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Don't Miss the Amazing Petroglyph National Monument Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Petroglyphs found at Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Petroglyphs found at Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico

There is an amazing site called the Petroglyph National Monument found on the west side of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

My girlfriend from Germany and I traveled by car all the way from Houston to the west coast and back spending a total of three weeks exploring National Parks and other sites. We found this Petroglyph National Monument to be of great interest. She had fallen in love with the kokopelli Indian drawings near the Grand Canyon.

My husband and I had previously spent a small amount of time visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico in the very beginning of our marriage. We did not have time to venture out west of town to see this historic spot.

Preserving one of the largest rock art sites in all of North America, there are at least 15,000 petroglyphs located in this area. Some put the number closer to 25,000. In any case one can see a great abundance of petroglyphs in this location.

The rocks in which the petroglyphs are carved are volcanic in nature. The images date back as early as 1000 B.C. progressing forward to much more recent times. Some of the oldest of the petroglyphs are to be found along the Canyon Trail area.

Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument

This park consists of a total of 7,244 acres. It was authorized in June of 1990 in order to help preserve the hundreds of archaeological sites and the 15,000+ petroglyphs.

Amazingly tourists can hike and see the petroglyphs up close and personal. It is pretty much of an honor system to keep ones hands off of the petroglyphs. Preserving them for future generations of people who might wish to see this living bit of history in its natural environment is important.

The Petroglyph National Monument is co managed by the National Park Service as well as the City of Albuquerque.

In addition to the huge number of native Indian drawings left behind people can also appreciate the now dormant volcanic activity that took place centuries ago creating this site.

Look in the dark sections to the right to see the petroglyphs at the  Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Look in the dark sections to the right to see the petroglyphs at the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque's western horizon is dominated by a volcanic basalt escarpment. It runs for 17 miles along the city's edge called the West Mesa. This is the location of now dormant fissure volcanoes.

People can see five identifiable volcanic cones and also lava tubes in this area.

My friend and I chose to take the Mesa Point Trail. While it only takes about 20 minutes or so to follow the trail and climb to the top of the lava flow, it is moderately strenuous because of the mile high (5,280 feet) elevation.

Make sure to be dressed appropriately with good hiking shoes. People will be climbing up and over many rocks on this trail.

Petroglyphs in Petroglyphs National Monument, Albuquerque, NM

Petroglyphs in Petroglyphs National Monument, Albuquerque, NM

We saw numerous examples among the jumbled piles of lava rock of different petroglyphs.

Some of the rock drawings are rather easy to decipher. These include different animals, insects, hands, animal tracks, crosses, and people in various poses. Star shapes and birds comprised many drawings while others were not as easy to understand.

The meaning of all of these disparate petroglyphs may never be identified but obviously meant something special to the people who lived or traveled through this area along the Rio Grande Valley.

Petroglyphs on the smooth and dark side of this rock.

Petroglyphs on the smooth and dark side of this rock.

Most of the petroglyphs were created from the years 1300 to 1680 AD.

At that time many pueblos were built and inhabited along the Rio Grande. Thus the vast majority of the petroglyphs are called Rio Grande style.

Some of the pottery also dates back to those periods and have similar drawings as do the murals on walls that have also been found.

The volcanic rocks provided an easy palate in which to make and display their drawings.

My friend and I have never personally seen so many petroglyphs in such a limited area that can be so easily viewed. This Petroglyph National Monument was not on our scheduled itinerary When traveling by car across the country many such small discoveries can be accommodated if one has the time.

If I ever go back to Albuquerque I would like to spend more time taking the other trails in order to see even more of this amazing area.

Who Created Petroglyphs and What Was the Meaning?

Spanish Conquest of This Area and the Indians

Although native Indians were the first inhabitants in the year 1540, changes occurred when the Spaniards started exploring this part of the country. The first contact was made by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

In 1598 colonists led by Juan de Onate began to establish settlements along the Rio Grande impacting the Indians whose numbers were significantly reduced.

By 1680 the repressed Indians joined in revolt. They drove the Spanish settlers back to El Paso and reclaimed their land until 1692 when once again the colonists claimed the area as their own.

A grant establishing the Town of Atrisco was granted in 1692. That locale is now where the volcanic escarpment and mesa top exists today.

Sheep shepherds from the town of Atrisco undoubtedly carved some of the brands and other drawings found in the petroglyphs combining them with the earlier Indian rock art.

Indian descendants dating back to pre spanish conquest of this part of Albuquerque, New Mexico still live in the Pueblos of Sandia and Isleta today.

2 parrots or macaws. Parrots were a trade item from Mexico back in those days.

2 parrots or macaws. Parrots were a trade item from Mexico back in those days.

Meaning of Some of the Petroglyphs

A brochure that was acquired at the Petrified National Monument described one of the pictures with the bird drawings on it. It stated the following:

"Two parrots or macaws, identifiable by the long-plumed tails. The smaller macaw appears to be in a box or cage. Parrots are not native to the Southwest. Their natural habitat is in Mexico. Parrots were a major trade item from Mexico in prehistoric times and are shown prominently in kiva mural paintings made during the same time period ( Circa AD 1300 to 1600s)."

The same brochure described upraised arms as being significant of a person saying prayers which is also depicted in some of the petroglyphs.

My friend and I spent a little time in Old Town Albuquerque after seeing some of the amazing petroglyphs in this most interesting national monument. We then moved on to the next portion of our trip which would take us back to Texas. The address: 6001 Unser Blvd., NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87120. Telephone #: (505) 899-0205 ext. 331.

Don't miss seeing the Petroglyph National Monument if you find yourself near Albuquerque, New Mexico. You will see countless amazing rock drawings within touchable distance, but don't touch. Remember to bring your camera!

Terrific Video of this Area Including History and Photos


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods