Images of Beautiful Places
Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
Monument preserves one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. The Monument
was established in 1990 to protect and interpret petroglyphs and archeological sites on
Albuquerque's West Mesa. Surveys suggest the presence of at least 20,000 petroglyphs along
the volcanic escarpment.
The petroglyphs along
the escarpment were created from about 1000 B.C. until recent times. The majority of these
were done in what is called the "Rio Grande style" from 1300-1680 A.D. by the
Pueblo Indians. Common images include human figures, masks and masked figures, and
animals. Hands, feet, animal tracks, spirals,
four-pointed stars, and geometric designs are also common.
petroglyphs were created not by painting but by chipping away at the volcanic rock. An
outer "desert varnish" has been created by years of exposure to the elements,
resulting in a red outer layer of oxidized metals such as manganese and iron within the
basalt. The desert varnish, or patina, is extremenly thin and chipping or pecking exposes
the lighter color of the rock's interior.
Perhaps one of the most
famous Petroglyphs is the Macaw. Parrots such as the Macaw are not native to the
Southwest U.S. Their natural habitat is in Mexico. This suggests the development of trade,
as parrots and their feathers were important trade items and are shown prominently in kiva
mural paintings made during the same time period.
Shown here are four
separate petroglyphs of masks and figures. Note the difference in figures and head
ornaments; the four-pointed star has a mask, a feathered headdress, and bird talons. Also
note that the star is superimposed over part of a human figure, located faintly to the
Elaborate petroglyph, containing
a square that encloses a step-shaped cloud at bottom), a four-pointed star with zigzag
line (at top), and other designs. Notice the numerous desings on several sides of this
boulder, including handprints, animal figures, and a mask placed on the corner of the rock
to "see both ways".
The petroglyph on the
boulder to the left possibly depicts a yucca seed pod. The root of the yucca was used
for making soap, and the flowers, fruits, and seeds were roasted in pits for food. The
points of the leaves were used as needles, and the leaves served as a source of fiber for
Panoramic view of Albuquerque
from Petroglyphs National Monument. Notice "cat" petroglyph on the boulder
at the left. The purpose of including this photo was two-fold. First, to show an image of
this scenic city and beautiful surroundings. Second, is to show the effect of urban
sprawl, which is all too common in the U.S. Notice the new housing development encroaching
on the National Monument (photo taken in January 2001). Environmental groups fought hard
to limit how close development could approach the National Monument, but it looks like
they weren't too successful, unfortunatley. Time will tell what impact the proximity of
these homes and associated motor traffic will have on the Monument, but I would bet that
it certainly WON'T HELP the preservation of these magnificent, ancient petroglyphs.
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by Donald A. Klosterman, Ph.D., Dayton, Ohio, USA