Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Day Trips around Santa Fe, NM – Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque

So little time and so many excursions to blog about! Since Mark and I were only in Santa Fe, New Mexico for one month, we had to fully utilize our weekends to explore the area. We did this by leaving the house mid-morning on Saturday and returning late afternoon on Sunday. All the sites we visited can be done as day trips from Santa Fe, since our driving time was usually between one and one and a half hours each way. Going for the whole weekend allowed us to relax some, do less driving and spend the nights in nature – quiet and peaceful. We always find free camping spots to sleep in Zesty, our Westfalia (Westy) camper van.

Albuquerque is located at a lower elevation than Santa Fe. This means that it is usually quite a bit warmer, something we did not account for. My plan, before setting out, was to visit all four areas of Petroglyph National Monument and do most of the hikes, about 7 miles in total. It seemed feasible. We had all day. There are over 24,000 images pecked in stone. We would not have to search hard to see some.

Too many carvings to count!

American Indians believe that these images are as old as time, but archeologists estimate them to be made 400 to 700 years ago by the ancestors of today’s native people. Some images may be 2000 – 3000 years old even. Why they were created or what their meaning is, can be discovered through clues in the subject matter, carving technique, or setting. Other answers are harder to find and might have been taken into the grave with the carvers. Most petroglyphs were created with stone tools.

After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we decided to start at Piedras Marcadas Canyon for a 1.5 return walk among thousands of petroglyphs. As we strolled past century-old rock carvings of animals, people, crosses, geometrical designs and more mysterious shapes, the sun was beating down on us. There was no shade in the desert and the temperature reached above 100° Fahrenheit (upper 30s Celsius). This time, it was the heat, not the elevation that caused us to breathe heavily. With a potential headache on my mind, and a heightened risk of skin cancer on Mark’s mind, we needed to find cover from the sun’s damaging rays after an hour and a half of gazing at the ancient, spiritual rock art. I was starting to realize that we would not be able to visit all four sections of the park.

Boca Negra Canyon is the most popular site in the park, because there are facilities and three short paths leading to tons of rock carvings. It was not busy at all on this Labor Day weekend. Most tourists probably preferred their air-conditioned rooms or a cool restaurant this time of the day. Mark and I grabbed one of the four shaded picnic tables and consumed packed lunches. The hot weather made us tired and lazy and we took our merry time to eat our sandwiches. Mark strongly advised against me climbing the hill to witness that trail’s petroglyphs. For once, I agreed, not wanting to repeat my painful, nauseous night of the weekend prior. Instead, we scrambled the other two short paths to see a few more images on the rocks.

Being satisfied with the amount and variety of petroglyphs at our first stop, Piedras Marcadas, we decided to leave the park and head to the higher elevations of Cibola National Forest in search for a quiet and attractive spot to spend the night. We found it off forest road 252 near Cedro Peak. It was cooler here, we still had time and we lacked exercise, so we decided to climb the dirt road to the top of the mountain, before enjoying sundowners and organic popcorn at our new, private spot in the woods.

Extra info for Petroglyphs National Monument:

  • There are four park sections within short driving distance of the Visitor Center (no petroglyphs here): Piedras Marcadas Canyon (thousands of petroglyphs), Boca Negra Canyon (hundreds of petroglyphs), Rinconada Canyon (hundreds of petroglyphs), and Volcanoes (no petroglyphs).
  • Brochures, information and free (hand-drawn) maps can be picked up at the Visitor Center.
  • Leashed dogs are allowed on all the trails, except in the Boca Negra section.
  • Bring water and sun protection, especially in summer.
  • Water fountains and bathrooms are available at the Visitor Center and Boca Negra Canyon.
  • Closed sandals work, if you don’t mind the dust (and occasional cactus needle).

Frugal tips:

  • Three of the four sections in the park are free. At Boca Negra Canyon, a nominal $2 parking fee is charged. This amount is waived if you have a National Park Pass, which we possess.
  • As always, we brought our own lunch. There are no cafeterias in the area. Covered picnic tables are available in Boca Negra Canyon.
  • Mark and I did not spend any money on this excursion, except for fuel.
  • Using the free app/website Free Campsites, gives us a good idea of where other campers have spent the night without issues. There are usually short descriptions of those areas as well.

This destination could be combined with a visit to Albuquerque, if you have an earlier start than us. We never made it into this city, but, on Sunday, we went on a fantastic, yet arduous, hike. Stay tuned!

Have you ever seen petroglyphs? Where? After how many were you “petroglyphed out”? 🙂


  1. There are some petroglyphs in a cave north of where I live in Ontario, Canada, but nowhere near the quantity you were exposed to, Liesbet. I’m glad you were able to see so many without climbing the hill. Good cautioning from Mark!

    • Yeah… climbing the hill would not have been very beneficial. I hate not being able to do things for health or other reasons, though. But, sometimes, I have to be smart, and satisfied with what I already saw. It’s part of growing up (and getting old). 🙂 That’s nice that you have some of these petroglyphs up in Ontario as well. I’d love to check them out whenever we make it up there, one of these summers.

  2. Fantastic! I have been intrigued by petroglyphs for years. I really, and I mean really need to get down that way. There are some stunning art rocks here in Utah as well, It seems you guys really need to get up here soon.

    • I think New Mexico will satisfy every traveler, since it has so much to offer on a cultural and natural level. I’ve heard about rock art in Utah. And, yes, we need to get up there soon. We are actually planning on it the second part of October, which is soon, :-), but not your neck of the woods, though. We’ll drive through southern Utah on our way back to California. Hopefully, it is not too cold in the parks there yet. We have a heater in our camper, but it is only functional in less than 5000 feet. A high-altitude heater adjustment is on the long list of parts and projects…

  3. I’ve seen a lot of petroglyphs over the years and, as beautiful as many of them are, I can understand why you would get a little weary of them after a while. I’m glad that you decided not to push yourself too much. On to your next adventure!

