Volcanoes, Petroglyph National Monument


Albuquerque is a city defined by its mountains.  To the east, the beautiful Sandia range rises up, looming over the town, providing a winter playground and a brilliant glow at sunset.  But look to the west, and you see something much different:

… three volcanic cones, which have long since burned out.  They’re called the Three Sisters, or simply the Albuquerque Volcanoes.  And, well, they’re kind-of ugly, in my humble opinion.  But they do have an up-side: in addition to providing a geology lesson, they offer a a series of excellent viewpoints, from which you can view Albuquerque’s finer elements, like its skyline, and of course, those beautiful Sandias.

You can access the volcanoes by driving out Interstate 40, westbound, and exiting on Atrisco Vista Boulevard (exit 149, formerly known as Paseo de Volcan), then driving north to an unmarked, but fairly obvious road that leads to a parking area (across the street from the small airport).  After dodging one big puddle, I headed towards the closest volcanic cone.

On my way up the volcano, I turned around, and took this picture.  It gives you some idea of how suddenly Albuquerque ends, and the vast desert begins.

The volcano cones are made up of basalt, the same black rock that is found in Rinconada Canyon, where countless petroglyphs are chiseled into the rock.  Once you get to the top of the pile…

Click on the image for a larger version.

… you can enjoy a fantastic panorama of the entire Albuquerque basin…

… including downtown ABQ…

… and the Sandia Mountains, to the east and slightly to the north.

From the southernmost volcano, you have a nice view looking north, towards the other two (here you see the middle one — the third volcano is hiding behind it).  Trails lead from here to the other two, which means you could climb all three — but I can’t imagine the view being much different from the other two.

Why three volcanoes, instead of just one? This series of volcanic cones formed atop a 5-mile-long fissure — a thin crack in the earth’s crust, which allowed magma to push to the surface in several places. All three volcanoes would have been active at the same time, creating a curtain of fire along the horizon.

One more note (if you’ll allow me to vent, just a little): I arrived at the Volcanoes around 4:30 in the afternoon.  As you can see by the sign, that meant I had a serious time problem.  With the gates closing at 5 p.m., I had just 30 minutes to run to the top of the nearest volcano, take a few pictures, and run back.  I gave myself 15 minutes to walk in, setting a non-negotiable “gotta go” time to head back.  Keep in mind, sunset wasn’t until after 7 o’clock.

I’m sure they lock the gate at 5 p.m., so that whoever is in charge of locking the gate can go home.  But really, 5 o’clock?  This would be one of the best places in the city to watch the sunset on the Sandias.  Sure, you could park outside the gate and walk in, but what a hassle, just to access our public lands!  There were at least a half-dozen cars in the parking area, and a bunch of people doing the same thing I was doing — rushing back, in order to leave on time.  It’s a shame that we all have to accommodate their schedule, instead of the other way around.

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