Great Pueblo IV
Petroglyph National Monument started life as New Mexico's Indian Petroglyph State Park, out beyond the city of Albuquerque, west of the Rio Grande. Over the years, two major changes have taken place. One is that Indian Petroglyph State Park is now Petroglyph National Monument. The second is that the city of Albuquerque now engulfs the monument. The petroglyphs are coming under new pressures daily with increased traffic on the roads, increased visitation, and construction of new houses up to the monument's boundaries. Recently several dozen 'glyphs were removed or destroyed to make way for a new road leading through the monument. The crime rate in the monument has also gone up, from local kids vandalizing parked cars at some of the trailheads.
Despite all this, however, Petroglyph National Monument remains one of the best places in New Mexico to easily see and access Pueblo IV Period petroglyphs in something like their natural environment. Boca Negra is an easy place to start your exploration of the monument. After checking in at the visitor's center on Unser Blvd., head north to the Boca Negra area.
Boca Negra means Black Mouth in Spanish. The area gets its name because it is a small cove or mouth on the side of the mesa, formed from black basalt, erupted from the cinder cones in the western section of the monument. It is upon the fallen-down blocks of rock that the Anasazi residents of the Rio Grande valley made their art.
From the trailhead, the trail makes a quick loop up into the boulders immediately to the north. It passes by several parrot petroglyphs and some yucca images as well. Human and kachina figures can also be seen from this section of the trail. It then drops back down through the boulders and returns to the trailhead with a shade arbor, bathroom, and water fountain. During the summer this trail is almost unbearably hot, due to heat radiating from the rocks. This bathroom/rest area is the only shade/water on the entire trail.
Continuing on to the next loop, head south on the trail along the bottom of the boulder fall, away from the trailhead. The trail winds through more boulders, and it is here in this section that the most spectacular petroglyphs from Boca Negra can be found. Kachina faces and figures abound in this section. Keep an eye out for "walking stars", or 4-pointed stars with faces in them. These may represent the Pueblo war societies, as well as the face of the sun, according to some Rock Art experts. This trail eventually loops back through the boulders to a spot near the trailhead.
For the adventurous (especially during the summer!), another trail heads north and crosses The Mouth to the northeastern point, climbing up the rugged lava cliffs. This section takes you past a few more petroglyphs, but also gives you a great view of the city of Albuquerque around you. At the end of the point is a Pueblo building, likely a shrine. From there, return to your vehicle down below at the trailhead.
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