The Petroglyphs: Rock Art of the Past, Boca Negra Canyon, Albuquerque, New Mexico

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

I decided to hike the last trail, the Boca Negra Canyon, on a separate day, since it required a steep climb up a lava-strewn hill. It was more daunting that the Rinconada Canyon or Pedras Marcadas Canyon trails. Rather than circling around a loop trail on flat terrain, these petroglyphs were etched onto rocks climbing up a steep path leading to the top of a wind-swept hill.

Baca Negra Canyon trail

It was a windy March day, not my favorite New Mexico weather, but at least the sun was shining, peeking through swirling clouds. I donned my new hiking shoes to give me good traction on what looked like some slippery, well-worn rocks.

The climb was steeper than I thought, and occasional railings helped steady me as gusty bursts of wind kept me teetering. I wound around stunningly etched lava boulders in a constant state of awe. I marveled that ancient Puebloan peoples were intent on leaving their mark on such a remote and inaccessible landscape. What inspired them to create such art and for what purpose?

Rock art along trail

It was hard for me to speculate about their motives, since I come from such a different cultural worldview. But I imagined it may have been similar to my joy creating blogs, such as this one, with the hope that someone will read them, look at the pictures, and find some meaning from my contributions.

As I made my way to the top of the hill, I remembered visiting this hill in 1995 with my mother, 79 at the time, and my daughter, age 16. Even though it was a hot summer July day, we decided to climb as far as we could. I worried that my mother would have problems navigating the site, rather than my fit 16-year-old daughter. But with my help steadying her, my mother felt invigorated by the challenge and kept climbing upward.

My daughter was fine until about ¾ of the way up a combination of the heat and/or altitude sickness hit her. She felt light-headed and dizzy, not a good place to feel dizzy. She sat down, but the light-headedness did not pass. I was in a real dilemma. I could not help both of them down the steep hill at the same time. I decided that I would first help my daughter down the hill part way, have her rest, and then go back to help my mother.

Heading down on the trail

As luck would have it, help arrived in the form of a muscular, middle-aged man with a sturdy walking stick. He volunteered to escort my daughter down the hill, slowly, and with a firm hold of her arm. As she wobbled down the hill, I followed with my gutsy mother as she clung to rock-holds to steady her downward trek. After some harrowing twists and turns, we gradually arrived safely at the bottom of the trail, my daughter’s light-heatedness easing a bit.

This time I climbed the hill alone. My mother died in December 2002 and my daughter is now married and is a mother of three children. The trek brought back this memorable experience, and with it a sense of sadness at the loss of my mother and the fact that I was now the elder. But the swirling clouds and ancient rock art also moved me to remember the impermanence of everything and the movement of time and change. 

View of Albuquerque and Sandia Mountains from Baca Negra hill

As I looked out from the top of the hill at the sprawling city below, I wondered what the reaction of the ancient artists would have been to the modern developments surrounding me. Would they have been shocked to see our modern way of life laid out before them, trying to overtake their artistic wonders? Or would they merely nod, with an understanding that one thing is certain: everything changes.

They might have thought that the modern picture before them was just another example of what can happen when time alters place. With this understanding, I imagine they would go about etching another work of art unto the black surface of the strewn-about lava boulders. 

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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