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On Walkabout On: The Boca Negra Canyon Trail at Petroglyphs National Monument

Basic Trail Information

National Park Service Map:


As I mentioned in my prior posting about Rinconada Canyon, 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 you reach the park.  The park is actually quite large with a number of trails to check out.  Besides Rinconada Canyon another trail I decided to hike was the Boca Negro Canyon Trail towards the middle of the park.

Boca Negra is Spanish for “black mouth” which is a name that is easy to understand considering all the black lava rock that composes the escarpment on the west side of Albuquerque.  Unlike Rinconada Canyon Trail, this trail actually takes hiker up on to this escarpment to look at some of the rock art up there:

From the parking lot the trail leads up this hill to the top of the escarpment:

Along the way there are a number of rocks with art scratched into them by Native-Americans centuries ago:

 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.

Much like with Rinconada Canyon, much of the rock art here I could not make out what it could have possibly mean:

Some of the art I could make

Not everything here though is rock art.  This below picture show a rock that was used by the Native-Americans to sharpen tools or grind corn or seeds on:

Something I really liked about my visit to Boca Negra was the fact I was able to get some great close up photographs of the New Mexico state bird, the roadrunner:

Amazingly this bird I was photographing had no issues with me getting up close to him and getting some close up shots:

Really a beautiful bird:

I didn’t just get to photograph one roadrunner, I in fact got to take pictures of two of them:

Though these birds are thought of as flightless I have actually seen these birds do some limited flight before like a chicken.  The birds are also not as fast as their RoadRunner fame on Looney Tunes but they can reach a speed of 26 mph (42kph) on the ground:

Anyway after I finished checking out the two roadrunners I then continued to check out the rock art such as this hand art:

This rock art appeared to be of someone holding a spear with some crazy looking tail:

Here is rock art of another character that had some funky looking hair:

Here is another crazy looking figure that was left in the rock:

Here is a rock art that could be a bobcat or mountain lion:

Just like with Rinconada Canyon the rock art pictured below appeared to be left by early Spanish settlers as well, but then I read the marker next to the rock and found that archaeologists were able to conclude that this cross was made by Native-Americans well before the Spanish arrived:

After a short walk I eventually reached the top of the escarpment where I had a nice view over Albuquerque and the 10,678 foot (3,255 meters) Sandia Mountains in the distance:

Here is the view looking south towards downtown Albuquerque:

Here is a closer look at the skyline downtown:

Here is view looking across the Boca Negra Canyon:

Out in the distance the volcanoes that created this escarpment 200,000 years ago can still be seen and are part of the national monument:

Here is what the top of the escarpment looks like; piled up lava rocks:

After walking around and checking out the escarpment I then walked back to the parking lot but not before noticing this nice piece of rock art that appeared to show two birds together next to a cup of some kind:


Much like my final thought about Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon is well worth checking out if you are visiting Albuquerque.  It is not as interesting as Three Rivers Petroglyph Site located north of Alamogordo, but Petroglyph National Monument is much more easier to get to considering it is the backyard of people who live in Albuquerque.  Anyone in Albuquerque who has not visited this canyon to get some insight into the early Native-Americans who lived in the Rio Grande Valley are really missing out.  So please check the place out; it doesn’t take long 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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