New Mexico’s dry environment does a good job at preserving artifacts. It’s often hard to tell if something is new or old. Everything just blends together in the bone-bleaching sun. One summer afternoon I was taking a walk from my house to the post office. I went a little further on my route than I should have and came across a section of burnt trees on the side of the trail. Deciding to investigate, I walked a few yards down the ridge and stopped. Rectangular patterns of rocks were carefully arranged on the ground. They almost looked like a foundation of a house, except that they were just single stones resting on top of the dirt.
What I found was obviously man-made, but I was baffled by what exactly I came across. A couple of weeks later I attended a lecture by Chuck Van Gelder, the East Mountain’s resident historian, who is featured in the video above. He spoke of the huge populations of Apaches and Plains Indians that setup camp in the area. Being nomadic, they didn’t leave a lot of physical evidence behind. However, some of their tipi rings remain. These rings are patterns of stones that were used to stake down the animal skin hides of the cone-shaped tipis.
Could this be what I found? The ridge I was on travels south, all the way to San Antonio de Padua. Across the highway from the church there are metates carved into rocks on the hill. Native Americans ground corn here. This was also a staging ground for raids on the village.
I took my dad to the site of the burnt trees to show him the rings, but after searching around for half an hour in the nondescript landscape we gave up looking and went home. I consulted a map and a few days later recruited my friend Tim for another expedition. We got to the burnt trees and started trampling around the pinons and scrub oak, looking for patterns in the dirt.
“Hey!” Tim exclaimed and pointed out into the brush.
A bear was staring at us from less than twenty feet away. Tim started yelling, I threw a rock, and the bear dashed off. We ran the opposite direction, equally spooked.
I’ve tried hunting for the rings from time to time after that, but I’ve never come across them again. The only proof I have are a few photos I took and the stories that the locals tell around here. Sometimes when I’m out in the woods looking for them I get a feeling that I’m trespassing and that they don’t want to be found.
Other times it makes me think about the impermanence of our existence. What will people of the future make of our mountain community? What will they find here after we are gone?