Oasis members meet on wheels and feet!

Elena Gallegos ParkRecently, wheels transported our group to Elena Gallegos Park, near the Sandia Mountains and the Aerial Tramway. The area was aptly described as “the most beautiful backdrop a city ever had,” by Phil Tollefsrud, a dedicated conservationist involved in the establishment of the park.

As our feet propelled our bodies along the smooth paths and rocky terrain, our minds were free to wander. Or better yet, let the Oasis Guide direct our thoughts back in time, to visualize the early beginnings, 1600 CE (Common Era). To the west, the Rio Grande River snaked around to supply water for the Tigua Indians. The river valley and grasslands provided food and shelter for animals and the inhabitants who skirted around volcano cones, roaming the mountains, mesas and plains.

We learned that later, the “Cities of Gold” seekers came, followed by farmers and warriors. The land was divided and allotted. Faithful soldiers and rich people were granted or bought specific parcels. Elena Gallegos's ancestors owned a parcel of acreage from the Spanish Land Grant, but failed to pay taxes. Court orders and battles continued for decades, then centuries. Albert G. Simms acquired a portion in the 1930s and later willed it to an Albuquerque private school. The city eventually acquired the park site.

The rasping call of a jay in the scrub oak snapped my mind back to present time. Colorful ceramic tiles on posts near shaded resting areas were designed by Margy O'Brien. The half- mile Cottonwood Trail leads to a pond and bird blind where Teach the Mind, Touch the Spirit tiles are displayed. This peaceful spot is a pleasant place to recharge. Endorphins released by physical exercise create happy feelings and relieve stress! Soaking up Vitamin D is another benefit from the outdoor experience, as long as sunscreen is used properly. Healthy diet and exercise help reduce brain cell shrinkage experienced in the glow of the “Golden Years.”

Up the slope, to a level space at the beginning of the 4.5-mile Pino Trail, is a rock garden. Billie Walters sculpted The Five Stones of Elena Gallegos to commemorate the life of Tollefsrud. The thirty-eight copper pins, one for each year of the conservationist's life, are in a smoothly chiseled circle on the first prominent boulder. The other four boulders bear abstract symbols and metal motifs of the nature he loved.

If you are in the area, let your wheels and feet take you to the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area/ Albert G. Simms Park, for the mesmerizing views of Albuquerque, the Jemez Mountains and Mt. Taylor, an extinct stratovolcano. It's worth the trip!