Petroglyph National Monument Things to Do

  • Upper canyon from trail
    Upper canyon from trail
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  • Hmmm - something interesting.
    Hmmm - something interesting.
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  • Pretty sure I took this here
    Pretty sure I took this here
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Most Recent Things to Do in Petroglyph National Monument

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    Petroglyphs

    by shdw100 Updated Apr 4, 2011

    Petroglyph National Monument is located on the west side of Albuquerque. It is actually made up of old volcanic rock that made a basalt escarpment that lies along the west side of the city. Five volcanic cones can be seen in the distance which created the escarpment. It is estimated that there are 25,000 images carved by either native peoples that once inhabited the land or the early Spanish settlers. Quite of few of the images are immediately recognizable, such as animals, people, crosses, brands. But many are not, leading the imagination to wonder about what the people were trying to say. It's a facinating place to discover!

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    Upper Canyon Trail

    by goodfish Updated Jan 3, 2010

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    Upper canyon from trail
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    This section of canyon, up the road from the 3 sites at Boca Negra, is considered part of that unit but still just far enough away to be a little bit isolated. The trail here isn't long but it's undeveloped, parts are steep and except for a few picnic pavilions and a parking lot, there's no facilities. This little piece of canyon has some of the oldest petroglyphs in the park and can be much less crowded than the other Boca Negra trails so it's definitely worth it. Ages of the petroglyphs are rough approximates but they can determine older from more recent based on darkening over time and details such as weapons the figures are wielding - a hunter with spear would be older than one with a bow and arrow.

    If you brought your lunch, the two covered pavilions on the rim here are great spots for taking a break and catching some shade.

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    Getting started

    by goodfish Updated Jan 3, 2010

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    Goodfish gets a shot

    The park is spread out over four sections: three canyons with high concentrations of petroglyphs, and a fourth area encompassing the volcanoes that created much of the distinct geology long ago. Your first stop should be the Visitor Center for maps, park brochures and a general overview of what to see and do. The four districts are far enough from each other that you will need to drive between them, and exploration will involve walking over terrain that varies from short, paved paths to steep, undeveloped trails. There's something here for just about any age and ability with the exception of wheelchairs, strollers or anyone unable to walk distances of 1/4 mile or so.

    The Visitor Center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and January 1 but the park itself is open every day of the year from 8:00 - 5:00 (Volcanoes 9:00 - 5:00). The best part? It's free except for a small parking fee of $1.00 weekdays and $2.00 weekends at the Boca Negra Canyon section!

    Petroglyphs is close-in to Albuquerque NM, on the west side, so it's an easy day trip if you're staying in or around the city. Getting there will depend on which way you're coming from so see the park website for downloadable maps and directions. We didn't get to the Volcanoes or Piedras Marcadas units as they're not as conveniently located to the other canyons and we ran out of time.

    A note about the Visitor Center: it was once the private home of the first practicing applied anthropologist in the US. Dr. Sophie Aberle's work centered around studies of the women of the region's indigenous peoples and she sold the house to the Department of the Interior in 1990, the year the park was established.

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    Boca Negra Canyon

    by goodfish Updated Jan 3, 2010

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    Stick figure, Boca Negra

    This is the most popular of the three canyons and has the shortest trails. It also has the fewest petroglyphs relative to the other two sites but there's still plenty of them to see. The canyon is about and mile and 1/2 north of the Visitor Center.
    The trails are:
    Macaw Trail: short and easy at only .1 mile
    Cliff Base Trail: .2 mile with a moderate climb
    Mesa Point Trail: .4 mile steep, uneven climb with an optional 1/4 mile loop to the mesa top

    Some of the trails are partially paved and some involve steps but they're all fun - it should take 1-2 hours to do them all. Boca Negra is the only site with small parking fee, and it has restrooms, water and shaded picnic areas. This one should be done early in the morning to avoid the worst of the crowds.

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    Macaw Trail - Boca Negra Canyon

    by goodfish Updated Jan 3, 2010

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    Macaw petroglyph, Boca Negra
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    Macaw Trail is very short, paved and good for tiny people and anyone unable to walk very far. It's named for a petroglyph of a macaw you'll find here - interesting because these birds aren't native to New Mexico. Archeologists have found remains of macaw feathers at the Chaco Canyon ruins and believe that prehistoric trade routes ran deep into South America. The self-guided path has some interpretive signs along the way and is a small loop that shares its trailhead with Cliff Base Trail.

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    Cliff Base Trail - Boca Negra Canyon

    by goodfish Updated Jan 3, 2010

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    Kachinas, Cliff Base Trail
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    Cliff Base is the 2nd shortest trail in the park, mostly paved and an easy stroll. It's a loop that shares a trailhead with Macaw loop - the two of them make an hourglass configuration - and combined make a nice 20 - 30 minute walk.

