Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument Albuquerque

Diverse Beauty of the Southwest

The southwest of the US is one of our favorite parts of the country.  There’s something about the landscape that attracts us. On the surface it seems barren and desolate. On closer inspection though, these mountains and mesas, deserts and plateaus are full of life. These are the homes of bighorn sheep, coyotes, jackrabbits and bobcats. The region is chock-full of national parks and monuments: Zion and Arches in southern Utah, the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest in Arizona, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and Mesa Verde in Colorado. The list goes on. We’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to explore much of this region, though we’ve done it in small spurts. It was during a few days off from work that we were able to visit Petroglyph National Monument, on the west side of Albuquerque.

Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument

New Mexico is home to one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in North America. A petroglyph is an image carved into rock. This image is created either by chipping away at an outer layer of rock to expose material below, or by actually digging in and making an indention in the stone itself. Petroglyph National Monument covers about 17 miles, and is a popular spot for hiking, nature viewing, and just plain wandering. We chose a hike through Rinconada Canyon, about 2.5 miles through the sand dunes, with volcanic rock rising high on either side. The canyon is part of the Santa Fe Formation, thought to be up to 25,000 feet thick in some parts. Pueblo and other tribes lived in adobe villages along the Rio Grande and used this area for hunting, gathering, farming, and cultural and religious activities. The petroglyphs are mostly human-like and animal figures, spirals and geometric designs left by the Pueblo Indians, along with some crosses and animal brand markings left later by Spanish explorers and others who settled here later. There is much less graffiti here than among the petroglyphs we saw at Hueco Tanks in El Paso, but a number of the drawings have been damaged by bullet holes. We even found some shell casings on top of a volcanic hill nearby.

Most of the petroglyphs were made by “pecking.” This process involves striking the basalt boulders with a hammerstone and removing the darker layer on top, revealing the lighter stone underneath. A later technique using two stones enabled the artists to create more detail. We love to think about how the petroglyphs show haw man interacts with nature and his environment. People want to leave their mark! In the case of Petroglyph National Monument and other spaces like it, the spiritual and cultural link between the land and those who left their mark on it is fascinating. We may never know the true meanings of most of the petroglyphs, but it’s fun to imagine what the carvers were thinking as they created these rock drawings. It is said that the placement of the petroglyphs is not random or made by convenience. If you look at the orientation of the drawing and the marking surrounding it, even the shapes of the surrounding rocks and other landscape features, it all ties in, whether we understand it or not. There are said to be over 20,000 petroglyphs within the area of the monument. The western part of the monument is made up of a dormant chain of volcanoes: Butte, Bond Vulcan, Black, and JA.


About the author

Traveling like turtles, slowly and deliberately, Tamara and Donny wander together with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust.