Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Petroglyph National Monument

    Petroglyph National Monument in  Albuquerque consists of three sites with many petroglyphs pecked  into the desert varnish of volcanic rock. I suspect the Indians of New England would have also created this type of art if  they had had access to soft, two-toned rock instead of granite.
     The Rinconada Canyon section has a trail one  mile long that follows the base of a slope covered with jumbled boulders. Here is a large rock with a bird, what might be a bird spirit, and a horned head.

     The same bird spirit petroglyph appears again  next to this  propped slab.  There's nothing on the face of the slab.  This does look like it was done recently, perhaps by  local Indians, or more likely by  vandals who chisel out petroglyphs for black market art sales.

The petroglyphs face to the  south or southeast.  The park's explanation is that  they were carved in winter and the south-facing rocks would have been warmer and free of ice.
     Here is a whole human figure, that seems to be dancing.

 This horned snake is related to the horned and plumed snake of Mesoamerica.

Here and at Bandelier are petroglyphs of macaws, indicating  trade with Mesoamerica.

There are many other images  such as horned toads, antelope, rats, human faces, dancing figures, hand and foot prints, stars, and  spirals.
     This very familiar shape is a sacred symbol.  One interpretation is that it represents a mountain, the source of  game animals and water. According to Adolph Bandelier in The Delight Makers, this is a cloud, which is the ladder to heaven.

Whatever the true meaning of this sacred design, it  was adapted into mission churches.  Here is San Geronimo Church at Taos Pueblo.
Also present at Petroglyph are some carved out stones.  I have seen these described on a blog as "medicine stones".  The park explanation was that stone tools were ground against these stones to form and sharpen them. 

A pleasant surprise was this  enclosure on top of the mesa at Boca Negra Canyon, facing east towards Sandia Peak.  The caption describes it as hunting blind or temporary shelter, later used by Spanish sheepherders. The trail up to this mesa is heavily decorated with petroglyphs, including  dancing figures, suggesting this enclosure had some spiritual use.
To the east, Sandia Peak rises above the sprawl of Albuquerque.


  1. Been busy getting ready for Land Trust Days Aug 10th to Sept 30th, so catching up on your posts. Had a great trip to Chaco Canyon for Sierra Club service trip; one of our jobs was cleaning out the kivas of tumbleweeds and brush. They were like mini-microwaves under the hot Chaco sun. Not something they do every year...maybe once in five, but it was amazing to be working down in the kivas. Highly recommend that service trip. Got amazing photos of sunrise and sunset - and some stones like our northeastern ones in addition to the earlier archaeology.
    By chance I also stopped at Petroglyph National Monument. I asked the ranger what trail he would hike and he said Rinconada, so I did...taking pictures like crazy until my camera overheated. Thought I had missed a brochure, but there are features there that apparently are not known. Waiting to hear back from Park Service...would love to chat with you sometime. Hey they've even got those great petroglyphs to give them a clue - not too many of those back east! Picked up a few more good books on my NM trip and will make recommendations when I've read them.

    1. Nice to hear from you. That sounds like a wonderful trip. I wish I had had more time to explore Chaco Canyon. I would love to see the photos from Chaco and Petroglyph, especially the structures like those in the northeast. If you have them in an online album or Facebook page, you could send the link to my e-mail, Thanks!