August 3, 2013 at 12:05 PM


'Most of the ruins consist of the tumbled mounds of long, collapsed room blocks, but a few timbers and standing stone walls attest to the once-sturdy construction.'

By Karen Denison

At Home Outdoors

Karen Denison is owner of Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing guide service, a former biologist, and a shameless admirer of the outdoors.


Although I'm trying not to, I can't help but step on bits of pottery.  Small pieces of ceramic painted and glazed in the 1300-1500's litter the ground.

For years I've had a basic knowledge of the existence and archaeology of Pueblo ruins in the area and I've hiked into and seen ruins throughout the Jemez and Upper Rio Grande Valley.  Good examples of unexcavated or partly excavated, smallish Pueblo sites like Tsankawi and Frijolito in Bandelier National Monument are relatively easy to see (courtesy of the National Park Service) and definitely worth a visit.

But some of the remote ruins which have been on my bucket list require four-wheel-drive, then respectable hikes, in order to visit.  And that's after the informational legwork of determining they exist and approximately where--archaeological sites are routinely omitted or removed from maps to protect them.  A sort of "witness protection" program, if you will.  I'm fortunate in having a set of quite old maps and friends who are willing to share their archaeological knowledge with a respectful visitor.  And although I operate a hiking tour service, Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing, I'm a believer that an especially fragile archaeological site like this should never be commercially toured.  There are other sites which are better for the casual or first-time visitor.

My husband and I have arrived after a considerable climb to a mesa top in the west Jemez.  Seeing the same commanding view enjoyed by Towa-speaking residents of this four-story pueblo between the late 1200's through the earliest Spanish colonial period.  During the 1500's the "He-mish" (as they were known to the Spanish) were the largest and strongest of the Pueblo Indian groups and occupied several large pueblos like this one as well as many smaller ones.  This pueblo was kept a secret until long after its residents had left and is still held in high regard by the living people of Jemez Pueblo. 

Most of the ruins consist of the tumbled mounds of long, collapsed room blocks, but a few timbers and standing stone walls attest to the once-sturdy construction.  It is the sheer size of the place that impresses as much as anything.  It had over 1000 rooms, a great kiva, and covers nearly five acres.

We spent about an hour at the site, admiring then carefully replacing potshards, obsidian flakes, and taking photographs.  I'm happy to have had the chance to visit, unencumbered by fences or dire signage saying "stay on the trail" and tried to keep our impact minimal.  There are few enough people who know of this place and fewer still who visit.  We saw no footprints except our own--which will be erased with the next monsoon rain.