Every year for the past seven years, I have climbed a mountain on my birthday. This year I made it up Tetilla Peak, just south of Santa Fe, not once but twice!
I’ve been looking at Tetilla for years; it spikes above the long line of the La Bajada Mesa, northwest of where I winter in Cerrillos. I’ve always meant to climb it, but somehow it got left for last among the high points on my horizons (after Grand Central, Placer Peak, Sandia, Cabezon & Santa Fe Baldy).
No trails climb Tetilla, but a rutted former section of Route 66 will get you most of the way there. I turn off too soon and put the Rover to work down a pointy rocky excuse of a side road, hoping I’m not asking for a flat on my birthday, and park at the abrupt end of the track. I’m still in love with my ’96 Disco; I’ve always wanted a vehicle that will take me all the way to the End of the Road!
The rocky, cactussy, junipery terrain rises, falls and rises again on its way to the summit and I eyeball the trek at about six miles, round trip. No sweat. Not my most challenging birthday trek, but this day isn’t about numerical superlatives. It’s about spending the day doing what I love: traveling on my own two feet to some place rare and beautiful.
I find my own path across the desert, weaving through the trees, over a barbed five-wire fence and another dirt road, this one fairer than the one I traveled. Underfoot: soft brown desert dirt, dotted with dark, pitted volcanic rocks and shards of softer sandstone. I don’t like leaving footprints on trail-free ground so I hop from rock to rock as much as possible, delighting in the slap of my soles against basalt, ever vigilant for early season rattlesnakes. The dogs – Dio and Bruce, conspiring together against the rabbits – mind their feet for cactus, but don’t think twice about their paw prints (or the specter of sunning snakes).
In no time, it seems, I’m on top! The summit is clustered with massive, slowly yielding, lichen-licked boulders, garnished with a few gnarled scrubs and marked by a USGS marker and a summit register ammo can.
Under the can, weighted by rocks, I find a kite! A kite! A kite! The Universe has gifted me a kite! I unfurl the cheap dollar-store thing, and throw it aloft where it whips into the wind, too fragile for the swirling mountaintop currents.
Frantic, luffing, it screams and threatens its thin thread until it crashes sharply into the summit rocks. I try again and it crashes again. Once more, I toss it aloft and this time it soars and I play out line, letting it pull me right back to childhood. Then the string snaps and the thing goes winging away, over the edge. I gallop after it, my gait childish, but my feet sure, bounding down the uneven slope of loose rock spiked with patches of cactus, and catch the kite far below, where it has crashed into a juniper. Then I turn around, set my sights on the summit once more and carry it back up to the top, where I fix the thread and roll it back up under the ammo can for another summiteer on another windy day.
Here’s to 32! I think I’ll go buy myself a real kite!
Revisit some of my past birthday hikes: The Pedernal, the inverted mountain of the Grand Canyon, Shenandoah’s Old Rag. Stay tuned for a post on the La Bajada Mesa, a stunningly beautiful historic place threatened by a proposed strip mine.