Highlights from a hiking program…..

Posted by SCC on Thursday, August 30th, 2012.

This is the second year the Acoma Ancestral Lands Office has operated the Acoma Hiking Club. Acoma Pueblo is an American Indian Tribe located 60 miles west of Albuquerque. If you visit Acoma Reservation’s communities of Anzac, Acomita, Skyline and McCarty’s you’ll find mostly modern housing areas, trailers and sprinkled between traditional Pueblo Style homes made of sandstone and mud mortar. However, if you head 30 miles south of those villages to old Acoma Sky City you’ll find a different world; in the middle of a vast scenic and panoramic valley you’ll see two towering monolithic sandstone mesas. One is named Ka-weh-ste-ma and the other Haa-k’u in the Acoma tongue called Keres; in English the former is known as Enchanted Mesa and the later Acoma. On top of Acoma or Haak’u you’ll find a community that has continually inhabited the mesa for the past thousand years. Archeologist estimate Acoma to have been founded from about 900 to 1200AD, which would make it one of the oldest communities in North America.

While on Acoma you have the feeling that you have entered another place altogether, an island in the sky where many of the buildings are older than the United States. There is no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity even to this day. Traditions on Acoma still remain strong, sacred leaders as well as their families remain on the mesa year-round and ceremonies are still held and retained. All of the houses are traditional Pueblo homes and most of them are made of the same traditional materials; sandstone, mud, straw, and Ponderosa Pine. However much has changed. Although Acoma and its people retain its language and culture, the current generation is leaning away from the Acoma ways and moving towards modern American life.

So much of my childhood involved my family members taking me on hikes to different areas on Acoma land. The excursions I remember most were the ones my mother would take me on. She would make it fun by teaching me all the ways she and her sisters would entertain themselves in their childhoods living at Acoma. Today living in one of the modern housing areas I see few children playing along the streets of the neighborhood. I can’t help but think of my childhood of playing on the sandstone formations of Acoma and compare it to what these kids have today. That absence is the service that the Acoma Hiking Club provides Acoma’s youth.

I used to believe that reconnecting the youth to the outdoors would stem from mostly learning about the how our ancestors lived and how we survived living in the desert by using everything that was around us. My assumptions were half right. While learning about our Native ethno-botany proved very useful tool in engaging them, it was actually something more basic that had them sold; fun! The lightbulb-moment occurred fairly early into the program. One of our first hikes started off at the El Malpais National Monument; we began the day with the normal safety talk started the hike. Along the hike we always give lessons on all the useful utility and edible plants, though it wasn’t any of those plants that caught their eyes at first.

Down the path I found a plant that provided much entertainment in my own youth. This plant is a type of Blazingstar flower common in much of New Mexico. It’s a small bush with tiny yellow flowers and small leaves that have a very fine fir with microscopic hooks that cause the plant to stick to any article of clothing like Velcro. Soon after finding this out the kids had an all out Blazingstar war. Little green leafs and yellow flowers were all over everyone’s shirts. While our program does practice the principles of Leave No Trace, we also believe that engaging youth cannot just be all ‘don’t touch this’ ‘be careful’ or ‘watch out for this’. Kids must be allowed to have their fun.

From there the interest grew. Questions began to pop up and once they had their fun, only then did they truly become engaged. We all forget sometimes what it’s like to be young. We forget to look through the eyes of the youth. It is essential to regress once and while and ask ourselves, would the 8 year old me find this fun?

One of the highlights of the hike was a fantastic view of a natural arch, which also provided some much needed shade. Yet this spot was perfect not only because of the shade, but also because of the seat like formation in the sandstone and the view of the vast El Malpais lava flows. There we decided was the best place to take a break, cool off and drink some water. Sitting there we heard something we rarely heard with this ever-active group; silence. There the group could really appreciate the environment they were in. I watched them I could see their eyes taking it all in; the vast black bread crumb like McCarty’s Lava Flow contrast against the vivid sandstone and sky. We finished the hike on top of the Bluffs from which we could see the length we traveled. The group was amazed at how far they had come

Aaron Lowden – Program Coordinator

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