Riding to Guaje: Northern Canyons of the Pajarito Plateau

Field Trip

Friday, April 27, 2012, 8:00 am–5:00 pm

Guaje Ruin Kiva in 2005Guaje Ruin Kiva in 2005Photograph courtesy Rory Gauthier.
Guaje Ruin Kiva in 2005
Guaje Ruin Kiva in 1979, before the Cerro Grande FireGuaje Ruin Kiva in 1979, before the Cerro Grande FirePhotograph courtesy Rory Gauthier.
Guaje Ruin Kiva in 1979, before the Cerro Grande Fire

Archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett and poet Peggy Pond Church are two people forever linked to the Pajarito Plateau in north-central New Mexico. Peggy Pond Church loved this mesa country, growing up on her father’s Los Alamos Ranch School where she spent long days on horseback exploring the natural environment and ancient ruins. She found inspiration for some of her best poetry, including the poem titled Yesterday.”

Edgar Lee Hewett first used the term “Pajarito” in his archaeological survey of this area from Puye to Frijoles Canyon in 1896. Guaje, Chupadero, and Garcia Canyons are the northern boundary of what was going to be “Cliff Dwellers National Park,” which Hewett proposed in the early 1900s to protect the Ancestral Puebloan ruins located on the mesa tops and carved into canyon walls. The size of the park was dramatically downsized and named Bandelier National Monument, located at its present location south of Los Alamos. The northern portion of the plateau therefore has not received the attention devoted to the national monument, and yet the evidence of Puebloan life in these remote canyons is an integral part of the Tewa story of this area.

One extensive group of ruins that we will visit lies on the high, narrow mesa north of Guaje Canyon. Here, at least seven ruins are spread out along the crest of the mesa, including five kivas that are carved into the tuff bedrock. A string of 50 cavate rooms are found along the base of the canyon, which were accessible to the mesa village by hand and toe holds or carved stairs.

US Forest Service archaeologists Mike Bremer and Anne Baldwin will be our expert guides on this backroad adventure. They have overseen archaeological investigations and management of cultural sites in the Santa Fe National Forest for over a decade and intimately know these canyons. National Park Service archaeologist Rory Gauthier will also join the trip to interpret this unique site.

Preference in registration for this trip will be given to those members who had confirmed reservations on the July 2011 trip to Guaje, which was cancelled because of the Las Conchas fire. Please contact SAR to reconfirm your reservation for this new trip date.

Activity Level: Moderately strenuous, includes walking into archaeological sites, some with steep grades, scree slopes, and uneven surfaces, over distances up to one mile. Please call the Membership Office at (505) 954-7203 if you are uncertain about your physical ability to participate.

Cost (per person): $75, includes 4WD transportation from Santa Fe and a picnic lunch.

Trip Registration—New Policy: To ensure that field trip registration is equitable, SAR has adopted a lottery system. Please send your field trip requests (PDF, 590 KB) by mail (postmarked no later than January 2, 2012). A drawing will then be held for each trip, and members will be notified of the results by January 12, 2012. Please note that memberships at or above the Galisteo level receive advance registration.

For more information, visit the Field Trips section.


riding to Guaje,
a warm wind blew through the spruce boughs.
The snow ran in rivulets to the river.
Above the yucca
shone a vision of flowers.

riding to Guaje,
I saw trees mighty in girth, tall and cool-shadowed,
rooted in a black dome of rock once molten.
I saw the river
bent from its course at the place
where the canyon is narrow,
flowing between the dark cliffs.
I saw a deer flee through the pines.
I heard the wind on a mesa beyond
stride furiously from the mountain.
I saw swift clouds
darken the sun.
I heard the advancing rain.

At a cliff ’s edge I saw a ruined city
whose name is now forgotten.
There were five kivas carved in the hard rock;
forgotten now
are they who fashioned prayers.
Not even high-flying birds remember these walls,
only the high-spread stars.

It is long in men’s memory since these cities stood
white in the sun.
Yet even then had the river carved this canyon
and the far-off valley remembered in these same shadows
the colors of an ocean.
Thus yesterday reaches backward and forward forever and disappears like
the sky.
How can I say what I thought while riding to Guaje yesterday?

—Peggy Pond Church, 1926

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