The Great Tsi-p’in-owinge Hike
Our day started out in Bodes parking lot, meeting our fellow hikers and grabbing a tasty breakfast burrito. Together, we were off to the Santa Fe National Forest to hike down and over to Tsiping, also called Tsi’pin, Tsi’pinouinge, or Tsi-p’in-owinge, the Mesa del Pueblo. Tsi-p’in-owinge is pronounced “Sipping” and translates to “Village at Flaking Stone Mountain”. That flaking stone mountain? Of course, the mighty Cerro Pedernal – which means “Flint Mountain”, and stands guard beside this ancient pueblo ruin.
Before you set off, there are some things you need to know. First, you need a permit to hike to Tsi-p’in-owinge. The permit is free and can be obtained from the Coyote Ranger Station – you can call them at (505) 638-5526 and they will email you the permit. They will also give you information on the ruin, highlights and, most importantly, directions to the trailhead. You will be glad you have this!
The second thing you need to know – is to avoid the short-cut from the village of Cañones which sits below Tsi-p’in. Don’t be tempted to cut through private property to access the site. The residents of Cañones value their privacy.
The last thing you need to know about, and be prepared for, is the drive to the trailhead. It’s about an hour and fifteen-minute often challenging drive – but worth it. The road is in really rough shape in several spots. I mean like defensive-driving-rough-shape as you navigate rocks and holes. You will definitely want a high clearance vehicle, and you may even want to release a bit of air from your tires before you head out. In bad weather, don’t even try this. Seriously, warn your passengers to focus so a sudden avoid-the-rock-turn doesn’t cause their heads to whip into the side of the car door!
Now the fun begins. (Wait, wasn’t that drive kind of fun?)
This is a fabulous hike – and one that is not easily discovered; we were the only people on the trails or at the pueblo ruin. The ruins sit at the top of the mesa, about 7,400 feet up. The trail is about 2 miles. The elevation drop is about 400 feet as you descend down. Just remember, this means you have to hike UP this on your way out!
After parking, head to the trailhead and start your descent. The descent down is made easier by the switchback trail that loops down the rocky hill to a ridge that connects the trail to the mesa top.
After descending, you will see a rock wall – and this means you are close! The rock walls that you see are likely the work of shepherds, after the pueblo was abandoned, designed to keep flocks of sheep trapped on the mesa top.
Look for the somewhat narrow opening in the rock walls and pass through the opening to continue up to the mesa top.
Walk to the top of the mesa and you have arrived. This is the pueblo area, on top of this amazing mesa, with spectacular views. This pueblo was the largest and northernmost of all the pueblos of the Classical Period, occupied from 1200 to 1325 AD. You can imagine what it must have been like for 1,000 Ancestral Puebloan people to call this home. As you walk through the pueblo, you will see pathways worn into the ground (volcanic tuff) that could have been the work of foot traffic, or possibly carved out by water flow. We’ll never know.
You will also notice mounds and mounds of rocks carved into brick shapes that were once used in the walls of kivas and structures. The amount of stone work is impressive. These carved rocks that are scattered in piles now were once the walls of 400 rooms, 16 kivas and a central plaza. As many as 1,000 people lived here and likely lived in the cavate dwellings, or cliff dwellings, formed by using niches or caves on the side of the mesa top.
The Great Kiva was built down into the bedrock, chipped into the rock, and was assembled with top layers made out of the hand carved rocks. Just imagining the time and effort involved in building a pueblo of this size and scale, by hand, is amazing. You can still see these rock blocks in action in many of the
partial still-standing structures. The structures were carved down into the mesa rock (primarily tuff) itself, and stacked higher with the hand-carved rocks.
So who lived here, on this grand mesa? The pre-pueblo peoples and cultures that were the ancestors of the Tewa people, which today consist of the the San Juan Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, Tesuque Pueblo, Pojoaque Pueblo, and Nambe Pueblo. We have been told that modern day Tewa members still use the shrine located on the pueblo for religious ceremonies.
You will see many sherds of pottery - or pottery fragments - on the ground, remnants of ancient white pots with black designs used in daily life. These are great to look at, but do not remove them.
And, the views! Wow. Views of Abiquiu Lake, Cerro Pedernal, Ghost Ranch, the village of Cañones, and our Abiquiu Vacation Homes in the far, far distance! Behind and to the right of Cañones is Cañones Mesa, which merges with the El Alto Plateau to the right. The canyon at the bottom right is Polvadera Canyon.
Admiring the views was short-lived because we suddently noticed dark clouds rushing towards us – and, sure enough, the clouds opened up to a downpour. We knew this would make for a challenging hike back up to the parking lot and drive out, for sure. After eating a quick lunch in the rain, we started the hike back up the switchback trail, up the 400 feet, to the parking lot. The drive out was even more fun than the drive in, given the rain and wet roads.
This is a hike we definitely recommend. From The Casita del Lago or Abiquiu Lake Mesa (www.DiscoverAbiquiu.com), take New Mexico 96 to US Hwy 84 towards Abiquiu. Turn right onto County Road 189 (Forest Road 31), just before you reach Bodes. Drive about 6.5 miles on Forest Road 31, through the Abiquiu Land Grant, until you reach Forest Road 27. Turn right onto 27 and drive about 8 miles to Forest Road 27D, which can easily be missed if you aren’t paying attention (dirt road to the right). 1.2 miles down 27D, you will hit the parking lot and see the trailhead on the west end. To get to this point, you actually drove around the south side of Cerro Pelon, down to the Polvadera Creek and back up onto Polvadera Mesa.