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    Mesa Point Trail - Boca Negra Canyon

    by goodfish Updated Jan 3, 2010

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    Kachina or dancer, Mesa Point Trail
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    Mesa Point was, for me, the most fun of the three Boca Negra trails as it winds up the side of a hill - a little more work but far from strenuous. It's about a half-mile loop with a small 1/4 mile optional leg that takes you to a nice vantage point on top of the mesa. Unfortunately, you also get some not-so-welcome views of suburbia.

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    Rinconada Canyon

    by goodfish Written Jan 3, 2010

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    Mask or shield, Rinconada Trail
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    This trail is the longest in the park at 2.5 miles RT but it's relatively flat and other than some deep sand, an easy hike. Because of the 1 and 1/4 miles it extends into the canyon from the road, it's also the most remote - although nothing much at Petroglyph really classifies as that. The parking area (no fee or pass required) and trailhead are about a mile south of Visitor Center and there's a pit toilet but no water or other facilities, and no shade on the trail - come prepared!

    The unpaved route follows the escarpment on the north base of the canyon with some short side paths off the main trail. Petroglyphs here are numerous and easy to spot - be sure to look on all visible sides of the boulders! When you reach the the turnaround, the trail loops back through the middle of the canyon and you can choose to take this way or double back on the same path you just took. The middle route doesn't have any petroglyphs so we did the backtrack option and were able to see quite a number that we'd missed on the way in. This section of the park had our favorite images!

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    A little about petroglyphs

    by goodfish Written Dec 31, 2009

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    Hmmmm.....

    Petroglyphs are common throughout the Southwest and range in age from thousands of years old to just a few hundred. The oldest images at this park are found along Canyon Trail - a more remote and undeveloped piece of the Boca Negra section - and date back some 3000 years. The majority of other images are categorized as Rio Grande - a style dating between 1300 - 1600's, and still others were carved by Spanish shepherds in the late 1600/early 1700's.

    Archeologists have many theories about what they convey but only one thing is fairly certain: they're not "rock art", as sometimes called. There was far too much work involved to peck and carve the images into hard rock with primitive tools to be purely ornamental. They're believed to have had deep significance to the people of that time and to possibly mark historical, celestial and/or ceremonial events and/or record clan presence in a place. Interpretation also goes beyond an image itself as directional placement, depth of incising, proximity to other images and other factors are believed to contribute to its purpose. Tribal descendants understand the spiritual significance behind some of the flora, fauna, geometrics and anthromorphs but no one really knows what those ancient carvers were thinking when they carefully chipped them into stone.

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    Boca Negra Canyon

    by kymbanm Written Jul 11, 2005

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    Cluster of petroglyphs

    Boca Negra Canyon has 3 trailheads and a nice picnic area ... it's also close enough to a major intersection that it is easy to get to and to get 'stuff' afterwards - or to pick up your picnic gear :)

    Macaw Trail, Cliff Base Trail and Mesa Point trails are all short - less than an hour each and along each route are various petroglyphs and display stands which provide information on the 'glyphs, as well as local flora and fauna.

    About 1/4 mile north of Boca Negra is the entrance to the upper Canyon where there are less tended paths/trails and you can still view amazing petroglyphs.

    BTW- feel free to pick up a Boca Negra Trail Guide for 75cents from the visitor center you'll pass on the way to the canyon. It provides information on local critters, the 'glyphs, as well as the trails themselves.

    It's only $1 to park there for the day.

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    Cliff Base Trail

    by kymbanm Written Jul 11, 2005

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    Spirit and Spiral ....

    Cliff Base Trail is the second shortest trailhead at Boca Negra Canyon. If you wander just the main part of the trail, you'll only need about 15-20 minutes to walk this route. If you take the short detours along the way - give yourself about 30-40 minutes.

    The interesting sites along this trail include the contrast between old and new petroglyphs, as well as grafitti left behind from more modern visitors. The patina of the 'glyphs vary depending on the age: the older / authentic petroglyphs have a light brown coloration, while the vandalism is lighter and grey in color. (if you click on the pic to enlarge it, you can see the petroglyphs and an area of vandalism in the center of the star ....)

    There are 2 small cave-like areas on the path where large volcanic boulders sit atop one another in a manner to creat small indentations and much appreciated shade.

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    Macaw Trail

    by kymbanm Written Jul 11, 2005

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    Why it's called the Macaw trail ...

    The macaw trail is the shortest trailhead at Boca Negra Canyon. It's less than a 15 minute walk around a short loop. There are some very nice petroglyphs along this loop - including the macaws .... trade w/ Mexico was important to the local natives who prized macaw feathers for ceremonial purposes.

    Please be smarter than I was ..... DON'T WEAR STUPID SHOES!!!!! I wore birkenstocks, and though the trail is an easy one - the lack of tread led to a slip and slide event that could have been prevented by thinking about the day's activities BEFORE leaving the house :)

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    Images

    by shdw100 Written Jul 30, 2004

    There are a few paths you can take which will give you a good idea of the many types of petroglyphs. Most of the hikes are not very strenuous, and when you reach the top of the escarpment, you have a wonderful view of Albuquerque to the east, with the Sandia mountains in the distance.

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