NM21 Road Trip – Day 3

September 17, 2021

Part 1, Petroglyphs

At last, I did some more serious hiking today, and got my fill of rock art.

Once I got up, I got my things together, and headed out of the hotel to the car, stopping in the lobby just long enough to get a grab-and-go breakfast of a travel mug of coffee, a banana, and a microwave breakfast sandwich (spicy sausage). I ate those on the way to the trailhead for my first hike of the day.

On the west side of Albuquerque, a few miles past the Rio Grande, there’s a long escarpment that runs generally north-south. What’s an escarpment? According to Wiktionary, it’s a “steep descent or declivity; steep face or edge of a ridge; ground about a fortified place, cut away nearly vertically to prevent hostile approach.” In other words, it’s a fancy name for a long cliff. This one in particular was formed when a volcano a few miles to the west poured lava that reached a certain point and then just stopped. So there’s this long cliff of black lava rock, and Native Americans over hundreds or thousands of years used these black boulders as a canvas for their petroglyphs.

Yours truly in front of the lava escarpment

This area is protected now as Petroglyph National Monument. The weird thing is that the city, as it’s sprawled to the west, has built subdivisions right up to the cliffs and then on top of the cliffs. So there’s just this narrow meandering strip of land that is part of the Monument.

There are three canyons with trails that make up the Monument, and I ended up hiking in two of the three. My first hike of the day was Piedras Marcadas Canyon. The trail is only about 1.5 miles round trip and is pretty easy.

After finishing that hike, I drove to the trailhead for the next hike I wanted to take, at Boca Negra. The marked trails here are all very short, but the AllTrails database has one longer loop hike that encompasses all the shorter hikes plus a hike to an area that was accessible about 50 years ago but is no longer, plus a section on top of the rim. AllTrails calls this the Cliff Base trail. All told it’s about 2 miles, but with some elevation gain up and down the escarpment so it feels longer, especially in the heat of the day.

My plan was for the last part of my visit to the Petroglyph National Monument to be a visit to the visitor center, where I would eat lunch. The Cliff Base hike left me pretty dirty and sweaty, but I cooled off by the time I reached the visitor center, which is at yet another location, not adjacent to any of the trailheads. There, I found a book I wanted to buy, but learned there were no picnic tables. The nearest picnic tables, according to the volunteer who was there, was at the third of the three trailheads, at Rinconada Canyon, just a mile away.

So I drove there. I was deflated to find that some genius put the two picnic tables right out in direct sun, but I found a separate shady area for lunch. Because I really, really prefer to have lunch in the shade. I ate a ham and cheese sandwich I’d been carrying around all day from my Whole Foods run the day before.

I was tempted to go take the third and final hike, but then I remembered I had another thing on the agenda for the day, and that was to visit the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the campus of the University of New Mexico. And the museum closes at 4:00pm, so I skipped the third possible hike and drove across town to campus.

Part 2, Museum

Museum means air conditioning

It’s just my luck that after paying $6 for on-campus parking, the very first thing the freshman staffing the front desk at the museum asked was, “Would you like a parking pass?” I didn’t realize that they gave our parking passes if you’re visiting the museum! I wish I’d known. I’d much rather give that six bucks to the museum than to whatever company runs the parking meters. Oh well. Speaking of money, admission is free.

I’ve read about this museum numerous times over the past 20 years or so. It’s a famous museum for southwestern archaeology. In addition to having lots of representative artifacts from pueblo and ancestral puebloan sites, they routinely have very good traveling exhibits.

OK, I guess I’ll go up

I wandered around, I read stuff, I looked at all the exhibits. I even checked out an art exhibit that I really liked – photos from a Diné artist. But the museum wasn’t as big as I was expecting it to be, so my trip lasted only about an hour or so.

By then I was tired out, and headed back to my hotel for a delightful hot shower and lots of drinks and some photo editing.

New Mexican food of the day was supper at Laguna Burger: green chile cheeseburger (the Laguna Wimp), with a side salad and avocado ranch dressing, plus a $5 pineapple margarita. Five bucks!

Categorized as Travel


  1. Why cain’t Shorty *tell* you what they mean? Wadn’t that his family or friends with ’em when they was made?

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