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On Walkabout On: Rinconada Canyon Trail at Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

Basic Trail Information

National Park Service Map:


For anyone visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico a great place to experience a little bit of the region’s Native-American past is by visiting the Petroglyph National Monument located on the west side of the city.  The park is easy to find by taking the Unser Boulevard exit off of I-40 and then going north until seeing the sign that designates the parking lot for the park:

From the parking lot there appears to not be a whole lot to see because the park is totally composed of desert scrub land:

However, it is not the scrub land that has made this a national monument; it is instead the thousands of Native-American petroglyphs that fill this park that have made it worthy of conservation by the National Park Service.  These petroglyphs are written on the escarpment of lava rocks that compose the west side of the Rio Grande Valley where Albuquerque is located.  This escarpment was created by volcanic eruptions that occurred 200,000 years ago:

The small dormant volcanoes that caused these large lava flows can still be seen today from Albuquerque.  The best way to view these petroglyphs is by hiking along the Rinconada Trail which is just a short 1.1 mile loop hike that provides access to many of the better petroglyphs that are scratched on to the lava rock walls of this escarpment:

Since this is a significant historical site the National Park Service has made it very clear that visitors will be severely punished for defacing the petroglyphs:

The trail follows the escarpment walls of the canyon and hikers will need to keep their eyes open to spot some of the better petroglyphs such as the one pictured below that appears to be a native dancer of some kind:

It is important to note that these petroglyphs are not done with paint.  The people who draw the petroglyphs did so by scratching away the black surface of the lava rock which exposed its lighter colored interior.  According to the National Park Service website, it is believed that the context of each petroglyph is extremely important and integral to its meaning.  Today’s native people have stated that the placement of each petroglyph image was not a casual or random decision and were instead carefully placed.  Some petroglyphs have meanings that are only known to the individuals who made them. Others represent tribal, clan, kiva or society markers. Some are religious entities and others show who came to the area and where they went. Some petroglyphs still have contemporary meaning, while the meaning of others is no longer known.

For example this image below I thought looked like a dragon of some kind?:

So when were these images chiseled into the rock?  According to the NPS website, it is estimated 90% of the monument’s petroglyphs were created by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians. Puebloans have lived in the Rio Grande Valley since before 500 A.D., but a population increase around 1300 A.D. resulted in numerous new settlements. It is believed that the majority of the petroglyphs were carved from about 1300 through the late 1680s.  However, not all these images came from the Puebloans; some of them were also left by the Spanish who colonized the area in the 1600’s and left images of Christian crosses:

As I walked through the canyon looking at the various petroglyphs, I noticed many of them were of animals:

This made me wonder if maybe the locals came to this valley to hunt and while waiting for game they would draw pictures of the various animals on the rocks?

This image below I thought may have been of a sheep which maybe a local drew after seeing one that the Spanish settlers brought with them?:

There was plenty of other petroglyphs that were not of animals.  The ones painted on this rock I thought perhaps had something to do with star formations?:

Besides the star formations it also had some faces on it as well:

There was a lot of other petroglyphs I had no idea what the original artist was trying to convey:

Here is another example of wildlife art which appeared to be of a duck:

Speaking of wildlife below is the only wildlife I saw on the day I visited Petroglyph National Monument.  The first thing I saw was this worm curled up in the sand:

I actually saw quite a few lizards that look like this one pictured below:

I also saw a few small birds but this was the only one I was able to get a picture of:

The trail was only 1.1 miles long thus the walk took me about an hour to get back to the parking lot to include the time I took to check out the various petroglyphs:


Overall, Rinconada Canyon is no where near as interesting as Three Rivers Petroglyph Site located north of Alamogordo.  However, as the picture above shows, this park is literally located in the backyards of people who live in Albuquerque.  Anyone in Albuquerque who hasn’t visited this canyon to get some insight into the early Native-Americans who lived in the Rio Grande Valley are really missing out.  Even for people just visiting Albuquerque it is worth checking out this National Monument because it is easy to get to, doesn’t take long to check out, and is very informative.

Have you been to Petroglyph National Monument?  Please share with everyone in the comments section what you thought of your visit to the park.

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