Petroglyph National Monument

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While much of our trip was planned out down to the smallest detail, we have had some impromptu adventures along the way.

There is something quite fun and exciting about veering off the beaten path for an unexpected adventure.

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On our way from Mesa Verde National Park to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico we passed a sign for Petroglyph National Monument. Stumbling across this national monument was a wonderful case of serendipity.

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We veered off our planned route and found ourselves at the Visitor’s Center, unsure of what we would find at this national monument. I only knew that I wanted to see (and have the kids see) some ancient petroglyphs in person after having studied them in art and history class.

Petroglyphs are rock carvings. Unlike petrographs which are drawn on or painted on rock faces, petroglyphs are images that are scratched into a dark faced rock revealing the lighter stone underneath.

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Petroglyphs have been found on every continent except Antarctica and are associated with prehistoric people.

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Located just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, Petroglyph National Monument is home to one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in North America. 25,000 petroglyph images can be found scratched into the dark boulders of the park.

At the visitor’s center we were given a map of the different trails in the area where we could view these ancient works of art.

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At the ranger’s suggestion we opted to head to Boca Negra Canyon. She explained it was the closest, easiest to access, and most recommended for kids.

As we were leaving Ozzie took a seat outside waiting for the rest of the family to emerge from the visitor’s center when Molly whispered urgently,

“Ozzie, don’t move!”

To which Ozzie responded by jumping up with a panicked yell, “Why?!”

Across is foot slithered a snake.

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Unsure of whether it was venomous or not, Ozzie jumped in the air, landing back on top of the snake.

We finally got him away from the little fellow. I think Ozzie’s and the snake’s hearts were racing a bit after that encounter. A local who was passing by informed us that it was perfectly safe and not to worry.

Whew!

We then drove a couple miles away to the Boca Negra Canyon to hike and view the petroglyphs up close.

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It was thrilling seeing these ancient images in person.

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Carved into dark, Basalt boulders that were created by ancient volcanos, the hike became an exciting game of “I Spy” as we searched for these ancient, primitive images dating 700-3000 years old.

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Some of the images were easy to interpret while other shapes and designs were more abstract.

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It was fun guessing at what they could be and what they might mean, as many were grouped together as if meant to tell a story.

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The meanings behind these petroglyphs are for the most part unknown but it is fun to guess at what stories they tell.

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The petroglyphs we encountered included serpents, birds, horses, humans, masks, four pointed stars, spirals and even hand prints.

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As we hiked we were also treated to some real animals in the form of long eared jack rabbits. You could tell we had traveled through South Dakota when Tyler asked,

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“But where are their antlers?”

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We had to break his heart and explain that jackalopes weren’t real. 🙂

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It was a fun, unexpected stop on a long travel day. Sometimes the best memories come from the unexpected, unplanned moments of life.

Next Stop: Roswell, New Mexico

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