Albuquerque is a modern city, but there are reminders nearby that man was around long before the strip malls and freeways were built. Petroglyph National Monument protects some of those treasures. It’s located on the northwest side of the city, forming an abrupt end to those symptoms of urban sprawl. Inside the protected land, you’ll find countless examples of the artwork created by some of this planet’s earliest creative thinkers.
There are several places to access Petroglyph National Monument. One of the most popular, and most rewarding, is Rinconada Canyon.
The trailhead for the path into Rinconada Canyon is located along Unser Boulevard. Take Exit 154 off I-40, head north, and watch for the parking area on the left side of the road.
Rinconada Canyon is wide, and about a mile deep. The best petroglyphs are at the far end of the canyon, so you’ll want to walk the entire way, to the point where the trail loops back. I’d recommend following the northern side of the loop, coming and going. The southern side of the loop, I believe, exists solely to provide an alternate route back, and doesn’t pass by anything worth seeing (it’s in the middle of the canyon, nowhere near any of the rock walls).
Volcanic basalt boulders have broken away from the canyon walls, and tumbled down the hillside. These rocks create the canvas for the prehistoric artists. The petroglyphs date back 400 to 700 years, and were made by the ancestors of the modern-day Pueblo Indians.
You won’t see many at first. As I mentioned, most of the rock art can be found at the far end of the trail. Also, it takes a while to get your eyes tuned to seeing them.
As you hike on through the sand dunes that surround the basalt boulders, the designs become more obvious. Many are surprisingly intricate…
… and it’s obvious what they represent. This is clearly a human, probably dressed in some important outfit.
… along with more snakes…
… along with birds, and maybe angels?
Continue along the path…
… and watch for some more modern graffiti on some of the rocks, left here about 100 years ago.
Some of the petroglyphs appear to be intricate designs…
While others look a lot like aliens!
A smiley face was left here hundreds of years before Forrest Gump put it on a t-shirt.
Ummm, does this carving indicate that I’m standing in a prehistoric toilet?
You’ll need to climb around on the rocks, in order to take the best pictures of the best petroglyphs. I’m fairly certain that’s okay, so long as you’re careful to not damage anything.
As I started back to the car, all of those menacing clouds overhead finally decided to let loose. By the time I got back to the car, I was soaked, but the hike was worth it.