Within the West Mesa Escarpment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, you can find a scattering of rock formations that may initially seem to blend into the surrounding desert landscape. Upon closer inspection however, you can see that these rocks are carved with symbols and designs, more accurately called petroglyphs. There are nearly 20,000 petroglyphs featured throughout the Petroglyph National Monument, making it one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. This rich trove of cultural expression provides insights into native cultures and a window into history. If you’re planning a visit to New Mexico, make sure to put the Petroglyph National Monument on your itinerary and witness history and nature at its best!
History of the Monument
The petroglyphs seen throughout the park are 400-700 years old, and they were created by Native Americans and Spanish settlers. Over time, these rock designs became a valuable record documenting the cultural and geological history of the area, and efforts to preserve the land began. In 1990 the area became an established national monument, protecting the profound significance of these primitive carvings. Today, the monument spans 7,244 acres and operates off of a partnership between the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque’s Open Space Division. Together they provide different recreational and educational opportunities to the public, so stop by the Las Imagines Visitor Center before you start exploring and see what kinds of unique opportunities are available at that time! The visitor center is open year round, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Once inside the Petroglyph National Monument, you can observe five cinder cone volcanoes standing mighty on the horizon. Prehistoric fissure eruptions from these volcanoes scattered the high quantities of basalt caprice that can be seen throughout the landscape. These basalt rocks are what the petroglyphs were later carved on to. From the parking lot, you can hike out to get a better look at these imposing formations.
JA Volcano and the Albuquerque Overlook – This 1-mile round trip trail is an easy to moderately difficult hike, but the sights are worth it. Along the path you can expect to find rest areas and trash receptacles.
Vulcan Volcano Loop – From the Albuquerque Overlook, you can take the scenic route back to the parking lot by continuing onto the Vulcan Volcano Loop, which is a two mile-long trail and a moderately strenuous hike.
If you are in the Albuquerque area, the petroglyphs are a must-see. These rock-inscribed depictions carry with them a huge amount of significance for both past and present cultures. They are powerful symbols representative of the complex societies and religions of the native tribes who inhabited the land. There are a number of different hiking options to choose from that will give you a great view of the petroglyphs in the area.
Boca Negra Canyon – This section of the monument is owned and operated by the Open Space Division of the City of Albuquerque and because of this, a small fee is required to gain admittance ($1 per vehicle Monday-Friday, $2 per vehicle Saturday-Sunday). Once inside, you will find 3 developed trails ranging in walking lengths from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. A combined walking time for all 3 trails would be around an hour, and along your self-guided tour you would observe nearly 100 petroglyphs. Enjoy restroom and picnic tables at this location.
Piedras Marcadas Canyon – Unlike the Boca Negra Canyon, the Piedras Marcadas Canyon has no facilities available. This unpaved trail is 1.5 miles round trip and it contains the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the monument, roughly 400 images. This is also a great area for observing lava tubes and other lava formations.
Rinconada Canyon – This easy to moderate hike is 2.2 miles long and offers amazing opportunities to witness the vegetation of the terrain and the natural habitats of the active wildlife. Along this path, you can observe up to 300 petroglyphs.
Where to Stay
Unfortunately, there is no camping or lodging available within the monument, but there are a couple of spectacular RV parks nearby that offer the perfect place to set up camp before checking out the monument!
American RV Park: Located 13 minutes away from the Petroglyph National Monument, this park has 99 pull-through sites available. When you stay here you can enjoy a free continental breakfast, a camp store, wireless Internet, a hot tub, and a heated swimming pool. A dog park is also located on the premises.
Enchanted Trails RV Park & Trading Post: Located 14 minutes away from the monument, this park has 115 pull-through, full hookup sites that overlook the beautiful Sandia Mountains. When you stay here you can enjoy a heated swimming pool, a TV lounge, and a billiards room. Located right next to Camping World, you’ll have convenient access to any RVing supplies you may need as well.
Albuquerque KOA: Located 20 minutes away from the monument, this campground is a great central hub for checking out other attractions in the area, such as the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden or the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. This KOA has 100 pull-through sites and offers a swimming pool, an indoor hot tub, mini golf, and a K9 Kamp pet playground!
Whether you are looking for a destination that is picturesque or educational, the Petroglyph National Monument makes a great stop along any RVing adventure! Have you ever been to the Petroglyph National Monument? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!