Petroglyphs in Albuquerque: The Ancient Treasures of Rinconada and Pedras Marcadas Canyons

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Albuquerque, New Mexico, my hometown, had the foresight to collaborate with federal agencies to preserve ancient petroglyphs that were etched onto lava rocks scattered across acres of land on the West Mesa. Three sites—Rinconada Canyon, Pedras Marcadas Canyon, and Boca Negra Canyon—hold most of the ancient treasures. All sites required hiking and some climbing to access.

The Rinconada Canyon was the first trail I hiked. As I pulled into the parking lot, a strange feeling swept over me. As I glanced back east from the entrance, I saw a view of Albuquerque sprawling in every direction.

Luckily, the Sandia Mountains to the east halted the suburban encroachment. Just across the highway from the park entrance, a recent housing development inched its way up to the petroglyph park boundaries, stopped only by the national monument status of the land I was about to hike.

A 2-mile loop trail took me close to the hill side hosting the petroglyphs. At first, I strained my eyes trying to catch a glimpse of the prized art, thinking maybe I missed them! But patience was needed, and as I hiked on I encountered numerous petroglyphs. Most of them were sketched on lava boulders closer to the base of the hills, saving the artists an arduous climb up steep, rocky hills.

I read where the rock artists did not actually live in the barren hills located several miles west of the lush Rio Grande flood plain, but merely traveled to these sites to draw on their rock canvas whatever struck their imaginations. When their ritual was complete, they made their way back to the protective cottonwood forests lining the river and the security of their tribal group.

After leaving the Rinconada Canyon, I headed north on Unser Blvd. to hike another petroglyph trail: Pedras Marcadas Canyon. Since I live in the Nob Hill neighborhood of Albuquerque, one of the older areas close to the University of New Mexico, a trip to West Albuquerque (west of the Rio Grande) is similar to visiting a different city.

It is new, with lots of recent subdivisions, 4-lane highways, and plenty of convenient shopping. It doesn’t feel like my hometown of Albuquerque, but residents of West Albuquerque would probably feel the same way visiting my neighborhood.

I had trouble locating the entrance to the trailhead, it was hidden by a Jiffy Lube and earth-toned stucco, single-family homes. Finally, after several turnarounds, I eased into a parking place at the trail head. I wondered where the petroglyphs were located, since the first part of the hike was through a trail in-between suburban development.

The trail eventually opened up into a canyon, surrounded by lava-clad hills and desert flora. The trail wove through thick sand, which made it slow-going most of the way. After a while, the lava rocks went from bare-faced to bearing etchings by the native Puebloan peoples hundreds of years ago. Although it looked like most of the art was by native people, there were some recent additions by Hispanic people and even cowboys who also lived on the land.

I marveled at their creativity and their intent on leaving a cultural trace of their way of life for future generations to muse upon.

After a 2-mile trek through deep sand, I was ready to call it a day. I loved seeing the rock formations and intriguing rock art doting the landscape. I was happy to have gained a tiny glimpse into the way of life of people who lived upon the same land that I am now living upon, albeit hundreds of years ago. Time and cultural interaction profoundly influence how we fashion our lives. We will, undoubtedly, live our mark for future generations to contemplate, just as the Ancient Puebloan people have left their mark. I hope future generations find our artistic offerings as interesting as we find the Puebloan people’s art of the past.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel. Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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