Tag Archive | petroglyphs

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?

 

 

Arizona – Saguaro National Park

The next day we decided to do something a little different and go over to the Desert Museum. The Desert Museum has outdoor exhibits featuring the local flora and fauna of the desert. Once you get inside the museum, you basically walk right back out into the desert. The cacti are labeled, but obviously the king of the desert here is the Saguaro cactus. If you can’t identify a Saguaro without a label, you have got a big problem. Then there are birds and coyotes and javelinas, which are like a desert pig. They have an exhibit area with a family of javelinas, which makes it easy to see them when ordinarily they would be hiding during the day. The coyote was hiding though, so we didn’t get to see him. We didn’t see any rattlesnakes either, but Jon was ok with that. They did have a collection of Zuni fetishes in the museum store that were reasonably priced, and some Indian baskets and ceramics, which were much more expensive.

After we went to the Desert Museum, we decided to go hiking nearby in the Saguaro National Park. For those of you who haven’t been there, Saguaro National Park has two sides, east and west. They are located on either side of Tucson, and have quite different topography. In sum it up succinctly, Saguaro National Park East has more saguaros. We went there first, and visited the visitor’s center to get a map of the area and some of the trails that we should go on. We found some suitable trails and headed out. We had a great time – the trails were relatively easy for us, but they gave some great close-ups of saguaros, and some really nice views as well. Of course, Jon being the klutz that he is, brushed up against a cactus and got a bunch of spines stuck in his leg. He wasn’t hurt, and honestly, I tried not to laugh. We also found a short hike that takes you up to some ancient petroglyphs.  They are difficult to photograph without a serious zoom lens, but really neat to see.  We watched the sunset, and I got some great photos, and we found that it gets quite cold in Arizona in January after the sun goes down. But it sure is pretty.

Desert Sunset

That evening, we were cruising around looking for a decent place to eat, and we passed by a steakhouse and wine bar called the Elle Wine Country Bistro that from the outside looked pretty pricey. And it was. But, you could sit in the bar and order from the bar menu and the prices were actually pretty decent. And there, I discovered Albariño. Albariño is a Spanish varietal that is gradually increasing in popularity here. It is a light white, with a crisp mineral taste. It has a hint of citrus, but is not overly fruity – very refreshing. I ordered that for myself and when Jon tried it, he kept wanting to steal sips for himself. I had a PoBoy sandwich or something along those lines, and it was absolutely delicious – Jon had the pound of steamed mussels, which were also excellent. Next time we are in the area, I’ll certainly head back there.

The next day, we did Saguaro National Park West. This is the side that has fewer Saguaros, and more in the way of scrub brush. It is still beautiful, but different. In this area we went hiking and enjoyed the warmth – it was the first day I could wear shorts and a tank top and still feel warm. An older gentlemen asked us if we would like him to take our photo, and after he took the photo he gave us a pen and told us that Jesus loves us. I’m not sure what happened to that pen!

We did have a good hike though, and after our hike we headed into downtown Tucson to check out the sights there. We parked and found our way to Old Tucson, which is a little tourist area in a complex of 19th century adobe buildings. And in the middle, there is a courtyard where you can sit and have a beer with your lunch. Again, I had the opportunity to be baked in warmth, a phenomena that is sorely lacking during the northwest winters at home. As a matter of fact, right now I’m really missing that.

We poked around the shops, looking at Navajo ceramic pots, Zuni fetishes (theirs were much more expensive than the ones at the museum), paintings and framed photographs, and we decided to buy a little Navajo pot with a turquoise embellishment and burned horse hair decoration. It’s a neat technique really, where you take a piece of horse hair and you burn it against the pot. It leaves a zig-zaggy line across the surface of the pot. That little pot is sitting on our china buffet at home, reminding me of a great trip.

Then we went to the Tucson Art Museum. They had an exhibit on Ansel Adams photographs that I really wanted to see. His photos are really something – the way he captures the light and shows the contrast between light and dark, all with black and white film. He really had a talent, and was adventurous enough to go to the spot where you could get the great photo that others couldn’t get. They also had a neat exhibit on antique furniture, mostly Asian, but European and American as well. I can imagine all the cool furnishings I could decorate my house with, if only I had that kind of cash.

Outdoor Mural at the Tucson Art Museum

That evening, we went to a concert at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson. Jon found out that The Girls were playing at show with $10 tickets, so he booked them online before we flew out for vacation. The Hotel Congress was once one of the ritzy hotels in Tucson, and it has been restored. It is now a boho place, focusing on the the younger eclectic crowd and booking popular bands. Of course, if you stay there, you might as well go see the band, because you won’t be sleeping upstairs. The show was good, and we enjoyed ourselves. Of course, we were up way past our bedtime, and I was pooped by the time we got home.