The Little Hills In Autumn

Brandon Ghigliotty - October 1, 2012

"The Visitor Center for Cerrillos Hills State Park, at the very heart of Cerrillos, opened in May of this year"

Cerrillos Hills State Park contains evidence of the inland sea that once covered New Mexico approximately 75 million years ago. The layers of shale, deposited by the mud banks of the ancient sea, pinch fossilized remains of sea creatures between them—memories of the past. As we climb the Jane Calvin Sanchez Trail, Cerrillos Hills State Park Education Coordinator Peter Lipscomb describes the significance of our surroundings: “We are inside the plumbing of a volcano that once extended nearly a mile overhead,” Lipscomb says.

As we travel further up, Lipscomb kicks over stacks of stones erected by travelers.

“This space is for everyone. I can’t let anyone put an imprint on it. Sorry if that seems mean to kick those over,” Lipscomb says. He is right. Preserving the culture and heritage of our parks is at the foundation of the National Park Service's mission. I keep my eyes peeled for other monuments I can topple as I continue onward.

The Visitor Center for Cerrillos Hills State Park, at the very heart of Cerrillos, opened in May of this year.  Lipscomb explains the future of the site, which is still being populated with artifacts. Not only will it serve the cultural and historic needs of Cerrillos, it will continue to educate visitors about the significance of the area. He gestures to the bare walls as he brainstorms what is yet to come. It is hard to imagine not coming back simply for the conversation. With the sun beating down and scarce shade provided by the juniper savanna, autumn would be the perfect time to make a return trip.

Situated a half-mile east of the historic Village of Cerrillos; Cerrillos Hills State Park rests on the periphery of a mineralized zone containing turquoise, iron, lead galena, zinc, copper, manganes, and azurite. The acid-leeched rock known as andesite, splashed orange from the volcanic activity, reveals the conditions necessary for ores to be present, and miners flocked to this area in the late 19th century to try their luck. Placards situated at the mouth of the mining pits shed light on history. Names such as Rasmussen of Denmark, are among the 5,000 mining attempts. Only 12 were profitable enough to recover labor expenses. A new mining law implemented in 1884 required claims be excavated 10 feet every 90 days, and with that the boom ended. It ceased to be a profitable venture. The mining subsided twelve years before New Mexico became a state.

As Lipscomb and I continue our journey up the Jane Calvin Sanchez Trail we cross ancient shoreline and volcanic remnants. His job description, as he sees it, is “interpreting natural and cultural resources.” He details the Spanish interest in the area. Turquoise from the area of Cerrillos Hills, found as far as Chaco Canyon, was of no use to them. The Spanish were after the silver content in the galena and would leave a 200-year legacy of mining the area.

Lipscomb and I part ways and I continue alone up the Escalante Trail. The steep ascent is lined with soot-colored soil. The initial path I chose would have placed panoramic views at my back, but Lipscomb kindly re-directed me. After crossing onto the Coyote Trail and winding my way through to Elkins Trail, the scenery suddenly opens up. The breeze carries the scent of juniper to my nostrils and the Ortiz Mountains greet me in the distance.

Of no surprise to wayfarers checking their map—and thus of complete surprise to me—Elkins Trail deposits me onto a road named Yerba Buena. Residential property here details claims all their own with signs such as “No Trespassing.”

I settle back into my vehicle after the hike. A FedEx delivery van streaks in and parks. The driver, a bald, shirtless man, begins to jog up the Jane Calvin Sanchez Trail. I suppose the park is good for that as well. Upcoming activities at the park are posted on the event calendar. The park also hosts guided hikes and equestrian trail riding with the Broken Saddle Riding Company.

If You Go

  • Cerrillos Hills State Park has a $5 day use fee. Cash or check is accepted within envelopes at the self-pay station near the entrance to the park. At a cost of $40, annual passes provide day use entrance to all of New Mexico’s 35 state parks one year from the month of purchase and are available from any park ranger.
  • The Cerrillos Hills State Park Visitor Center is open each day of the week from 2 to 4 pm; the park itself is open from dawn to dusk.
  • The Cerrillos Hills State Park Visitor Center can be reached by telephone at (505) 474-0196
  • The Cerrillos Hills State Park website.
  • Guided hikes and presentations are scheduled on weekends throughout October. For details, go to
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