Petroglyph National Monument is a low key destination. It lies on the western edge of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a visitors center and four separate areas to explore: Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon, Piedras Maracadas, and Volcanoes. The latter does not actually have any petroglyphs, but hey, three volcanoes!
Rinconada Canyon, with a parking lot just off Unser Blvd NW a couple miles north of I-40, seemed the most convenient spot for a walkabout. There is a decent bathroom at the parking lot, and a barrier prevented vehicles from going on the trail. Right away, the heat makes itself known, as if to say, “Hello, pale people from the north; I will toast you now.” We slather on sunscreen and tote water. I wish I had a hat.
The canyon is really more of a vee-shaped plain, gently sloping, with ramparts on the outer edge of the vee covered in basalt boulders. Cacti and sage and broken glass dot the flatter land. Apparently locals formerly used Rinconada Canyon for target shooting before the area was protected.
Denise and Jackie Chan the wonderdog do an about face after about half a mile when they realizes the pictures are mostly similar same, and it’s getting bloody hot. I can’t blame them, but I soldier on for a bit. One smart hiker carries an umbrella as sun shield. There is certainly no respite from the sun, and there is no water on the trail.
The trail hugs the right slope near the rocks. Petroglyphs seem to come in clumps on large rocks in little alcoves at the base of the canyon walls.. Mostly the images are simple and relatively small, such as dessert-plate sized birds, human faces, and deer. Scientists do not know exactly what all if the petroglyphs mean, but it is interesting to speculate.
Rinconada Canyon offers a harsh landscape for hikers, but one worth visiting for its geologic and human history. Consider going in the cooler hours of the day.
Normally I am a snob about easy ways to the top of a mountain, but I had a fantastic jaunt in New Mexico that began in this manner. In years past, I have scoffed at those who drove up peaks (Whiteface) or took a cog railway (Mt. Washington). Of course, that may simply have been jealousy. As I age, I find that I’m willing to take a few sweat shortcuts. Consider this post a testament to the short cut.
To begin a trip into an alpine environment by taking a tram is a new experience, but the offer was too enticing to ignore. I’d heard of the Sandia Mountains for years, and had long wanted to hike or climb there. The range dominates views to the east from Albuquerque, reaching well over 10,000 feet and offering multiple life zones in which to hike. So when I had a brief window of time to visit the area with my bride, I jumped at the chance to take what is advertised as the world’s longest tram ride.
We arrived about noon and had to wait 20 minutes for a ride. 50 people crammed into the tram and listened as a guide gave us a play by play of the scenery, pointing out Totem Pole Rock, Echo Canyon, and more, giving information and adding plenty of wit. It was a good ride, taking about 15 minutes. Views the whole way were amazing. The top itself was sublime, a long rocky and well treed ridge. I almost salivated at the thought of hiking all over.
I learned that the back side of the Sandia range has a ski area, aptly named Sandia Peak. A long and winding road climbs all the way up to access it, but it takes over an hour. I like our route better. Either way, the views are stunning.
It was slightly amusing that there was a full service restaurant on top (supposedly the nation’s highest), which reminded me of a restaurant (since destroyed by avalanche) perched on top of Bridalveil Falls in Utah which I’d visited ages ago. That felt out of place, and so did this, but what the heck. We would later eat and drink there after hiking. So much for snobbery. I must be getting soft.
All in all, it made for a happy man before I even set foot on the Sandia Crest Trail. The top of the Sandia Range offers a beautiful environment, completely different than the high desert below surrounding Albuquerque. The temperature up top must have been at least twenty degrees cooler, and the ridges were was cloaked in pines, maples, and aspens as well as a lot of rock. This turned out to be an almost perfect day. Stay tuned for more.