Sunday, January 9, 2021
Inspired by a Zoom meeting with a small group from the Albuquerque Chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino, Kent and I embarked on a small pilgrimage on Sunday afternoon. Although we usually prefer to walk in the natural areas in the bosque (woods) along the banks of the Rio Grande, I thought that an urban pilgrimage would be interesting for a change. The last few times I had been to the tiny Chapel of our Lady of Guadalupe in the Plaza Escondido in Old Town, it had been closed – probably a good thing, as in years past it had deteriorated with 24-hour access. Hoping that it would be open during the day, I chose it for our destination.
Google Maps said the chapel was about 2.2 miles from home. Years ago, I had walked along ditchbanks, crossing I-40 at Rio Grande, and then picked up a railroad track east of Rio Grande, south of the freeway. I could not see the railroad track on the map anymore, but I could see a bike path paralleling I-40 and figured we could access a way south from there.
It had snowed during the night, a bit of a novelty in Albuquerque, and as we set out clouds increased, threatening more snow. We put written prayer intentions in our pockets, snapped a selfie and repeated the morning meditation that begins, “I give thanks for the journey” as we set off on foot toward the recreational path along the Alameda drain. At the intersection with the Campbell ditch, we turned south toward Indian School, taking a slight scenic detour onto a smaller ditch that also took us to Indian School Road. Along the way we passed a cactus garden of prickly pears and chollas covered in snow and walked under a broken tree limb that hung dangerously over the path. At the intersection with Indian school, we found a grocery cart piled with the possessions of a homeless person, but there was no person in sight.
We continued on the Campbell ditch to the south., where we had an unobstructed view of the snow-shrouded Sandia Mountains. We paused here to read my first prayer of thanks for the sustaining earth and a plea for help to protect it. Across the ditch sits a lone house in the midst of empty space. It belongs to the Anaya family, whom I got to know years ago when the children were in 4-H activities and choir with my daughter. The family has been engaged in lawsuits over the property, zoning, and development. I’ve lost track of the status of these cases and have made a note to follow-up.
We saw that a chain link fence now closed off access to large vacant lots ahead of us, and that continuing farther south along the ditch would probably lead us into an area of no-return. So, we cut west sooner than we would have liked, coming out along the north side of Cut-Bow Coffee on Rio Grande Boulevard. To my surprise the coffee shop was open, with one couple waiting outside a for pick-up and another couple sitting at a colorful table along the south side of the building. I was reminded of happening upon groups of pilgrims gathered at outdoor cafes along the Camino in Spain.
Our route grew grim as we crossed through the freeway underpass, which was littered with trash and refuse that indicated a homeless encampment high up under the roadway.
On the other side, at the foot of an art installation celebrating Albuquerque’s 400th anniversary, we found another abandoned homeless grocery cart. Here, we took the bike path toward the east, passing some lovely mosaics (some with sections broken and removed). To our right a wide cut had been made through a chain link fence – an overgrown area behind it strewn with trash. Who knows how it all got there and how many people have camped there? An irrigation ditch lay beyond the fence, so we walked through the opening to reach the ditch, pleasant, with some lovely trees. We crossed a small footbridge and came out onto a street with truly lovely, creatively designed homes. Farther south at a cross street, chain link fences again blocked our way, closing off huge empty tracts of land behind buildings and warehouses.
We stopped again for prayers, and I noticed a nativity scene in a nearby yard. Farther east we reached a street that took us south to the Sawmill Market, where a few people ate at outside tables. This new development opened just as the pandemic was starting, and we have not visited it, but now of course, much is closed. We continued south past the beautifully landscaped Hotel Chaco to reach Mountain Road and the sculptures of the Albuquerque Museum. We took San Felipe south into Old Town, where to my delight, the lovely little chapel in Plaza Escondido was open. I spent more time inside than I usually do, sorry I had not brought something to leave at the altar where flowers, photos, and other offerings had been set. A Bible on the lectern was open to pages from Revelations. I took time to read some of the carved wood inscriptions on the walls. For more information about this chapel and its origins (which I had not known) see the webpage.
The clouds had cleared – there would be no more snow. Across the courtyard I noticed a shop selling “up-cycled” items – “make an offer” the sign said. We passed a “Breaking Bad” shop and continued toward the plaza, thinking that San Felipe de Neri Church might be open. It was not: but, to my great joy I discovered the dead tree with the carving of the Virgin had been placed in front of the church, part of its roots and all. For years the carving in the dying and dead tree had survived in a parking lot behind the church, where only those who knew to look could see it. I had shown this secret treasure, as well as the hidden chapel, to many people many times. On a recent visit I was sad to discover that the tree was gone. Even today, I looked with longing at the pile of dirt left where the tree had once stood. But here it was! The lost had been found, my pilgrimage rewarded. There must be a story about how this carving came to be, and how it was rescued.
Since publishing this I discovered another blog post about the “Madonna in the Tree:”
We headed toward home along Rio Grande rather than backtrack to the small neighborhoods and bike path. I would not choose that return again as it seemed long and noisy, but there was one interesting sight: large Camino 66 signs at the place that had once been Rowland’s Nursery. We again passed the abandoned cart near the historic marker. Now a young woman with a sign, probably asking for a ride, stood at the freeway exit, her belongings spread beside her. She did not look at us, but at her phone. As fellow pedestrians, I suppose we had nothing to offer her.
We were relieved to be back on the ditch again, where I noticed a memorial we had somehow missed on the way south. During our brief pilgrimage, we had seen much to contemplate, both lovely and sad. We don’t need to cross an ocean to walk a pilgrimage.
My phone said we walked 12,953 steps, or 4.8-5.7 miles depending on who is counting.