Beware the ants
Tijeras Canyon, located east of the modern city of Albuquerque, has long been an important link between the Rio Grande valley and the great plains to the east. Today Interstate 40 runs through the canyon, replacing old Route 66, which followed the same route. But even before roads, wagons, or even wheels were to be found in what is now New Mexico, Tijeras Canyon was still the easiest way to get from the southern Rio Grande Pueblos to the west and the Galisteo Basin pueblos and the great plains to the east. It is in this canyon that Tijeras Pueblo came into existence and grew to be one of the largest settlements along this important trade route.
Laying between the high Sandia Crest and the lower but equally rugged Manzano Mountains to the south, Tijeras Pueblo became one of the major villages laying in this natural pass. It, along with nearby Paako Pueblo, were founded right around the time of the abandonment of the Colorado Plateau to the west, and it survived up into the 1400's. An interpretative trail leads you around this site, now a vegetation-covered rubble mound, starting in the parking lot.
The trail starts out by skirting the north wall of the Forest Service office, and then parallels a dry watercourse. During the 1300's and 1400's, this arroyo was likely not deeply incised like it is today, and the residents of Tijeras Pueblo probably farmed corn, squash, and beans in fields that lined the watercourse. The trail crosses a small bridge and makes a left turn. It may not look like much, but on your right here are the remains of two small outbuildings, mere earthen lumps now defining where the walls once stood. The trail then crosses a larger bridge over the dry watercourse, which brings you to a trail sign and the southeastern corner of the pueblo.
After reading the sign, continue up the trail as it curves around the east side of the pueblo. There are displays on wall construction methods and a concrete model of how Tijeras may have looked at its height. It is interesting to compare this model, showing a large community perched on an earthen mound, to the bland-looking hill that is Tijeras today.
Not far past the reconstruction a side trail branches off the main trail that will take you to the apex of the pueblo. The view from the top is very interesting, as you can see some of the outlaying structures much better from a height as opposed to ground level. There are also some rooms that have small sections of wall still remaining. Two displays at the top talk about the Tijeras community and what some of the square kivas near the top of the pueblo contained when they were excavated. However there is also a large ant hill located near the top of the trail, and the ants are not friendly. Exercise caution if you are going to head for the summit.
Once back down to the main trail (or if you never left it), continue northward. The trail will loop back and connect at this point when you are finished with the loop. As the trail heads north you will pass a few small rubble mounds on the left and right, the remains of more outlaying buildings. Some of these buildings have pottery sherds scattered on the ground around them - remember to leave them where you found them. Stopping at the trail signs is recommended, as it may be hard to get an idea of what is going on without them to guide you.
Past the pottery-covered ruins, on the right, there is another concrete display and trail sign. This marks the location of the Great Kiva, which is now buried under rock and earth. However a section of its upper wall remains intact and visible as a half-circle of stones. This half-circle marks the southern half of the Great Kiva - it isn't too easy to make out unless you know what to look for. This is one of the latest Great Kivas from prehistory.
Continue north along the trail, and you will notice a small hole in the cliff to the north. As the trail turns to the east you come to yet another display, one with iron tubes. These tubes and sign all relate to the hole in the hill to the north - an ancient Pueblo turquoise mine. The sign also details some of the other minerals that the Tijerans used in their daily lives - including lead to glaze their pottery!
Not far past the turquoise mine the trail crosses another small bridge and bends to the south. Having past the half-way point, the trail is all downhill from here. On the left there is another sign, which details the use of manos and metates in daily life, as well as a few examples of the bedrock metates nearby.
At the time of my visit (7/08) a new visitor center was nearing completion on the east side of the trail just south of the mano/metate display. This center will be jointly run by the Friends of Tijeras Pueblo and the USFS. This will hopefully improve the visitor experience at Tijeras Pueblo as the Forest Service office near the parking lot does not really have much information on the pueblo and the trail displays are somewhat outdated with the concrete reconstructions leaving something to be desired. Hopefully this new museum and visitor center will provide more information to those that are curious about the prehistory of Tijeras Canyon and its residents.
The trail completes its loop not far past the new visitor center. Head south on the trail there to retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.