Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hard Core Urban Hiking

While we were in New Mexico for the past two weeks the Santa Fe newspaper reported that Canyon Road in that city had been named as one of the "Ten Top Streets in America". Neither Mars nor I rate thoroughfares - or too many other things for that matter. We do however agree that this particular venue is one of our favorite places on which to partake in the sport of urban hiking.

We first went to northern New Mexico fifteen years ago for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. And learned that what we thought were abstract distortions of the high desert - in the works of Georgia O'Keefe for example - were instead mostly mildly exaggerated excisions of the blanched landscape or modestly enhanced snippets of the wildly refracted colors that prevail in this starkly lighted part of the country.

And we discovered for the first time the joys of hiking.

New Mexico is the type of place that you just have to get out into in order to experience. But the high altitude and unremitting sun rapidly takes its toll on shade loving, sea-level dwellers. As an antidote we developed a regimen of alternating a day of trekking in the desert or mountains with one of traipsing through the city - sometimes almost as arduous as its country cousin and just about always as satisfying in its own unique way.

But not every metropolitan walk qualifies as an urban hike. To earn this prestigious designation the trek must have certain attributes. Obviously one of these is length of time. Recently I've seen articles on personal fitness that emphasize that the important aspect of a walk is its duration - not necessarily its speed. The time span of the urban walk must be sufficient to invoke at least a minimum feeling of "hike-ie-ness".

More important than the physical aspects however are the aesthetic elements of the journey. Not every long city walk is an urban hike.

Since Mars and I are both avocational photographers our hikes are as much quests for good pictures as for exercise. As we wander, rather than taking in the background in its entirety, we start to dissect our surroundings into photo-bites - trying to look at the environment as if through a camera. Thanks to the wonder of digital visual image recorders capable of holding a seemingly infinite number of photos we snap most of these scenes - deleting later those that don't quite pan out. The outdoors of the desert southwest - particularly when we first saw it and even now having still seen so little of its vast expanses and changeable lighting - makes the cadence of our best hikes more of a ten-steps-stop&point&shoot pace than a steady movement forward.

Finally the architecture and public art of the urban hike setting must be in harmony and synchrony with its distant outdoor surroundings. If you're walking in the desert southwest, wherever you are, it should feel like the desert southwest. A walk through a city that could be anywhere in the world, not matter how long or how pleasant, is definitely not an urban hike.

Encountering wildlife is a bonus.

Here are some photos from our most recent Canyon Road urban hike. Although we did encounter a tarantula in the wilds (our third), our normal domestic wildlife sighting - elk medallions on a luncheon plate - was not available this year. Maybe next time.

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