Petroglyph National Monument: Rocks, Sun, and Drawings from the Past

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PETROGYLPH NATIONAL MONUMENT: ROCKS, SUN, AND DRAWINGS FROM THE PAST
By Eva Eldridge

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Focusing on Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this Big Blend Radio interview was part of a live broadcast that aired on March 31, 2021, at Bottger Mansion in Old Town, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Featured guests include Nancy Hendricks – Superintendent of Petroglyph National Monument, and Brenna Moore – Director Of Communications And Public Relations at Visit Albuquerque. Listen here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Spreaker, PodBean, or SoundCloud.


Petroglyphs, pictures chipped into rocks, are located all over the United States. Alaska, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, and New Mexico are some of the states that have petroglyph sites. The oldest of the picture rocks is believed to be in Nevada and has been dated to around 11,000 years old or older. Many of the petroglyphs, like those in New Mexico, range from 500 to 1,100 years old. They are images we can see today from people that lived and flourished in the area in past centuries.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, west of the Rio Grande, lies an extensive library of more than 25,000 petroglyphs carved in the basalt escarpment. They cover thousands of acres of the lava fields that make up West Mesa.

As you wind through neighborhoods and subdivisions of western Albuquerque you would never know what lies in the bluff as you approach the Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center. I highly recommend stopping by the Visitor Center because it is a great source of information about the geology and history of the monument. There are no petroglyphs at the visitor center’s location so you will need to drive, hike, or bike to the trailheads to view the remarkable images.

This monument is a fairly recent addition to the Nation Park system. It became a National Monument on June 27, 1990, and is managed by both the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque. In the 1960s, when development started encroaching on the area, activists worked with the city to purchase tracts of land to be preserved as open space areas. Over time, more acres were added including the old adobe pueblo of Piedras Marcadas. Three areas are included in the National Monument: Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon, and Piedras Marcadas Canyon.


Boca Negra Canyon is near the Visitor Center. The trails are short, steep, and narrow, but worth the effort. It’s magical finding your first petroglyph. Imagine a person squatting before the dark rock chipping away at the desert varnish to create an image of a bird. Is it a hawk, or a raven? Why would someone work as hard as they did to scratch the image into the rock? Is it a message for someone traveling through to another pueblo or a person’s artistic outlet?

Piedras Marcadas Canyon trail is between .75 miles and 1.02 miles depending on if you walk the loops. It is a dirt trail, and it takes a bit before you start seeing petroglyphs. Once they start, they range along the entire path. There are hundreds of pictures nestled in the tumble of rocks. Some images are clearly recognizable, and others are a guessing game. You can clearly see people, snakes, a dog or coyote, birds, hands, and many more images. Along with the old drawings are evidence of more modern additions like people’s initials, bullet holes, and crosses. Once you see the hundreds of old petroglyphs you can pick out the more modern additions.

The damage from guns and urban expansion is one of the reasons this historic area needed to be protected. Culturally we need to preserve the work of the past. These images are connected to the native people that still live in the area, and should not be destroyed or disrespected. Between the National Park Service, the City of Albuquerque, and the neighborhoods, people are keeping an eye on the area to make sure we maintain this connection with the past.

Other things to investigate at Petroglyphs National Monument are the history of the land acquisitions including the Atrisco Land Grant, the Spanish explorers, the Rio Grande Valley, the people that settled and ranched there, and the geology including the volcanic activity that is so much a part of the landscape.

If you are in Albuquerque and have a little extra time, it is well worth the drive through the neighborhoods of western Albuquerque. During your visit, make sure you wear sturdy shoes, bring a hat, and lots of water. It’s hot in the sun even in the winter. There are very few restrooms and no water at these locations. Be safe and enjoy a truly unique area.

For more information visit the National Park Service website at:  https://www.nps.gov/petr/index.htm.

Eva Eldridge is a contributing writer for Big Blend Magazines. Along with travel and lifestyle articles, she also writes fiction and poetry. Visit her at www.EvaEldridge.com

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State Travel Guide Visit Link Here
Date Park Established June 27, 1990
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About the Author:

Eva Eldridge is a contributing writer for Big Blend Magazines. Along with travel and lifestyle articles, she also writes fiction and poetry.

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