Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hike 2011.090 -- Petroglyphs National Monument, New Mexico (Part 2)

Hiked Thursday, December 15. I'm back in California; didn't have time to write my posts while on the road.

During my drive out from California to Kentucky, I did two hikes in Petroglyphs National Park: Volcanoes Day Use area and Rinconada Canyon. Today, I visited the other two developed areas in Petroglyphs National Park: Piedras Marcadas Canyon and Boca Negras Canyon.

One thing I learned on my drive up there is that, even though Coors Blvd and Unser Blvd in Albuquerque both head towards Petroglyphs National Park, Unser moves a lot faster than Coors. Didn't learn that 'til later, though.

So, from I-40, I would concur with the NPS recommendation to take Unser Blvd north from I-40. After about three miles, it goes right past the national monument headquarters. Continue past the headquarters an additional mile to Montano Road, and make a right. Head east just over a mile, then make a left at Taylor Ranch Road. After half-a-mile, bear left where Golf Course Road splits off from Taylor Ranch Road. Continue north about 3 miles, and make a left where a sign directs you left to get to Piedras Marcadas. Almost immediately after turning (on JillPatricia Street), there's a small parking area on the right. It's adjacent to a number of homes, and behind a Valvoline oil change store.

In other words, even more so than for the two places I hiked last time here, Piedras Marcadas is almost literally in Albuquerque's backyard.

From the parking area, a short concrete sidewalk leads back to the open space. Once through a zig-zag opening (to keep motorized vehicles out of the area), there's a sign welcoming you to Petroglyphs National Park. Unfortunately, the location of the sign gives the impression that the trail heads straight up the hill. Instead, you're supposed to make an immediate left, and walk parallel to the hill. Backyard brick walls are on your left.

As I started my walk, I saw a multi-colored balloon in the distance, one of three I saw during my hike here. I guess they're present year round, not just during the big air balloon events.

My impression of Piedras Marcadas is that petroglyphs are denser here than they were at Rinconada Canyon.

The NPS says this trail area is "about 1.5 miles." When I reached the far end and started heading back, it actually seemed close to a mile just to get back. But some walking is on sand, which always makes distances seem further. I'd go with a 1.5 - 2.0 mile total as a best guess of the distance covered on these trails and spurs.

After returning to my car and finding sufficient time remaining (because I got a very early start this day), I headed over to the Boca Negra section of the park. Boca Negra is off of Unser Blvd, well south of Piedras Marcadas, but well north of Rinconada Canyon and the National Park Service visitors' center, both also on Unser.

Boca Negra is apparently is operated by the city of Albuquerque in some sort of joint operating agreement. They charge $1 to park there on weekdays, and $2 on weekends. The entrance station was unmanned today, so it was just the honor system. I stuck a dollar bill in an envelope and stuck the stub on the dashboard.

From this little loop drive, there are three short trails: Mesa Point, Macaw, and Cliff Base (in that order, if you drive the one-way loop road). Despite many warnings in the area of break ins and the need to lock your car, your car is always within sight of you while on the Macaw and Cliff Base trails, and is nearly always in sight from Mesa Point.

Mesa Point is the longest, and climbs to the top of a small mesa. This (and the other two trails at Boca Negra) are hardened, with either macadam or concrete steps and wooden railings. This minimizes erosion, and lets you get a much closer view of the petroglyphs than you can get on the other areas of the park. It also leads to more vandalism.

There are several spur trails off the main trail, all of which deadend. Also, finding the proper way up to the top is a little tricky, because the trial comes to within about ten feet of the top before dropping back down and looping to the other side of the mesa. I suspect most people do not actually summit the way the trail is supposed to take you.

Nice views from the top of Mesa Point, including back down towards your parked car to one side, and an overview of the city of Albuquerque to the west and southwest.

The NPS does not give a distance for any of the Boca Negra hikes. It only gives time estimates of 35 minutes for Mesa Point, 5 minutes for Macaw, and 15 minutes for Cliff Base). For Mesa Point, an Internet search gave several reviews of the trail, with distance estimates ranging from .3 to .5 miles round trip. Given the total time for the three hikes of nearly an hour, even at a very slow pace and with lots of stops to admire views and petroglyphs, it would seem an estimate of one mile total would be reasonable, so I'm giving myself an estimate of three miles for the time spent in Petroglyphs on Wednesday, December 18.

The Macaw trail (so named because there's a petroglyph of a macaw at the start of the trail) and the Cliff Base trails both originate from the second parking area, near the flush toilets.

A short connector trail between the Macaw/Cliff Base trail head and the Mesa Point trailhead is currently being hardened, with a concrete sidewalk linking the two picnic areas.

I saw this etching several times on the Cliff Base trail. I thought it looked a little like a Jaffa staff weapon, from Stargate.

Of the four areas of Petroglyphs National Monument I have visited, I would say I liked the petroglyphs at Piedras Marcadas the most. For those who might lack mobility, the ones around Boca Negra are more accessible, however. There's even a pair of wheelchair-accessible binoculars at the picnic area below the Macaw trail, so one can peruse the petroglyphs up close, even without walking up the trail.

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