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Tsi-p’in-owinge’ pueblo ruins

This was the last SAR field trip for the season, and it ended in style with a day trip to Tsi-p’in-owinge’. Tsi-p’in-owinge’ (usually pronounced “Sipping” and meaning “Village at Flaking Stone Mountain”) is a ruin located on a mesa top at 7,400’, within the Santa Fe National Forest. It’s a beautiful location, with views of the Abiquiu Reservoir and Cerro Pedernal (“Flint Mountain”).

It was the ancestral home of the Tewa pueblos which today consist of Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara, and Tesuque. It was built around 1275 AD and abandoned by 1450 AD. At its peak, an estimated 1,000 people lived there.

After stopping in Abiquiu at Bode’s for breakfast burritos, we hooked up with Mike Bremer and Anne Baldwin of the USFS who would be our guides for this adventure. From there it was a long, bumpy ride to the unmarked trail head. We followed Mike off on a faint trail to the north, which reached the edge of the mesa we were parked on. There, off in the distance and well below us, we could see the ruins of Tsi-p’in-owinge’.

A view of Tsi-p’in-owinge’ as we descend from the trail head. It’s the large tan area in the center of the far mesa. That’s Abiquiu reservoir in the background and Ghost Ranch is just off to the right of it.

Mike Bremer pointing out Tsi-p’in-owinge’ on the ridge just across from us.

We quickly descended (descent is always quick, right?) and made our way along a connecting ridge to the mesa the ruins were on. As we approached the mesa, there was a large wall blocking the approach except for a narrow opening. This is thought to be the work of shepherds since the abandonment of the pueblo as a means to keep their grazing flocks trapped on the mesa top.

This massive wall at the access to the mesa top was once thought to be a defensive wall of the pueblo. Now it’s considered to be of more recent vintage, perhaps built by Spanish shepherds to keep their flocks on the mesa top. Still old though.

Forest Service archaeologist Anne Baldwin explains the layout of Tsi-p’in-owinge’ to our group at the edge of the site. We came from that mesa above and behind her.

As we entered the ruins, the amount of stone work was impressive. Most of the structure was built of stone blocks carved from the mesa top itself. The mesa is primarily a material called tuff, which ironically is sort of a soft stone. If you beat it with a harder stone, it will yield. But it’s a lot of work.

Nowhere was this more apparent then when looking at some of the 17 kivas on the site. Some were carved down into the bedrock of the mesa itself. Crazy, crazy people. The Great Kiva was sort of a combination, half into the bedrock and half with a built up wall.

A kiva chiseled out of the volcanic tuff that forms the mesa top. This would be an impressive feat if done with steel hammers and drills, but these guys just had various flavors of rock. And a whole lotta time.

This is a detail shot of the ventilator in one of the smaller tuff kivas at Tsi-p’in-owinge’. When the kiva was operational, fresh outside air was drawn down the shaft and into the kiva.

The Great Kiva of Tsi-p’in-owinge’ with Cerro Pedernal in the background. The lower part of the kiva has been chipped out of the tuff.

Another view of the Great Kiva with SAR members as handy references of scale.

Something I found amazing was the amount of stone flakes (AKA “lithics”)scattered all over the landscape. Perhaps this isn’t surprising as the nearby Cerro Pedernal is a very rich source of high quality Chert. This was used by the inhabitants for the construction of all sorts of tools. The modern equivalent would be living next door to a Snap-on tool store….but everything was free to you. You’d probably end up with a pretty nice collection.

This picture gives an idea of how far the roomblock mounds extend at Tsi-p’in-owinge’.

Yet more roomblocks of Tsi-p’in-owinge’.

After leaving the site and before we started our uphill slog, we came upon a Tewa shrine. It was a large circle of piled stones, nothing especially fancy. But it’s still occasionally used today by members of the various Tewa pueblos.

A Tewa shrine we came across on our hike back out of Tsi-p’in-owinge’. This shrine is still used today by members of the Tewa pueblos.

Jeri is happy since she’s just about completed the stinkin’ 400′ climb to get out of Tsi-p’in-owinge’.

This site is open to the public for visitation, but you need a permit. It’s free and can be obtained from the Coyote Ranger Station of the Santa Fe National Forest (505) 638-5526. They will even give you a free guide that not only shows you how to get to the trailhead (you WILL need this!), but highlights areas of the ruins themselves. The drive to the trailhead is a rough dirt road and takes about an hour and fifteen minutes from leaving pavement. 4wd isn’t required but high clearance is. It’s a rough dirt road, impassable in bad weather. The hike doesn’t seem bad, at only about 3 miles, but the 400’ elevation change is such that it’s all uphill on the way out. Blech!