grants to acoma to albuquerque, part 2

Wednesday, September 9, continued

The rest of the day got kind of crazy, one of those days where one thing after the next goes wrong. Despite the difficulties, we plunged ahead. I'd rather do what I want to do and deal with whatever discomforts arise. Spending my precious vacation doing nothing is a last resort only.

We had discussed the possibility of a brief visit to El Malpais National Monument, depending on how much time we spent at Acoma Pueblo. Now that didn't seem possible, especially since the major sites at that park - ice caves, bizarre lava rock formations and some others - are not near the highway.

When we arrived in Albuquerque last week, we passed their minor league baseball park just outside the airport, and looked online at the team's schedule. The only night we could go was Wednesday, the last night of the trip - and they were home! So the possibility of going to an Isotopes game was on our mind too. (As you may surmise, the team was named after the baseball team from The Simpsons, and appropriate for Albuquerque.)

So being too late for El Malpais (Spanish for "bad country"), we thought we'd do the visit to Acoma Pueblo, then drive to Albuquerque, check in at our hotel near the airport, have dinner, and go to the ballgame. A good plan.

Too bad for that good plan, because as I was looking at the map, I saw the words "Petroglyph National Monument" right next to Albuquerque. What?! We hadn't even looked at attractions near Albuquerque, so we had completely missed this. I read about it, and I wanted to go. Really wanted to go.

Now, had we left Acoma with an immediate intention, we could have easily done both Petroglyphs and baseball, with time in between to check in and maybe get some dinner. But we weren't that organized or efficient yesterday. We thought we left something in the last hotel room - searched for it in our bags - went back to ask about it - stopped in a store - took a highway with roadwork - and time was dwindling.

I didn't want to give up the Petroglyphs Park. My love for baseball is well known, but I felt like I could see minor league ball on many occasions. The chance of seeing these petroglyphs felt more special. The three locations - glyphs, baseball and airport hotel - were all very near each other. I decided we could do both.

On the way to Albuquerque, around 4:00 in the afternoon, I got a sharp, burning pain in my eye, I believe from sunscreen. Usually this is uncomfortable but short-lived. This time it was very painful and continued. Stupidly, I rubbed my eye - a lot - undoubtedly rubbing the irritant all through my eye and deeper into it. It was painful, I couldn't see, and it wouldn't stop.

Petroglyph National Monument has three sections - a visitors centre, a short driveable area where you can stop at intervals to see glyphs near the road, and a longer hike, Rinconada Canyon, where hundreds of glyphs are visible. Entrance to the drive-able part stops at exactly 4:30, and you can stay in until exactly 5:00. In retrospect, this would have been the portion to skip. Good old retrospect. Never there when you need her.

We got to the visitors centre at 4:25. The Ranger must have thought I was some kind of stressed-out Type A case, as I cut off her welcoming spiel to ask if we could still get into the driving area. She called ahead and told the Ranger at the site we were coming, and we pulled in at 4:35. Entrance fee: one dollar per car.

This driveable area had 3 or 4 different concentrations of petroglyphs. They were neat, but they only increased my desire to see the Rinconada Canyon area. Allan didn't think we were doing that hike, but I knew better.

It was 1.25 miles (about 2 kms) each way, on flat, sandy ground. Keep in mind my eye is still horribly painful. My vision is limited and blurry. My sprained ankle feels all right, with the elastic support and my hiking boots, but I now have blisters on both feet. But you know what? Fuck it. If I threw in the towel and went to the hotel without seeing it, I'd feel much worse.

The entire area, from Grants to Albuquerque, was once full of volcanic activity. Huge stretches of the area are filled with dark black boulders, formed by lava, with green scrubby desert growth around and in between. Rinconada Canyon is composed of this dark rock. Up close, you can see thousands of tiny holes in the rocks, formed by gas bubbles as the lava cooled.

