Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Petroglyph National Monument

Map of Petroglyph National Monument
Petroglyph National Monument is a site which preserves the designs and symbols carved into volcanic rock, first by the Native Americans, and later Spanish settlers between 400 and 700 years ago. Our group was supposed to visit Petroglyph in the afternoon, and it was already a very hot day. When given the chance, many of the people on the Study Tour opted to stay inside and go to the Balloon Museum, leaving the brave few to explore the volcanic landscape of Petroglyph National Monument.

We stopped first at the Visitor Center, where we were able to receive park and trail information. The Visitor Center was small, and fit well with the surrounding landscape. It had some plaques which highlighted a number of facts and stories about the local culture and the history of the park. Inside was just enough space for a small museum display with a gift shop. Next to the front desk, was a large, interactive touch-screen where we could view the history and other sorts of information concerning Petroglyph National Monument. There was also a large portrait of some of the landscape, complete with labels and situated above a set of pull-out drawers, containing various facsimiles of in situ artifacts associated with both the Native Americans and the Spanish. The artifacts were in situ because they were in relation to other objects found, but were removed from the entire setting where they were from originally (Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998: 19).

Inside of the Visitor Center, showing the gift shop and museum small museum
display which includes both in situ facsimile artifacts and an interactive display.

We hiked the Rinconada Canyon trail, a 2.2 mile round trip just a mile south of the Visitor Center. We left the van, taking careful note that the parking lot closed at 5:00 PM, and that vehicles left there would be towed at the owner’s expense. The trails, however, are open from sunrise to sunset, so to enjoy sunset at Petroglyph, one would need to park at the visitor center and walk. At the trail head was a restroom and signs indicating that this trail was friendly for pets, as long as they were on a leash.

Rinconada Canyon had been roasting in the sun for hours by the time we began our hike, so the heat of the day was all around us. According to the information given at the head of the trail, this was an Easy to Moderate hike, so it would not be too taxing in that regard. All we needed to do was make sure that we had plenty of water, because there were no water fountains available, except at the Visitor Center.

Looking from Rinconada Canyon back towards Albuquerque. 
Information on the Rinconada Canyon trail at the head.
It is sad that this type of sign is sometimes ignored.

We set off on the trail which was made up mostly of sand and dirt. On all sides were volcanic rocks and desert plants. When we looked up at the sides of the canyon, we could see various Petroglyphs carved into the volcanic rock, some elaborate designs and others simplistic, but all interesting, both historically and culturally.

Petroglyph National Monument was a beautiful place to explore, and could be categorized as an "unmodified museum" in that everything within the boundaries of the National Monument have been (at least in theory) left undisturbed (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998: 131).

These pictures are of petroglyphs from the Rinconada Canyon Trail, including both Native American and Spanish designs. The photograph on the left is of various members of our group looking at some petroglyphs.

There were a couple of things that would have made this a better experience. The trail is vaguely marked at best with occasional rocks marking the boundaries of the trail, so it could be difficult to see where the trail led at times. There were occasional arrows indicating which direction that we had to go, and the canyon walls which were an obvious indicator that we would be going off-trail. A more distinct trail boundary might be useful because it would not only keep people on track, but would enforce the fact that people should not go off the trail and add their own petroglyphs to this National Monument.

Making it more clear at the Visitor Center that there would be a lack of water at the trail heads would guarantee that people would bring enough water with them to said trails. Some people in our group were taken by surprise that there was no water fountain at the trail head, which we had become accustomed to at other National Monuments and National Parks that we visited on this tour.

Another slightly disappointing part about Petroglyph was that it was obvious that people had disregarded the notices for the protection of the petroglyphs, leaving their own marks behind on the volcanic rock. Again, making the boundaries between what is the trail and what is not may help to dissuade this.

Over all, I think that as a group, we had a good experience. It was hot, and we must have dumped gallons of sand from our shoes at trail’s end, but being outside and connecting with the history and culture of Albuquerque was worth it.
To cap off our experience, we saw a Roadrunner!

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