Petroglyph National Monument covers a vast amount of land, yet most visitors only explore the three famous rock art canyons. The main body of this National Monument is a large wilderness area located just a few miles west of Albuquerque, which offers long hiking trails through the desert terrain and a couple of volcanoes to explore. The local volcanoes are the source of the tall black basalt lava flows, which meander like branching arms to the edge of the city. Because of urban sprawl, the suburban housing developments butt up against the mounds of black lava boulders, which makes exploring the petroglyph canyons a real challenge to accomplish. For this reason, it is best to start the venture at the Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center, because the local maps and field guide books will be indispensable.
Boca Negra Canyon is the most popular petroglyph area in this park and it is just a short drive north of the visitor center. Shuttle buses and parking lot trams run in this area, which is a good thing because the parking lot is a few hundred yards away from the rock art trails. Hopping on the tram back to the lot may shorten the distance, but plenty of walking will still be involved no matter where a visitor goes in Boca Negra Canyon. For this reason, be sure to pack plenty of water for the trek.
The pathways meander all over the black lava rock hills in Boca Negra Canyon and the ascents are fairly easy to manage. The footing is good too, because some of the steeper trails are paved to minimize erosion. After spotting the first petroglyph, it is easy figure out why the trails zig-zag throughout the big black boulder landscape. The hiking trails literally go from one ancient petroglyph to the next and these spectacular rock art exhibits are scattered throughout the old lava hills.
Hours can be spent deciphering the ancient messages carved in stone. Many civilizations have occupied this area over eons of time, so thousands of years can pass while hiking from one petroglyph to the next. Tribal symbols, hunting ground locations and local food resources are often depicted in the rock carvings, while others require much more meditation to explain. The ancient rock art that shows celestial events, star people or other intangible subject matter is fascinating to see and even more intriguing to dwell upon.
Boca Negra Canyon is a unique ancient rock art gallery that beckons to be explored! This is easily the most popular petroglyph area in the park and it is also the best one to visit if time is limited. A good half day excursion can be planned for this venture, so this can be a busy spot on weekends, especially with the local Albuquerque crowd. The foot trails are narrow, so some patience will be involved too. Crowded or not, the trip to Boca Negra Canyon will be well worth it, because the memories will provide plenty to ponder over for many years to come!
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