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Diablo Canyon, near Santa Fe
Photo credit: Jacoba Jane

Local gems

—Evan Belknap

One of the things I enjoy most about rock climbing is that it makes me seek out the best chunks of rock I can find, and in doing so, the background of my life is filled in with tall rock faces of all colors and textures, hidden canyons with meandering streams, caves, blue skies. Here in New Mexico the smells of different climbing areas vary drastically, some canyons smell of sage and skunk, and others are so dry, and that creosote tang stings your nostrils. The various birds, the footprints of this and that in the sand, coyote and bear scat full of pine nuts and cactus fruit. I am often far away from where anyone would go if they didn’t have some outlandish reason, like rock climbing, to be there. I wonder sometimes why there aren’t more people that just wander as a hobby. Try to get lost. See something new.

I love New Mexico because its ecosystems vary so drastically and to the senses, it feels as though the whole state is in a constant state of movement and change, like a kaleidoscope; the light throughout a single day creates a million worlds. I find myself in these lush grottos of boulders and plants, surrounded by red cliffs, inundated by new smells—in a place so uncharacteristic of how people imagine New Mexico—and I marvel at how many of these magical places exist within an hour or two of where we all live.

I was in one of those places yesterday. It was raining when I woke up, but knowing New Mexico weather, I knew it would be silly to cancel an adventure based on a few roaming showers. A friend and I drove up towards Santa Fe, turned off on the Santa Fe relief route, turned left on Calle de la Tierra, drove a few miles through residential areas, found the right dirt-road, turned-off, rallied down toward the Rio Grande, and parked at Diablo Canyon.

We walked down the wash and up the side of the scree slope to the left to the base of the cliffs with our ropes and whatnot. As a light rain fell from high clouds, we found an overhang of rock to hide under. We ate grapefruit and waited for the sky to clear. Waiting, patiently, with a plan to be in this place all day, reclined on a rock, looking out, I had one of those rare quiet moments when you see the world moving in real time—that is, slowly—the clouds swirling into one another, lizards hunting bugs, the slow sinking song of a canyon wren echoing back and forth through the canyon. I feel like spending a long time in a single place is a unique thing these days. Normally, I’m not the most patient person, but as a rock climber, I’ve learned that being on the wall is just as much a part of the sport as the hike in, the weather, the animals you see, and the changing of the seasons.

The sky cleared up quickly, and the rock dried instantly, and we were climbing up incut little holds on the walls, like sieging the stone bricks of a castle. We climbed a few routes of varying difficulty until we were both so tired we could hardly hold onto even the biggest holds, and we decided that we were hungry and done. We ate dinner in Santa Fe and then drove back towards Albuquerque through a 360-degree sunset. A new fireworks show would start every time another ended. Golden rain curtains cascaded onto Mount Taylor and low clouds below the Sangre de Cristos made them look like islands rising up out of the sea. The Sandias were a deep blueish purple that smoldered and stayed still as layered, choppy curtains of pink and orange and blue swirled around them, and us, and it was hard to keep my eyes on the road.

That we get to live in such a beautiful place blows my mind daily. And the rest of the world has no idea that this place exists; it’s like our little secret.

On October 24, there is a group of Placitans carpooling to Diablo Canyon with the Las Placitas Association for an easy hike. They are meeting at the Merc in Placitas at 8:00 a.m. and plan on being back around 2:00 p.m. That sounds like a good thing to be doing.


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