It was a flat hike, but not easy, because of my physical discomfort and because of the sand. To your right is a steep hill made of black boulders, to your left is desert, then another black hill in the distance, so you're walking into a horseshoe-shaped canyon. It was actually a good time of day to be out there, as the sun was setting and the temperature cooling. With my eye and feet hurting, I don't think I could have tolerated the desert sun, too. (In fact, several runners passed us, clearly local people out for their evening run. What a location to do that!)

Every so often, maybe every 50 steps or so, there would be another couple of petroglyphs on the rocks. The white or yellowish carvings stand out on the black, making them easily visible. There's graffiti, also - some old, from Spanish settlers, others more modern. Sometimes people draw graffiti to imitate the glyphs - which is annoying, and brings up questions of authenticity, and why that matters.

We read and heard that the trail ends at the highest concentration of petroglyphs in the state, one of the highest concentrations of ancient carvings in a natural setting in North America. So we continued walking.

I saw a big-eared hare, the colour of the desert except for his white cotton-puff tail, and once in the distance we heard coyotes yipping. We saw a few tiny lizards, and dozens of black millipedes.

At the end of the hike, there were rocks covered in dozens of glyphs, and everywhere I looked, I spotted another. Even with my various discomforts, I was thrilled. Maybe a bit more thrilled because it took a bit of doing to get there.

I told Allan we should get back fast, and maybe we'd only miss a pitch or two. He didn't know I still intended to go to the game, and was pretty happy. We walked the 1.25 miles back as quickly as I could. We used the melting ice in our cooler to wash up a bit, squirmed into clean clothes in the car, did some fancy driving (I am the master navigator!) and walked into Isotopes Park in the top of the first. Alright!

The Isotopes are the AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which was cool for me, as I have a little thing for the Dodgers. They were playing the Memphis Redbirds, the St Louis Cardinal's triple-A team. This was actually the first game of the first round of Pacific Coast League playoffs. (At which point I learn that the PCL now includes teams from all over the country.)

The Isotopes play in a beautiful new park, and I would have been having a ball, if my eye wasn't still burning and tearing. I've been through two eye injuries, both as a child, one of them quite scary. I wasn't relishing the thought of another, but I also knew that I needed to keep the eye closed in order for it to soothe and heal. I got a wet paper towel from the washroom, and holding it over my closed eye lid helped a lot.

We chatted a bit with an Isotopes fan sitting in front of us. When he heard where we were from, one of the things he asked was, "How do you find the spicy food?" Interesting. He seemed like a knowledgeable baseball fan, so it was fun to chat about the Dodgers.

Then a few things happened.

Allan got a foul ball - his first ever!

It started to rain.

There was a HUGE thunder clap. Everyone jumped out of their skin, and the players ran off the field.

It started to pour.

We stood under an overhang and tried to keep watching. I was ready to leave.

There was a triple play. There was a triple play! We hardly saw it. The third out was disputed. A fan near us was running around holding up three fingers, repeating, "That was three outs! That was three outs!" The umps ruled the third play was indeed an out, and the crowd went crazy.

Allan got a foul ball! There was a triple play!

It started to rain insanely hard, lightning and thunder. It didn't seem to be letting up. Our car was parked far away.

And may I add that a certain someone would have sent us walking into the night in the complete wrong direction? But the Master Navigator knows the way, at least 99% of the time. There was no point in running. At this point I would only end up with at least another sprained ankle or worse. So we walked doggedly through the pouring rain, probably a quarter-mile to our car. It was the kind of drenched where all you can do is laugh.

And in a strange side benefit, the water flushed out my eye, which finally stopped hurting. (It's very puffy and red, but no longer hurts.)

We made it to the car and somehow found our airport hotel, not far away. We were soaked down to our underwear - and then had to pack everything up and return the rental car for an early-morning flight.

Some of our petroglyphs photos are here (both from Petroglyph National Monument and Chaco Canyon).

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