Hiking at Petroglyph National Monument

November 7, 2021

Gunther, Nancy, and Ken went for a very interesting hike on Sunday, Nov. 7, at Petroglyph National Monument on the west side of Albuquerque. It’s about six or seven miles away from the campground at which we’re staying, and a couple of the trails there allow dogs. The Rinconada Canyon trail, about two and half miles long, has several hundred of images like this carved into the rocks. Not all of them are visible from the trail, and some disappear and reappear depending on the angle of the sun.

The canyon and surrounding area are covered with fairly large basaltic rocks from volcanic eruptions that occurred a couple hundred thousand years ago. The rocks contain a lot of metallic minerals such as iron and manganese, and, when exposed to water and sun over the millennia, the rocks turn nearly black. The people who lived in this region used tools to carve abstract designs as well as depictions of animals and people into the basalt. Although some of the petroglyphs in the monument are 3,000 years old, most date from between A.D. 1300 and A.D. 1700. The people who carved them didn’t live in what is now the monument; they lived closer to the Rio Grande river that flows through present-day Albuquerque, five or six miles away.

This is obviously a bird of some kind. It’s about a foot wide.

This one is pretty wild. Although it looks like a piece of modern art, a sign on the trail stated that it’s been dated to have been carved around the same time as the other petroglyphs. It really makes one wonder what was going on in the carver’s mind. It’s maybe 18 inches tall.
This rock has what appears to be a carving of a mule deer on the bottom, and some other kind of quadruped in the top left.
Unless you’re next to the Rio Grande, central New Mexico is definitely a desert environment. Although it was a very pretty day in early November, we both decided we wouldn’t have wanted to be on the trail in July or August. I don’t know nearly enough about cacti to be able to say what this is, but we knew enough to stay well away from it.

It was a very pleasant hike, and Nancy and I learned a lot. Standing on the sandy trail, it was pretty easy to picture the people using stone tools to carve the designs and wonder what their day-to-day lives were like. The petroglyphs are an extraordinarily significant cultural resource to native and Mexican cultures, and the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque are making great efforts to preserve the area and the petroglyphs. The NPS website, recognizing the cultural sensitivities involved with the carvings, doesn’t include photographs representing the human figure on its online pages.

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