Between 400 to 700 years ago, North American and Spanish settlers who called the Rio Grande Valley home, in and near what is now Albuquerque, created over 24,000 petroglyphs on volcanic rocks. The site of these images, Petroglyph National Monument, was established as one of the largest petroglyph concentrations in North America in 1990.
What is a petroglyph?
Petroglyphs are rock carvings made by inscribing images into the rocks, exposing the lighter-colored rock underneath. According to the National Park Service, 90% of the petroglyphs located in Petroglyph National Monument were created by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians, who would have used another stone or some type of chisel to pick or carve the images into the basalt boulders.
Getting to Petroglyph National Monument
If you’re in Albuquerque and in the mood for a hike, Petroglyph National Monument is easily accessible with several trail options that wind through the New Mexico desert next to the thousands of petroglyphs.
The best place to start is the Petroglyph National Monument Visitors Center on the west side of Albuquerque near Unser and Western Trail. There is a warning on the National Parks website that advises that when entering “Petroglyph National Monument” into a GPS, you may end up in a neighborhood or at the administrative office which is not designed for visitors. They are correct – go to the Petroglyph National Monument website before you head to the park where you’ll find a map, coordinates, and directions to the visitor center.
The rangers and staff at the visitor’s center have park information, answer any questions you may have, and provide trail suggestions based on the hike length and difficulty you desire.
Before you begin your hike amongst the petroglyphs, keep in mind…
- Do not touch the petroglyphs. Hand oils can damage them and cause deterioration.
- Respect the culture of the native peoples that called this area home. Don’t remove or vandalize anything.
- Stay on hiking trails to prevent erosion.
- Take water and sunscreen.
- Leave the area and take shelter in your vehicle if thunderstorms move in during your hike.
- You are in the desert, home of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Watch where you step and report any snakes spotted to park rangers.
Petroglyph National Monument: Boca Negra Canyon
While it only contains about 5% of the park’s petroglyphs, the Boca Negra Canyon section of the park is the most visited.
Located about 2 miles from the visitor’s center, Boca Negra Canyon has three paved trails.
The shortest trail, The Macaw, is an easy 5-minute stroll that provides easy access for viewing the Macaw petroglyph.
The Cliff Base Trail is slightly longer at .2 miles and takes about 15 minutes as it winds through the boulders with views of numerous petroglyphs. Both the Macaw and the Cliff Base Trail begin from the same point near parking, restroom, and picnic facilities.
The third trail at Boca Negra Canyon is Mesa Point Trail which requires more climbing as it rises to reach the mesa top, providing a panoramic view of the canyon. The trail takes about 30 minutes roundtrip and is the most difficult of the three.
Petroglyph National Monument: Piedras Marcadas Canyon
Piedras Marcadas Canyon is located at the northernmost section of Petroglyph National Monument and is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs.
While the trail begins near a parking lot in a neighborhood, the trail quickly winds away from the homes. At just under 2 miles roundtrip, the flat, sandy trail is an easy hike along the boulders with six markers along the way identifying petroglyph areas.
Other Petroglyph National Monument areas
In addition to Boca Negra Canyon and Piedras Marcadas Canyon, Petroglyph National Monument has additional areas for hiking and viewing petroglyphs.
Rinconada Canyon is a secluded 2.2-mile roundtrip walk with no service or water and The Volcanoes Day Use Area offers moderately strenuous hiking near the cinder cones without petroglyph viewing.
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