We had a dry start to winter here in Santa Fe, but by the time this picture was taken, on December 29, there were four inches of snow most everywhere in town. Just not on this sunny, south-facing arroyo, where Peter Sullivan spent the afternoon with his four boys and their pal, Pippa, inventing a new and somewhat suspect sport: dirt tobogganing. And getting totally filthy in the process.
SAYS PETER: We didn't have any destination. We were just going for a walk on the trails behind the house [where we were staying]. The arroyo is part of the city's green space, and the kids just spontaneously crawled down into it. It's steep enough that it's more of a ravine than an arroyo. At first, they climbed up five feet and slipped down, almost by accident. You could see them thinking, "That was fun!" Then they went up 20 feet and slid down, and kept doing it over and over. The dirt was soft. There was no snow. At one point, Liam scrambled up an outcropping and jumped off. I was like, Oh God.
Arroyo sledding is not a fast sport. You have to roll at first to get momentum. Then you tumble a little and work your way down. There are lots of techniques for the descent: You can slip on your slide or do a slow roll. Liam was doing ninja moves. Who knows what goes through their heads? They see the hill and think, Dirt! I've got to roll down there. The kids did it 20, 30 times. They could have been out there all day.
Kind of like barefoot running, dirt sliding gets back to basics, keeps it simple. There's nothing to lug out or up, and any incline will do. You don't need snow, and you don't need any equipment. Though when it comes to footwear, you definitely want something you can wash out. Even though the dirt was dry, it somehow got gloppy on their shoes. It was like brown sugar. Oh, they were disgusting! The kids got hot doing it and they asked if they could take their jackets off, but I said no because they were already so filthy. That stuff is hard to get out. Liam's shoes were so caked with mud and dirt, he couldn't wear them on the plane home.
You don't even necessarily need an arroyo. Our friend Steve grew up in New Jersey, and there were gravel pits he used to jump off. Where I lived, in Massachusetts, there were quarries. But that's much more dangerous. Will you jump into this quarry of indeterminate depth? It's more of a daredevil thing, for sure. Not for kids.
Our boys first discovered this when we used to live in Santa Fe. We live in St. Paul now, but out West there are arroyos all over the place and there was a really long one close to our house. You could slide down on your butt, and places you could jump off the side. They liked climbing up as much as sliding down. They felt like explorers.
You need to watch out for rocks, and when you're in the desert, pricklies and spikes. A cactus spine in the butt is a sure and painful way to bring the sport of pig-penning to an abrupt end.
Editor's note: This isn't something to do every day because it accelerates erosion; best to choose slopes that aren't vegetated so you don't put plants at risk.