Petroglyph National Monument sure can take a while to figure out when showing up in the blind with no prior research. This National Monument is literally located in the suburbs of Albuquerque, New Mexico and there are three separate rock art site locations. For this reason, visitors must be adept at reading a city street map, which is the last thing that a travel trailer hauler wants to hear. The parking areas at some of the petroglyph sites are small, so some patience will be necessary when making the venture happen. These are minor inconveniences when considering what lies in store, because this park offers the opportunity to spend countless hours deciphering a very long timeline of ancient rock art.
Because the petroglyph sites are in three separate suburban locations, the best place to start a tour is the Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center. This facility offers a wealth of information about the ancient native cultures associated with each rock art style and plenty of insight can be gained when reading the self guided tour book. Easy to read road maps to each petroglyph area are provided, along with notes concerning parking and vehicle size. Best of all, the visitor center is where information about the shuttle bus service can be found, which actually is the best way to experience this park. This is also information posted about guided tours and special events, so the visitor center should be the first stop!
Oddly enough, the only thing that cannot be found at the visitor center is the petroglyphs, but Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon and Piedras Marcadas Canyon are all nearby and each has thousands of ancient petroglyphs to ponder over. Urban sprawl pushes right up to the edge of Petroglyph National Monument, which actually is a natural geological barrier. The west side of Albuquerque is an ancient basalt flow that rises over the valley, so all it takes is a few steps to transition from the manicured suburbs into the lava badlands terrain.
Piedras Marcadas Canyon is furthest point of interest northeast of the visitor center and this ancient rock art gallery is definitely on the edge of the suburbs. The parking area is a paved vacant lot located in a housing development, so there are some vehicle size limitations. The cement parking lot is actually part of a storm drain system, which is something to keep in mind if heavy rain is in the forecast. A foot trail runs up the drainage wash to the basalt hills where the petroglyphs can be found and it is easy to navigate the paths from there.
The hiking trail along the basalt boulder petroglyphs is moderately lengthy, so be sure to pack plenty of water for the trek. Some of the most famous ancient rock art designs in the entire park can be viewed along this trail, but they are spaced a fair distance apart and a keen eye is required to spot them all. Some of the petroglyphs predate the European conquests by thousands of years, while others are fairly recent carvings that have historical significance. Shepherds during the early Spanish occupation left their marks on the black lava rocks and cowboys from the old west carved their names too. Graffiti vandals from modern times have also scarred the rocks, but this is predominate in places that are easy to access.
Deciphering the meaning of each ancient petroglyph in Piedras Marcadas Canyon is not easy to do, but the guesswork can be minimized by referring to the park service self guided tour book. There is a lot of ground to cover in the basalt flow badlands area, yet the modern suburban houses are only a short distance away. These two neighboring landscapes certainly are worlds apart and the cultural contrast demonstrates that many civilizations have occupied this area over eons of time, yet only the rock art remains. Piedras Marcadas Canyon is a timeless experience, so be sure to check out this suburban section of Petroglyph National Monument when doing the tour!
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