Hiking Toward Heaven: Church Rock near Gallup

• Kit Carson cave.
• The Navajo town of Gallup, New Mexico.
• El Rancho hotel, famous for the movie stars who stayed there.
• A terrific hike to Church Rock.

Woody, as the head of WOWE,  is a master of organizing hiking trips with WOWE, which stands for Way Out WEst. The one he organized last weekend, to Church Rock near Gallup, New Mexico, was outstanding in the hike itself (a challenging one) and the social interaction between the 15 hikers.

Hikers to Church Rock in April 2018. Click to enlarge, then back-arrow to return to blog writeup.

We stayed at El Rancho, a hotel which has preserved in style and photos a flavor of the old west — movies that were made here and actors/actresses that stayed in the hotel. Even the rooms have names like John Wayne, Jane Fonda, Kirk Douglas. My room was labeled Lorraine Day, but I’ve never heard of her!

The day before the main hike we visited Kit Carson cave. We don’t know how Kit Carson was connected to the cave, but we do know the man was a true legend of the southwest and his life has been documented beautifully in the book called Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. Carson’s home was in Taos for many of his adult years.


Kit Carson cave. You can get an idea of how steep the floor is…..it was difficult to walk up the sandy bottom.






The night before the hike, I found myself singing a song called El Paso by Marty Robbins. It was Karaoke night in the hotel bar. Our singing brought the house down…..although there were only 15 people in the house!


Nick (in the middle) and myself belting out the song El Paso. We never found out who the cowboy was! Photo by Camilla.






At the trailhead, a few miles out of Gallup, we could see Church Rock in the distance. It reminded me of a singular imposing mountain in South Australia called Patawarta. That mountain was made famous by Sir Hans Heysen in one of his paintings called Land of the Oratunga, which was the Aboriginal tribe of that area.


Early view of Church Rock which dominates the landscape.










Church Rock up closer. The primary rock of this photo is sandstone laid down as sediments under the Cretaceous seaway which split North America for maybe 50 million years. The Cretaceous geological period ended with the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

We got close enough to touch the monolith. We had no intention to climb higher, as this seemed impossible.
















A series of water-pockets which are caused from erosion by water running off the sandstone. Erosion is slow, but over thousands of years….. it happens.

On the way back, Church Rock became smaller, but the canyon we were in was vast and impressive. Click on the pic to see the details, then back-arrow to return to blog writeup.

















In the depths of the canyon lay these funny-shaped structures of erosion, called hoodoos or tent-shaped rocks. To me, they look like a battalion of military men standing at attention.

On the way back we encountered this ghostly image. Two dark skeletal eyes staring at the passing hikers. Once again the product of erosion.



























The landscapes are spectacular, but we are reminded that this is what’s called high-desert, and there hasn’t been significant rainfall in the past 6 months. Another 3-year drought like we had 4 years ago? Climate change? Or a mega-drought (a 30-year drought) that drove the ancient Pueblo Indians away from their homes about 700 years ago?

Gallup is a town in the heart of the Navajo Reservation. At Earl’s restaurant, a well-dressed Navajo woman came into the restaurant showing her creations: a triple set of necklace and earrings, which she had made herself. I bought a set for my grand-daughter.

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The Gray Nomad …..eat right and stay active.
He delights not in the strength of the horse; nor does He take pleasure in the legs of a man. The Lord takes pleasure in those who reverently fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy and loving-kindness. Book of Psalms, chapter 147.

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Barbara leachman
Barbara leachman
6 years ago

Good to see you are having fun with hiking friends. Great photos.

6 years ago

Another very interesting blog post with great pictures. Thanks Ian. The geological features are stunning. I miss these features in New Mexico, along with the intriguing Spanish names for towns and places. Wish I could have made the hike with the group.

Ken Mableson
Ken Mableson
6 years ago

Reminded me of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, especially the erosion holes much like the ‘bathtubs’ off the Aroona Valley. Even the pines are like our Aussie native pines.

Lisa Fox
Lisa Fox
6 years ago

Absolutely beautiful. Your blogs are always so interesting.

Mary Ann Pollock
Mary Ann Pollock
6 years ago

Beautiful pictures. I always love your blogs,

Bruce Welton
Bruce Welton
6 years ago

Enjoyable post and pictures about your little adventure, Ian. Cool little trip.

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