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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!