Planning a Visit to Petroglyph National Monument
A stop on a recent vacation included the Petroglyph National Monument. It stretches seventeen miles along Albuquerque, New Mexico’s West Mesa. It’s on a volcanic basalt escarpment that dominates the city’s western horizon. Authorized June 27, 1990, the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque together manage the 7,236 acre monument.
Petroglyph National Monument features a variety of ancient petroglyphs carved into volcanic rocks by the Ancestral Pueblo people and other indigenous cultures.
You will want to check the park’s website for the latest information on hours of operation, fees, and any closures or restrictions because of COVID-19.
Decide which of the park’s three main areas you would like to visit: Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, or Piedras Marcadas Canyon. Each area has its own unique petroglyphs and hiking trails. I describe each later.
Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours at the park to allow enough time to explore the trails and view the petroglyphs. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water, sunscreen, and a hat. Some of the park’s trails are without pavement and are rocky, so if you have mobility issues, be sure to check trail condition in advance.
Please understand that the Petroglyph National Monument is a protected area. Be sure to stay on designated trails and do not touch or disturb any of the petroglyphs.
What is a petroglyph?
Before the visit, I couldn’t define a petroglyph. Perchance, like me, you can’t either.
A petroglyph is a type of rock art that is created by carving or engraving images or designs into a rock surface. Natural rock outcroppings, boulders, or cliffs makeup their canvass. Techniques used include a variety of techniques, such as pecking, grinding, or incising. The artform is in areas where rocks have soft surfaces. They’re carved on rocks, such as basalt, sandstone, or granite.
Petroglyphs can depict a wide variety of subjects, including humans, animals, symbols, and abstract designs. Simple or complex describe the patterns. Size ranges from small individual figures to large panel compositions.
Petroglyphs are often associated with prehistoric cultures. They provide an important source of information about the beliefs, customs, and daily life of ancient peoples.
Petroglyphs versus Pictographs
Petroglyphs differ from pictographs. Painting or drawing on rock surfaces creates pictographs. They used natural pigments such as ochre or charcoal as the paint.
Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, or Piedras Marcadas Canyon
Boca Negra Canyon
Boca Negra Canyon is one of the three main areas of the Petroglyph National Monument. We know it for its large concentration of ancient petroglyphs. The canyon is home to over one-hundred petroglyph panels, which feature a wide variety of designs and images, including animals, humans, and abstract symbols.
Boca Negra Canyon trails are an easy, self-guided hike, with about a one mile round trip. The trails are well-maintained and provide visitors with an opportunity to examine the petroglyphs up close. The trail features interpretive signs that provide information about the history and meaning of the petroglyphs.
One of the salient features of the Boca Negra Canyon petroglyphs is the “Great Kiva,” which is a circular, subterranean chamber that was used for religious and ceremonial purposes. The Ancestral Pueblo people, who were the original inhabitants of the area, might have built the Great Kiva. We believe the Ancestral Pueblo people created the petroglyphs in the canyon. Other indigenous cultures who lived in the area created additional petroglyphs.
Boca Negra Canyon is home to the Boca Negra Dam, a historic structure built in the early 20th century to provide water for the nearby community. The Dam trail offers a panoramic view of the Petroglyph National Monument and the city of Albuquerque.
Boca Negra Canyon offers visitors an opportunity to witness a wide variety of ancient petroglyphs and learn about the history and culture of the area through interpretive signs, and also a short hike with a panoramic view of the Petroglyph National Monument.
Rinconada Canyon is another area of the Petroglyph National Monument and home to over six-hundred and fifty petroglyphs.
Visitors can look at the petroglyphs up close on the self-guided Rinconada Canyon trails. The trails are well-maintained and range from easy to moderate in difficulty. They feature interpretive signs that provide information about the history and meaning of the petroglyphs.
One of the unique features of the Rinconada Canyon petroglyphs is the “Star Circles,” which are a group of petroglyphs that depict a series of concentric circles with radiating lines. Many people believe these petroglyphs to be astronomical and used as a calendar or to track the seasons.
The Rinconada Canyon also offers a trail that leads to a viewpoint where visitors can examine the entire canyon and the surrounding landscape.
Rinconada Canyon has a large concentration of petroglyphs, including unique “Star Circles” and it offers visitors an opportunity to observe a wide variety of ancient petroglyphs and learn about the history and culture of the area through interpretive signs and also a moderate hike with a viewpoint.
Piedras Marcadas Canyon
Piedras Marcadas Canyon is one of the main areas of the Petroglyph National Monument. Known for its concentration of ancient petroglyphs, the canyon is home to over one-hundred and fifty petroglyphs.
The Piedras Marcadas Canyon trails are self-guided and offer visitors an opportunity to see the petroglyphs up close. The trails are well-maintained and range from easy to moderate in difficulty, and feature interpretive signs that provide information about the history and meaning of the petroglyphs.
One of the unique features of the Piedras Marcadas Canyon petroglyphs is the “Thunderbirds,” which are a group of petroglyphs that depict a large bird-like creature with a long tail and outspread wings. These petroglyphs were associated with the sky, thunder, and lightning, and may used in religious or ceremonial contexts.
Piedras Marcadas Canyon also offers a hiking trail that leads to a viewpoint where visitors can see the entire canyon and the surrounding landscape, including the Sandia Mountains.
We know Piedras Marcadas Canyon for its unique “Thunderbirds” petroglyphs and it offers visitors an opportunity to see a wide variety of ancient petroglyphs and learn about the history and culture of the area through interpretive signs and also a moderate hike with a viewpoint.
Petroglyph National Monument features a variety of ancient petroglyphs carved into volcanic rocks by the Ancestral Pueblo people and other indigenous cultures. Hiking opportunities abound. I couldn’t help but think the Pueblo people may have seven encountered a few unidentified flying objects from the rock carving.
Photo Source: All photos were taken by the author unless noted in the photo caption.
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