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Petroglyph National Monument: an Albuquerque treasure

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Petroglyphs at Boca Negra Canyon/ Photo by Dylan Stark

Petroglyphs, or ancient rock carvings, can be hard to find. Usually, they are located some distance away from populated areas, or else you have to hike a ways into the desert to see them. Not so here in Albuquerque. Petroglyph National Monument, which is located inside Albuquerque city limits on the West Side, is a treasure-trove of hundreds of petroglyphs that can be easily viewed right here in the Duke City.

There are four areas of Petroglyph National Monument with trails that access the petroglyphs (and pretty stellar views of Albuquerque, too). Volcanoes Day Use Area emphasizes its namesake, a series of ancient extinct volcanoes with a scattering of volcanic rock and other prehistoric geology finds. This area has three trails: JA Volcano and the Albuquerque Overlook, Black Volcano Loop, and Vulcan Volcano Loop, rated from easy to moderately strenuous. If you're at all interested in prehistoric geology, these are very interesting trails to tackle.

The second area of Petroglyph National Monument is Rinconada Canyon, which offers a cross-section view of both petroglyphs and volcanic activity. The trail through Rinconada Canyon is unpaved and is listed as a moderately strenuous hike of 2.5 miles, round trip. Another similar hike can be done through Piedras Marcadas Canyon at the northern end of the monument. Piedras Marcadas is actually managed by the City of Albuquerque's Open Space Division. See my article, 'Albuquerque's Open Space - the New Wave of City Parks' for more information.

Boca Negra Canyon is perhaps the best spot to find petroglyphs inside the monument. The three self-guided trails offer access to over 200 petroglyphs in about an hour. Boca Negra Canyon is also the most developed of the areas inside Petroglyph National Monument, with restrooms, drinking fountains and shaded areas for relief from the hot desert sun.

If you are a hearty hiker in good shape, it would be possible to explore the entirety of Petroglyph National Monument in a day, otherwise I would recommend choosing just one or two of the areas and spending a half day there. Boca Negra Canyon is definitely the easiest to maneuver and most visitor-friendly, and it is also the best place to see petroglyphs.

There is no entrance fee to Petroglyph National Monument, but the City of Albuquerque imposes a minimal parking fee: $1 weekdays/$2 weekends per passenger car.

It is important to remember that Albuquerque is a very dry, arid environment with very hot sun. Bring plenty of drinking water on your hike, even a short one, and wear sunscreen or protective clothing. Good walking shoes are also an excellent idea, as many of the trails at Petroglyph National Monument are unpaved.

It is best to visit in the pre-noon morning hours when the sun is less intense. Afternoons from July-September present a risk of sudden monsoon thunderstorms, which are often accompanied by lightning strikes and flash flooding. Better to get your hike out of the way early in the day!

Directions: Petroglyph National Monument is located on the westside of Albuquerque. Take Interstate 40 to the Unser Blvd. exit (#154) and drive north about 3 miles to Western Trail. Turn left (west) onto Western Trail, which will take you to the visitor center. If you are coming from Santa Fe, take Interstate 25 to Albuquerque and exit at Paseo del Norte (#232). Go west to Coors Road and exit south, proceeding on Coors Road to Western Trail. Turn right (west) onto Western Trail and follow road to the visitor center. Click here for a map.

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