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Backpacker Magazine – May 2011

Rip & Go: Alamo to Capulin Canyon - Bandelier National Monument, NM

Climb across mesas and up canyon walls to a cave full of pictographs.

by: MacKenzie Ryan

Pictographs in Capulin Canyon (Craig Allen)
Pictographs in Capulin Canyon (Craig Allen)

Download a printable version of this entire trip right here.
Key Skill: Removing Cactus Spines
It only takes a careless second to feel the business end of a cactus—and a kneejerk response to make it worse. Prickly pear, cane cholla, and claret cup (all found on this hike) have microscopic spines, called glochids, that face backward like barbs on a fishhook. Use this one-two technique to remove the spines you can see, and those you can’t.

Spines Use tweezers or your multitool’s pliers—never your hands, lest you introduce more glochids—to pluck the needles straight out.

Glochids Affix a piece of duct tape to the puncture area (make sure your skin isn’t sweaty or sticking power will be compromised). Wait three minutes for the glue to set to the glochids, then peel it off.

Warning If you’re unlucky enough to get one of these in your eye, cover it in gauze and see a doctor.

See This: Painted Cave

Fifty feet above the foot trail through Capulin Canyon, the Ancestral Puebloans made red markings using a mineral rich with iron across the mouth of a khaki-colored cave. Pictographs that range from 100 to 700 years old depict wolves, elk, and even a church with a tall steeple (evidence of contact with the Spanish). Speculate at will—the site remains an active shrine to the people of the Cochiti Pueblo, who don’t reveal ancestral secrets—but do not enter: The park forbids it.

Locals Know
Of the four varieties of artemisia (or sage) that grow in and around Bandelier, sagebrush (Artemisia tridentada) is by far the most prevalent. Native American and Hispanic people in northern New Mexico traditionally have used sagebrush’s gray-green leafy parts to make a tea that treats the common cold. Your body can’t break down the leaves’ volatile oils, explains Robert Hawley, owner of Taos Herb Company. Instead, you’ll excrete them through sweating and expel them through your lungs’ capillary blood vessels. The result? What Hawley calls a “functional” cough that soothes your lungs, rather than a dry cough that can give you bronchitis.

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