Graffiti for the ages: NM’s petroglyphs

Think graffiti is a 20th century phenomena? Native Americans have been leaving messages on rocks, via petroglyphs, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Petroglyphs are carvings on rocks or rock walls. Each symbol has a meaning and the native peoples knew what they were and could communicate through these carvings. Steve and I are fascinated by them. Here are some of the petroglyph sites we’ve visited on our travels around Northern New Mexico.

petroglyphs National Monument, photo Steve Collins

Rock carvings at Petroglyph National Monument, photo/Steve Collins

Petroglyph National Monument, on the northwest side of Albuquerque, offers two sites to view the ancient messages left by both native peoples and the Spanish who arrived in the late 1600s. There are over 600 to be found here. The 100 petroglyphs in the developed Boca Negra Canyon are easily accessed though some climbing is required. If you want to explore a less developed area, take the 2.2 mile loop hike on the sandy trail into Rinconada Canyon There are an additional 500 petroglyphs here. There is an admission charge.

petroglyphs at Chetro Ketl, Chaco Canyon, photo Steve Collins

Petroglyphs at Chetro Ketl at Chaco Canyon, photo/Steve Collins

Chaco Canyon was a major center from around the mid-800s A.D to the late 1100s. By 1050 A.D. it has become the major spiritual and economic center for the San Juan Basin. While it still puzzles archeologist and anthropologists a bit as to why, it is known that people came here and to what they call the “outlier” communities in droves. It was an advanced civilization with building techniques that were quite sophisticated for the time. It’s easy to view petroglyphs carved into the cliff face on the upper path between Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl. Just look up.

petroglyphs in Taos photo Steve Collins

Petroglyph outside Ranchos de Taos, NM photo/Steve Collins

Taos has some hidden treasures. A local friend took us to see glyphs on a cliff-face outside Ranchos de Taos. They’re a bit hard to find, but worth the effort or call us and we’ll arrange a guide for you.

petroglyphs near the top of La Bajada photo Steve Collins

Petroglyphs at La Bajada south of Santa Fe, photo/Steve Collins

There are local legends about La Bajada Mesa, southwest of Santa Fe. It was famous in the early auto days when gas was gravity fed to the engine. Cars had to go up the steep hill backwards. Locals made money driving tourists’ vehicles up this treacherous incline. Our friends Sue and Georges of Santa Fe Walkabouts took us for a hike out on La Bajada, one day. We climbed down from the mesa to the Rio Grande River and discovered signs of an old pueblo. On the way, we saw these petroglyphs.

petroglyphs at Petroglyph Hill near Galisteo photo Steve Collins

Spiral petroglyph is on Petroglyph Hill in the Galisteo Basin, photo/Steve Collins

Petroglyph Hill is in the Galisteo Basin southeast of Santa Fe. The land, formerly part of the Thornton Ranch, belongs to Santa Fe County; access is limited. The county periodically offer tours of the area. Group sizes are limited so sign up early. We were on a waiting list for a while, but it was worth it. There are over 1,900 petroglyphs dating from 1325 to 1600 A.D. at the site. You will also find message left by sheepherders in the 19th century here.

While many petroglyph sites are on private land, there are other sites open to the public around the state. In the Santa Fe area petroglyphs can be found at Bandelier National Monument, at its sister site, Tsankawi and at La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site southwest of town. Further afield visit Three Rivers near Tularosa in the southern part of the state.

If you want a guided visit to Northern New Mexico archeological sites, contact The Santa Fe Traveler. We can arrange one for you.

Do you have a favorite petroglyph site to share either in New Mexico or other places in the southwest?

Outspire Hiking also offers guided petroglyph hikes.

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4 Responses to “Graffiti for the ages: NM’s petroglyphs”

  1. Kathleen Winslow
    January 1, 2014 at 6:36 am #

    Long ago a friend took me to an arroyo off I-25 by either the Los Luna’s or Belen exit, east of the highway. Do you know about it? It had quite a few petroglyphs and was a beautiful arroyo. KW

    • Billie Frank
      January 1, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

      We really haven’t explored that area very much, I suggest calling the local tourism people in those areas. If they are too small for a CVB, try the Chamber of Commerce. They may know who to send you to for info. Also, try the NM Department of Tourism, they may know or be able to direct you to someone who does. Good luck with your quest.

      • Kathleen Winslow
        January 8, 2014 at 6:56 am #

        Thanks very much!!! KW

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