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Do You Know The Way From Santa Fe?

Lore: "Silverado" and "Lonesome Dove" were both filmed here. President Clinton declared the ancient land formation, formed millions of years ago, a national monument in 2001.

Bragging rights: None to speak of. It's not that challenging a trail. But wait. Was that a golden eagle soaring above the canyon? Could have been. (Could also have been a hawk or a kestrel. Check your bird books before you brag.)

On the Tsankawi Trail by Santa Fe, take the 12-foot ladder one step at a time. (Julian Smith)

Uh-ohs: Keep to the trail as you climb, warns a small sign, to avoid encounters of the slithery kind. We needed no further convincing. Watch your footing on the way down: Crumbled volcanic rock called tuff offers poor traction. And you probably don't need to be told, but take a hiking partner and go well before sundown. Bill Hinsvark, an artist we met at our Santa Fe bed-and-breakfast, told us about a sometimes hiking partner who got herself stranded here one night and had to be helicoptered out.

Sunscreen and a hat are strongly advised -- the rocks don't afford a lot of cover. Take water, even if you wouldn't for a hike of this length back east.

Getting There: Take I-25 south from Santa Fe about 40 miles to the Cochiti Reservoir exit. Follow signs west. Info: www.nm.blm.gov/aufo/tent_rocks/tent_rocks.html. Fees, Notes: You're on the honor system. Deposit your $5 per car in the box and go. There's a bathroom with running water at one side of the parking lot.

Tsankawi Trail

Tell people you're going to Santa Fe and everyone will tell you that you have to visit Bandelier National Monument, the Frijoles Canyon site of ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings 48 miles northwest of the capital city. But when they say Bandelier, they mean the heavily visited main section, not this separate, quieter part 12 miles out of the way.

By all means, go to the main section. The scale of the ruins, some as much as 1,000 years old, and spectacular setting, hugging the base of a cliff alongside a stream-fed forest, rightly inspire wonder. Go despite the crowds, the paved walkways, the handrails on the steps. Just don't think of it as a hike. For a trek, and a more private -- even spiritual -- experience, head to Tsankawi (sank-ah-WEE).

Highlights: This 1 1/2-mile loop is not particularly challenging, though to see the best part of it, you do have to get yourself up and over a sturdy 12-foot wooden ladder. To the halfway point, you're on a mellow trail; then the footing gives way to natural stone walkways that skirt cliff edges. From the entry gate, we walked up a dusty trail, alone and quiet, as befits an entrance into the past.

The Pueblo people, or Anasazi, settled Tsankawi in the 1400s, farming the arid mesa and canyonland as long as the rain and soil held out. The area they picked, ringed by the Jemez Mountains to the west, the Sangre de Cristo to the east and the Sandia to the south, was formed by eruptions of the Jemez volcano more than a million years ago. The dust under our feet was tuff.

We walked past the rocky foundations of a village, with a large rectangular structure that once rose two or three stories and contained as many as 350 rooms. Here and there, pottery shards of varying patterns and colors lay on the ground.

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