2016 Trip Four, Southwest Discoveries, May 23

Santa Fe, NM. May 23 Monday

Petroglyphs again. On May 19, we wrote about the petroglyphs we observed along the historic trail just minutes from Jude’s house. Today, we drove an hour to Petroglyphs National Monument in Albuquerque where over 24,000 petroglyphs have been identified. Petroglyphs National Monument was created in 1990 to preserve 12 square miles of land on the west mesa across the Rio Grande River in Albuquerque that was facing immediate development pressure. Previous efforts had created a state park, but the area preserved was not inclusive enough. Five years of furious research prepared the way for the national monument status. Today, the eastern and northern ends of the monument are surrounded by urban development.

From the back of Rinconada Canyon looking east to Albuquerque, escarpments to left and right, Sandia Mountains in background

From the back of Rinconada Canyon looking east to Albuquerque, escarpments to left and right, Sandia Mountains in background

To understand why the petroglyphs are here, one first needs to understand a bit of geology. I will make it brief and very concise (recognize we are talking about actions over millions of years). First, the subsidence of land created the Rio Grande Rift, a thirty mile wide valley extending 500 miles from Mexico up into Colorado. Second, land uplift created the Sandia Mountains along the east edge of the rift. Third, six volcanoes in the middle of the rift in the Albuquerque area spewed out enough lava to create a 17 mile escarpment of very hard basalt rock. Fourth, the Rio Grande River created a source of irrigation and a natural migration path for human activity from Colorado to Mexico.

One of many petroglyphs

One of many petroglyphs

The basalt escarpment is close to the Rio Grande River, and as humans have traveled along the river they had this urge to leave a message for following generations carved into the basalt rock. The surface rock was chipped away, leaving a gray symbol on the black rock. These symbols are sometimes recognizable and other times not so much. Some of the symbols date from the 1600s since sheep are shown, an animal not native to the U.S. Most pre-date the Spanish arrival, estimated to go back as far as 1000 BCE.

The Monument has four major visiting areas. We went to two of them. At Rinconada Canyon we hiked out,and back, 1.2 miles along the escarpment to view numerous petroglyphs carved into the rock. Many are still very clear from the trail. In general, we were not able to get as close to the petroglyphs as we did last week here along La Cienguilla trail. Rinconada Canyon gives a clear view across the valley to the Sandia Mountains and to Albuquerque. The river is a minimum of two miles from the escarpment; the land in between was cultivated for crops.

Two of the volcanoes

Two of the volcanoes

After Rinconda we drove over to the west side of the monument and viewed the volcanoes area. The separate volcanoes stand out along the flat mesa. Chris and I hiked out to JA Volcano but were prevented from climbing to the summit due to trail restoration work (which was not noted until you were just ready to start the climb up). Along the way, desert flowers were blooming; a mix of yellow, white, pink and orange. Not as profuse or vibrant as summer wildflower in the mountains, but still amazing to view.

A view of desert flowers

A view of desert flowers

The volcano top is clearly rimmed by black rock. The flat mesa up here is basically the top of the escarpment of which we were earlier walking along the bottom at Rinconada Canyon. The view of Albuquerque was even better up here. After a picnic lunch, we headed out to our second stop.

White cliffs of Kasha-Kutuwe

White cliffs of Kasha-Kutuwe

Kasha-Kutuwe

Kasha-Kutuwe

Kasha-Katuwe, or Tent Rocks, is a National Monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This was not our first time here, we had been here with Jude many years ago but wanted to stop in one more time. “Kasha-Katuwe” means “white cliffs” in the traditional language of the pueblo. It has been a national monument since 2001.

Tent rocks-showing why the area was named that by Anglos.

Tent rocks-showing why the area was named that by Anglos.

Explosions from the Jemez volcanic field, shaped by wind and water, have created slot canyons, hoodoos topped by cap rocks, and steep cliffs. We did another hour hike here and talked to two guys from Amarillo TX who took our photo in one of the slot canyons. Another group included a woman from Minnesota now living in Honduras.

Ed and Chris in slot canyon at Kasha-Katuwe (tent rocks)

Ed and Chris in slot canyon at Kasha-Katuwe (tent rocks)

Ed and Chris. May 23

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