If you happen to be in New Mexico on a Good Friday, you might want to consider joining the thousands of people who make the pilgrimage to the top of Tome Hill. I have made the walk several times since moving to New Mexico, and if you make it, I think you will find it a nice way to spend the morning and a chance to experience something different.
Tome Hill happens to be a prominent high point on the east side of the Rio Grande less than 30 miles south of Albuquerque. Like any high point, it has attracted the attention of people since people have been in the area.
Although the annual Good Friday pilgrimage reflects the area’s Hispanic Catholic roots, the pilgrimage is open to anyone. And when you make it, you will see that it attracts people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Some people are quite religious and will be carrying crosses or saying prayers. But most people seem to be out for a good time and for a chance to meet with friends. There is nothing exclusionary about the experience.
As you drive towards Tome Hill you’ll start seeing people, some even pushing a baby carriage, walking along the highway about 15 or 20 miles from the hill. As you get closer, you’ll see more and more walkers. Along the way, you’ll notice that many people have set up stands, some out the back of their pickup truck, to hand out water and pieces of fruit to the walkers. As you get closer to Tome Hill it will start feeling like a summer festival with extra security personnel directing traffic, ice cream trucks, portable toilets, and walkers converging from several directions to the path to the top of the hill.
As you walk up the hill, you may want to diverge from the trail and check out some of the rock faces on the side of the hill. You have a very good chance of finding prehistoric rock art. People have been walking to the top of the hill and leaving their mark long before there were walkers on Good Friday.
As you continue up the hill, you’ll see shrines and other places where people have left offerings, crosses, rosaries, and other articles. When you reach the top of the hill, you will find three large crosses and a crowded makeshift altar full of votive candles and more rosaries and crosses.
While on top, you might want to look around. Tome Hill sits right on the dividing line between irrigated farm lands along the river and the desert shrubs and grassland above the river. If you look to the west, you’ll see how narrow the Rio Grande valley is and how it provides a green oasis in the middle of the dry lands of New Mexico.
As you look around, you might notice the network of irrigation ditches. They were originally built several hundred years ago and have been modified and upgraded over time. They are the reason that there are large cottonwood trees and green land away from the river. Without them, the desert shrubs and grasses would reach almost to the edge of the river.
Today the land is a mixture of small farms and houses. This is near the edge of the Albuquerque area. The farms today predominantly grow alfalfa. A hundred years ago, the crops would have been different. It will be interesting to see how this will evolve in the future.
As you walk down the hill, you can see that this is more than a walk to a top of a hill. It is also a chance to experience a different culture and a chance to see the many layers that make up our world.
Some of the prehistoric rock art you can find if you poke around
Another example of rock art; there is way more to find
Approaching the top. This picture was taken a few days after the annual pilgrimage.
A closeup of the altar beneath the crosses
Some of the crosses that were left as offerings at the top of the hill.
The view from the top looking towards the Rio Grande to the west.
The view from the top looking south. Notice the difference between the irrigated and non-irrigated land.
One of the ditches that provides the greenery.