SW National Parks Trip: Petroglyph National Monument


One of the sad things about our time in Albuquerque was that it was just too short!  We had spent the afternoon in the Old Town area of Albuquerque the day before, and we had enough time to visit Petroglyph National Monument, located just outside of Albuquerque, before getting on the road again.

Petroglyph National Monument has a long history, but is a relatively new National Monument.  Petroglyph NM stretches 17 miles, or 7,236 acres of land, containing 5 volcanic cones, hundreds of archaeological sites, and over 24,000 petroglyph images.  The land runs in a narrow strip along the West Mesa, a volcanic basalt escarpment that runs along the West side of Albuquerque.

The West Mesa contains 5 volcanoes which erupted about 150,000 years ago and created cinder cone peaks.  The volcanoes are now considered dormant, but they left large pieces of basalt caprock, which when left to the earth’s devices over thousands of years, developed a patina on their surface.  The petroglyphs were created by chipping away this patina to reveal a high contrast, lighter surface underneath the black basalt.

The area that Petroglyph now occupies was another site where the Puebloan people lived.  Their population increased dramatically around 1,300 C.E., presumably because this area is located near the Rio Grande river and other Puebloan sites were experiencing a severe drought.  Many of the petroglyphs are dated from between 1,300 and approximately 1,680, when the Pueblo Revolt occurred.  Researchers estimate that over 1,000 people lived in the Rio Grande Valley.

Part of the land that now makes up Petroglyph National Monument was part of the Atrisco Land Grant, which established the town of Atrisco in 1692.  The land grant was presented to certain colonists by the Spanish crown.  Many of these colonists were shepherds, and probably created some of the newer petroglyphs that depict crosses, animals brands and letters.

Petroglyph was authorized as a National Monument on June 27, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, and receives approximately 114,428 visitors annually.  Petroglyph is unique in that part of the land is owned federally and part is owned by the City of Albuquerque; the two manage the site in partnership.  Sadly though, there is a bit of a bureaucratic scuffle – the City refuses to allow federal park rangers to patrol the sections of land that are owned by the City.  The City made cuts to its parks department due to budget restrictions, and now the monument is suffering a bit because vandals have easy access to get in an damage the petroglyphs.

Admission to the monument is free; parking costs $1, but your National Parks Passport covers that.  We arrived mid-morning, and stopped by the Visitor’s Center to get my stamp and some postcards.  They also have a trail guide that you can purchase – I think it was $1.  There are three main areas that you can visit; the Boca Negra (Black Mouth) Canyon, the Upper Canyon Area, and the Rinconada (Corner) Canyon.  The Rinconada Canyon looked like a really interesting place to visit, but unfortunately the trail collapsed last year.  Work to restore the trail has been partially completed, but there still isn’t an estimate on when the Canyon will reopen.

I think this guy is a Common Side-Blotched Lizard – unless somebody has another idea!

I think this guy is a Common Side-Blotched Lizard – unless somebody has another idea!

We visited the Boca Negra Canyon, which has three short trails ranging from 5 minutes to 30 minutes each.  We did all the trails and saw some really neat petroglyphs, including ones depicting snakes, yucca seed pods and macaws.  The trails are all easy to moderate, but as several signs point out, they are not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers.  I found it amusing that they so clearly marked it when it was so obvious!  There were large rocks in the trail, and it was narrow and uneven.  There was no way you could get a wheelchair or a stroller up there!

This is the trail you would take a wheelchair or a stroller on, right?

This is the trail you would take a wheelchair or a stroller on, right?

A snake petroglyph

A snake petroglyph

The neat thing about the petroglyphs is that there is always something to see – they are dependent on how the light is shining on them, so you notice a petroglyph on the way down the trail that you didn’t see on the way up.  And unlike other petroglyph sites, they are really abundant here, so you see a different one each time you turn your head.  Surprisingly, Boca Negra contains only 4% of the petroglyphs within the Monument!

A petroglyph figure

A petroglyph figure

I don’t know what kind of animal this is – but he’s cute!

I don’t know what kind of animal this is – but he’s cute!

A macaw petroglyph – the Puebloan people had extensive trade networks

A macaw petroglyph – the Puebloan people had extensive trade networks

And one of the best moments of our trip happened as we were heading back down the last trail to the car.  Jon was walking in front of me (as usual) and wasn’t paying attention until I yelled “Jon!  Stop!”  The tone of my voice made him stop immediately.  He hadn’t even noticed that a few feet in front of him was a snake crossing the trail!

The snake wasn’t the least bit bothered by us, so after initially being startled, I was able to get some photos of him while he slithered to his destination in the rocks on the other side.  After taking a close look at the photos, I think he was a Gopher Snake.  I love seeing wildlife, so I was super excited!

Our friend – the Gopher Snake!

Our friend – the Gopher Snake!

A close up of the Gopher Snake’s head

A close up of the Gopher Snake’s head

We spent a little more than an hour here, before getting on the road for the day’s driving; our next stop was Petrified Forest National Park!

Have you been to Petroglyph National Monument?  Which was your favorite petroglyph?  And if you are knowledgeable about snakes, can you confirm that the one we saw was a Gopher Snake?

 

 

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