by Keith Kofford
Seen from today’s NM 333 (old Route 66), the “Rock Stars” were landmarks along the highway from Albuquerque to Tijeras. The subjects of different postcard versions over the decades, tourists loved to stop and have their pictures taken in front of, next to, or on top of, these natural features. Reportedly, the rocks were popular picnic areas although I personally don’t see how that was possible. The ground was just too, well, rocky (ouch!).
At the mouth of Tijeras Canyon is a boulder-strewn area called The City of Rocks. This is not to be confused with Grant County’s City of Rocks that’s a state park and also has boulders strewn about. Although you would be hard-pressed to find Tijeras Canyon’s rock city referenced on any map, it was a popular place name way back when. And because the area is so unique with its rounded rocks and boulders, this is Rock Star #1.
The City and its suburbs are easily seen from Interstate 40 as well as Rt. 66, and actually begin just a fraction of a mile east of Tramway Blvd.
Now hard to see today, the formation was pretty much destroyed years ago. The popular stories are that highway crews destroyed it with dynamite, or jacks, or bulldozers in the 1970s because of Interstate 40 construction. But evidentially, it was toppled before then. In an opinion letter to an Albuquerque newspaper dated Aug. 21, 1966, the writer laments the fact that Elephant Rock has been eradicated. So that tells us it was destroyed in 1966 or earlier. However it was tumbled off its pedestal, it really didn’t need to be. Anyone can see that it was never in the way of construction of I-40 because that was built to the north of both the rock and this part of Rt. 66.
Just east of the Town N Country Feed Store and T&C Arena, on the south side of Old 66, you can still see the unmoved base with the elephant head boulder lying next to it.
Finally, on Your Hit Parade of Rock Stars, comes #3. This is a real curiosity called “Glacial Boulder” that was also landmark in the canyon. It never achieved the popularity of Elephant Rock and is, in truth, not too remarkable-looking. It looks kind of like a squished loaf of bread. Railroaders may say its north side looks like the front of a 1930s art deco streamlined locomotive.
Alas, the boulder is not glacial. In fact, nothing in the canyon is glacial. For those of a scientific bent, the NM Geological Society says the boulders are “residual corestone features formed by weathering and erosion of jointed blocks of granite.” Translated for us geologically-challenged, it means eroded granite rocks. Okay, then why was it called a glacial boulder? Well, in the old days, locals and (warning: “P-word” Alert) prevaricating penny postcard peddlers persistently paired pictures of prominent geological features with perdition and prehistory. That’s why you’ll find “Devil’s This” or “Dinosaur That” around the country. It was probably done out of ignorance, attempts to sound exotic, or an attitude of: “Well, we gotta name it something.”
Finding this boulder is a mystery. Mike Smith said in his book, Towns of the Sandia Mountains, that unlike Elephant Rock, the boulder is undamaged and still in place. Having been back and forth on I-40 and Rt. 66 numerous times and unable to match any boulders with the postcard, I have rounded up what I think is a likely suspect. It has been altered with a fence installation and its north face has drill holes meaning that rock has been removed. These alterations make a picture match impossible. If this isn’t the correct boulder then the one in the postcard undoubtedly has been destroyed—probably when the double lanes of Rt. 66 were constructed.
The suspect glacial boulder can be seen on the south side of 66, about 1.4-miles from Elephant Rock.
Well, there you have it: three natural rock features in Tijeras Canyon that carried much weight know, the pun sucks) with locals and tourists for several decades—and all within easy driving distance of Albuquerque.
Oh, if anyone ever finds that elusive Glacial Boulder, take a photo and please let me know!
(Author’s note: The mileages listed are starting from the intersection of Four Hills Road and NM 333 (old Route 66). If you wish to start at Tramway, then add 0 .1-mile to distances. City of Rocks-0.5-mile, Elephant Rock-1.2 miles, Glacial Boulder-2.6 miles).
1. & 2. The City Of Rocks taken from slightly different angles facing west. Linen and real photo postcards circa 1940s.
3. Elephant Rock with Rt. 66 heading east. Linen postcard from 1945. This vintage photograph of Elephant Rock, circa 1920s or 30s, looking east. Dirt highway is either the earliest Route 66, or the even earlier state highway 6. Courtesy Rick Holben.
4. Early 1950s linen postcard of the “infamous” Glacial Boulder. View is southeast.
5 &6. Present-day views facing east of the suspected Glacial Boulder.