Los Lunas. Petroglyphs now fading, century by century, on the hill's boulders and cliffs were pecked as many as 2,006 years ago. Then Europeans speaking Spanish settled nearby. Tomé Dominguez arrived in 1650, and his son Tomé Dominguez de Mendoza established a hacienda there around 1661, imparting his name to both the fledgling settlement and the hill.
The annual Good Friday pilgrimages to the calvario atop the hill are well-known, but throughout the year the hill still draws visitors, some for physical invigoration, some for spiritual -- the distinction becomes blurred.
To reach El Cerro, take N.M. 47 south from 1-25, past Los Lunas. Next, take paved N.M. 263 east, then south around the mountain. You also can take Tomé Hill Road east from N.M. 47.
El Cerro's two main trails are the Via Cruces ("Crosses Way") from the west and the South Path, from the parking area near the junction of Tomé Hill Road and La Entrada Road, on the south. The South Path is the quickest -- and steepest -- route to the top, though spur and side trails allow for breaks. While El Cerro's trails are short, they are often steep, and the volcanic rocks make for treacherous footing. Bring a hat, dark glasses, sunscreen, solid shoes and perhaps a walking stick.
Petroglyphs, shrines, religious offerings and paintings, plants and animals, the Rio Orande Valley beneath you -- on a recent hike to El Cerro I met a local woman who had hiked up the hill almost daily for 30 years and is still receiving blessings there. Note: El Cerro, the only natural feature on the National Register of Historic Places, is indeed a shrine and should be accorded the respect due a sacred site. An excellent brochure is available from the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities, 209 Cinate Hall, UNM, 277-3705.