After our time at Diablo Canyon we still had items on our “Must See” list further up north and so began the journey in that direction. Heading out of Santa Fe on Hwy 285 we eventually transitioned onto Hwy 84 in through the tongue-twisting tiny town of Abiquiu, New Mexico. About 15 miles northwest of Abiquiu, past the Abiquiu Reservoir and into a section of the Canjilon Ranger District in Carson National Forest we quickly arrived at the turnoff to the left and entered. While there is a campground and picnic facilities on the premises both those and the parking lot were empty and so we had the entire place to ourselves for our hour-long visit.
There was snow all over the shady areas as we took the short (5 minute) walk from the parking area to the Amphitheater itself. This pleased Willow greatly and she had a short freak out session romping in and eating the snow. She’s a weirdo.
The walkway and stairways were smooth concrete and quite icy in many places and I had a bit of trouble keeping my feet under me. Happily, although there was nobody around to witness it I was still thrilled that I didn’t look like a clown slipping and sliding and falling down and possibly hurting myself. What superlative balancing skills I possess 😉
On the other hand, Willow with her clawed 4-paw drive was impatiently waiting for me at the tops of each slippery section heading up and at the bottom of each icy patch on the way back down.
Once we reached the large cavity in the sandstone wall you could easily see the stains of desert varnish trickling down the stone and understand how the legend of this place came to be.
The grisly legend says that in 1861 two families of settlers in the area was captured by a band of Navajo passing through and taken to this spot where they were executed. They were marched to the top of the amphitheater and had their throats slit and the blood ran down the walls leaving the stains you see today. A few years later during the U.S. Army’s forced “Long Walk” deportation of the Navajo people (which was a real thing), it was said that ten Navajo men were taken up to the same spot at the top of the amphitheater and killed in retribution for those earlier killings. Once again blood dripped down the walls and made the stains even more prominent. My morbid understanding of human nature makes me think it is quite possible that sometime in the last 150+ years somebody has taken someone up there and killed them (for whatever one or more of the many, stupid reasons that prompt men to kill one another and because who would notice more “blood stains?”) but officially those killings never happened and those are not blood stains. “Officially.”
The legend also says that the echos you hear are the voices (or anguished screams) of the murdered. Nope, just a repetition of a sound caused by the reflection of sound waves off the nice, well-shaped concave surface of the wall in front of you. Tests show that the stains are actually iron and manganese oxides that have leached out of the ground from above and trickled down the face of the wall over hundreds of years and left their mark. The cold, hard facts are sometimes less “fun” than the cinematic lie. Science, Bitches!
One the slippery walk back to the Tacoma we took a closer look at the striated sandstone cliffs that surround this special spot on all sides. More fascinating geology has been at work over millions of years and we are left with these gorgeous remnants of time and pressure.
This was an interesting stop that didn’t take too much time. A disturbing legend balanced by facts and rational minds. We were lucky we stopped by when we did as we can only imagine what this place is like during months with better weather and the crowds that would bring. Nicely maintained bathroom facilities with light and heat and running water as well as picnic and camping spots. For a quick stop, look and go Willow gives it a 3 (of 4) Paws Up.