To celebrate National Adoption Month, I hereby adopt a mountain.
Monte Sol gives me inspiration for writing and a new appreciation for simply being alive.
. Allow me to explain…
Readers may know that my favorite short day hike is Sun Mountain, often called by its Spanish name, “Monte Sol.” Along with three other prominent foothills of the Rockies, it offers a distinctive silhouette. The skyline of southeastern Santa Fe goes like this: Picacho Peak, a near triangle topped by a slanted nipple shape; long galumphing Atalaya, a favorite five-mile hike; and Monte Sol, the most perfectly symmetrical of the three.
Monte Sol is beautiful and convenient. I go there almost every day. When the City of Santa Fe gained permission from landowners for access from the road, they established a trailhead to Monte Sol. It was a landslide victory for local and visiting walkers. The path up Monte Sol became more accessible to not just me (I happen to live practically next door) but to everyone in the world. Often it’s an up-and-down affair, but when I have time, I take advantage of rocky outdoor seating that’s perfect for sunning, meditating, eating a sandwich, writing, or simply watching the clouds drift by.
Though it’s only 8/10ths of a mile to the top of Monte Sol, the elevation gain is nearly
1,000 feet. The steepness makes for a good workout. The final third of the ascent involves over 100 switchbacks and requires one to step up, up, and ever up.
The hike proceeds in three acts: a beginning, middle and end. The first section of path is curved but gentle. The second takes the hiker up a series of large rocks and to a view less of the city below than toward other, unnamed foothills. The contours became darker as the day advances. The final act, most demanding, requires careful footwork as the path narrows, at times disappearing. One mounts a virtual rock staircase, finally reaching a ten-foot wide rock that looks as though it might have been an ocean floor.
From then on, it’s a mostly dirt walkway until the “Ah Ha” moment of reaching the top. Surprisingly, the summit of Monte Sol is a flat area the size of a couple football fields. A panoramic view unfolds in every direction, and one can understand why early settlers compared the high desert terrain to a kind of inland ocean. The southwestern palate of green, sage, tan, brown and purple stretch beneath one in layers. Huge white clouds billow overhead.
There, with the city stretched out below, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Pecos Wilderness to the North, the seeker can find peace and serenity. On warm afternoons, it is often tempting to stay awhile, basking in the sun like a lazy lizard.
That said, though one can find solitude here, on this particular Sunday afternoon, I encounter a dozen other hikers. There’s the man with the Irish Setter with a yellow bandana around his neck (the dog’s neck, not the man’s). Along come the mothers of small children who’ve managed to train their little ones to tackle the arduous walk but to make it fun, and the young woman with headphones who is running rather than walking. I can’t imagine how she would jog the steeper boulder sections, but assume she pauses to pick over the rocks before continuing her fast pace.
Then I remember my younger self, a Me who was always running and training for the next marathon. I would not have been daunted by a few precipitous passes. A lifetime ago…I miss those running days. And yet, I’m grateful to be covering the same territory. I’m glad to be out here, slower but still strong.
Enough of Monte Sol musing. It’s time to leave the summit and head back down into the real world. I watch gigantic black birds circling overhead and take a final look at the distant road stretching south to Albuquerque, then hike down to the flatlands. I know my adopted trail much better now, and I feel completely ready for an afternoon of writing.
Do YOU have a path that leads you to serenity and healing? Please let me know about your best hiking trail, and, without mentioning your name, I’ll be happy to share your reflections with my followers.
Elaine at the top of Monte Sol, Atalaya Peak looming in the background.