It’s 4 a.m. when Kimo Benavidez first sets foot atop Tomé Hill and stares in wonder at the sight of three tremendous, towering crosses.

He joins several onlookers scattered across the rocky terrain before placing his walking stick on the ground and kneeling down next to the granite altar.

On this splendid Good Friday morning, Benavidez is just in time to see the moon go down and the sun rise over the magestic Manzano Mountains.

Benavidez has been making the pilgrimage to Tomé Hill for the past 13 years because, he says, he likes to observe people.

“Everyone comes up here to reflect on some troubles in their lives,” the hiker says. “It’s very spiritual. Like removing a huge burden from your chest. You pray for your family, for yourself. It makes me feel better because I’ve accomplished something spiritual today.”

As newcomers arrive, Benavidez finds himself talking to friends and strangers about how the world has changed during the past year, especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York City. He wonders how the families who lost loved ones will be celebrating Easter this year.

“There are two days until Easter for us. What about all those who perished? So many people lost their mothers, sisters, fathers and brothers. It makes me wonder today, what kind of sacrifice can I make?” he mused.

For many Valencia County residents, this is their first time making the trek up Tomé Hill for the religious experience.

Elise Miller, a sophomore at Los Lunas High School, says it was well worth it to join her friend, fellow sophomore Maria Liot, and her family on this clear, spring day.

“It’s beautiful. It’s a really nice tradition. It’s neat how, every year, they keep coming,” Miller said.

“My parents and I do this every year,” Liot added. “We like to come early so we can see the sun rise. This year, it’s not as windy.”

The girls, who ran part of the way from home to the holy hill, sit high above the county, trying to spot their houses among the colorful patchwork scenery.

“The powerful prayers stay with us the whole day,” Liot said.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and there isn’t a cloud in the bright blue sky. A slight breeze blows as an endless trail of walkers make their way up and down the hill.

The people come prepared for the long journey. Carrying hiking sticks, men, women, girls and boys of all ages are dressed in a wide array of T-shirts, shorts, sweatshirts and jeans.

Magdalena Garcia is completing the rewarding journey for the first time in her life, with her daughter, Enrica Garcia, by her side. The Albuquerque resident,who is originally from Belen, suffers from chronic back problems but was determined to make it up the hill.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous. I kept putting it off over the years. Something always came up. It feels really good. I can’t believe I’m here. I’m going to do it every year now,” she said.

“I came up here for a reason. God has been helping me out. This is my way of thanking Him. And, right now, my back doesn’t hurt one bit.”

Loretta Gabaldon is another first-timer to Tomé Hill. “The cross is very beautiful,” she says, gazing out across the mountain. “It’s very inspirational. It makes me feel good. With Lent in mind, this tradition really follows with the passion. It’s a little thing for us to hold onto.”

Gabaldon is quick to add that her sister, Delores Apodoca, made it to the top with their friend, Jerry Sanders, without any problems.

“It’s so neat to see all the people coming and going. It makes us realize this world isn’t as bad as we thought,” she said.

From morning to evening, folks come from far and wide all day long to experience the moving religious display at the peak of Tomé Hill.

On Good Friday this year, sons and daughters are spotted calling home on their cell phones, letting friends and family know they have reached the pinnacle of their trips.

They come carrying crosses on their shoulders. People stop and pause in awe as one man crawls up the mountain on his hands and knees. This happens every year, but this time it’s different. He doesn’t wear any padding or gloves for protection from the sharp rocks and boulders.

Being at the crest of Tomé Hill is like sitting on top of the world. That’s how Kenneth Aragon describes his incredible vision.

Every year, Aragon encourages his family to venture up the hill with him for the sacred ritual. A moving moment occurred this Good Friday when he carried his little granddaughter, 1-year-old Davery, the entire length of the hill.

“I like to reminisce about my future, my past, my family. Sometimes, my kids have things to do and can’t always make it. I’ve never missed it. This tradition means a lot to me. The view, a little peace of mind. It’s about giving thanks to God for what He has brought me.”

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Jennifer Harmon