    • All settled and awed by the natural surroundings here in Colorado now, Janis. 🙂 Too much of anything can get overwhelming, I assume. I remember thinking the same after visiting multiple ruins in Mexico and Guatemala… Now, I’d love to go back there, of course.

  4. Victoria Marie Lees

    September 20, 2017 at 17:35

    Awesome info here, Liesbet! We’ve seen some petroglyphs at Arches National Park in Utah. I love learning about other cultures or ancient cultures. I’m also glad you didn’t let the heat spoil the fun. The sun can be oppressive in the desert. Smart move to cut the hiking short. Heat definitely made my family lazy when we visited the desert—especially me!

    • Hot weather seems to do that, apparently, hence all the siestas people take in Southern Europe and elsewhere with a warm and relaxed climate. I really would like to go to Arches NP one day. Utah is one of those states that is mind-blowing as well. If we get lucky with the weather, a visit to Arches might happen sooner than later. 🙂

  5. I’ve seen petroglyphs in our travels in the Southwest. So fascinating. I love trying to imagine what was going through the artist’s mind when s/he made them.

  6. You and Mark have really used your time well to explore the Santa Fe area. I continue to enjoy following your adventures there. The petroglyphs were very interesting to see and read about — thank you for sharing them!

    • You are welcome, Donna. It was a busy month, what with full days of work during the week and going camping and exploring during the weekends. Our month in Colorado will be a little bit quieter, I think. The weekends anyway. Mostly, due to the weather. But, we’ll see. There are so many amazing views, parks and hikes here as well!

  7. Petroglyphs and pictographs are my absolute favorite!!! This looks amazing! I want to add this to our list!!

    • You will love New Mexico as much as I will love Utah! I remember reading about the petroglyph sites you guys visited in Utah on your blog.

  8. Hi Liesbet! Just catching up here with your travels…and yeah, I can imagine it was pretty warm. Still very cool to see the petroglyphs. Loved the photos. There are some here in the Coachella Valley that you will have to check out when you come for a visit. And it should be cooler in late October! ~Kathy

    • Looking forward to seeing what your area has to offer, Kathy. And, to meeting you and Thom as well, of course. Exciting times ahead. 🙂

  9. Never seen them! I don’t think I’d want a full day of it, interesting though they are.
    Should I include this on Monday, Liesbet, or wait for the arduous one? 🙂 🙂

    • Two hours of it was fine by us as well, Jo. Yes, please include this one in the coming Jo’s Monday Walks post. The arduous hike – which is very different from this one – can go in the one the week after. 🙂 Thank you!!!

  10. I’ve seen petroglyphs in Utah and Arizona. Fascinating, but I agree you wouldn’t need to see all of them in that heat!

    • They are interesting, for sure. Especially, since we hadn’t seen many of them in the past. But, one hot walk sufficed. You picked some great states to see them as well, Anabel.

  11. That looks amazing! I’d really enjoy some camping time right about now. I haven’t had a good hike in ages! Thanks for sharing, Liebet!

    • I know how you feel, Stephanie! I hope you get to take a boat break soon and have some camping adventures more south somehow. Or a hike near the marina. You need another dog! 🙂 We have to make due with a night of camping here and there over the weekends, but we are looking forward to a more sustained camper life in the future. 🙂 Hiking is easy these days, right outside our door here in Colorado, with a very active dog we are pet sitting.

  12. I can’t take too much sun, so I would gladly just see part of the park. What a fascinating place! It seems like the camper is really working out to give you a little more freedom.

    • The sun was crazy that day. We always wear a lot of protection and – from our cruising years in the tropics – are used to remaining in the shade as much as possible, so this was a little bit of a shock to our bodies. We are getting smarter when we get older and push things less than we (I) did in the past! 🙂

  13. I’ve never seen petroglyphs, but I find them a fascinating look into our history! Great shots and another interesting post, Liesbet!

    • Thanks, Terri. We have been on the lookout for petroglyphs, so were happy to find such a big collection here. I expected them to be a bit different, though, having the aboriginal rock art of Australia in mind. Looking forward to seeing them elsewhere as well.

  14. Ahhh, warmth and tank tops! Europe is a tad chilly at the moment, but I’m sure I will wish I were back here as soon as I return to toasty Texas! Looks like you are making the most of your NM stay!

    • We love warmth and tank tops! By the time you return to Texas, the temperature will be just right! 🙂 I’m glad you are enjoying your visit and look forward to reading all about it!

  15. I’m loving these journeys you’re sharing with us. I don’t recall ever seeing petroglyphs but now know that I’m dying to see them right there in New Mexico! 🙂

  16. What a lovely post. In Finland, we do not have petroglyphs, but rock paintings. In some cases You can Cruise to them on a lake. Thank You for this interesting post.

    • I would love to see some rock paintings in Finland, Matti. I have seen some in Australia, but I’m sure they are of a different kind than in your country. I don’t know much about Finland, so I am very interested in checking out your blog and photos! Your photography is amazing – I almost feel like I am there.

  17. Wow, I would not like to hike in 100 degree heat! It sure looks like an interesting area. My favourite place to se petroglyphs and pictographs in Canada is Writing On Sone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, which is a National Heritage Site:

    It is a beautiful area, a unique ecosystem, and there are many interesting hoodoos in the park as well. And you can camp there.


    • Hi Jude, thanks for the info about the park in Alberta. It sounds very worthwhile to check out and seems to combine a few treasures that in New Mexico are found at different sites. One day, we will get up there and then your way again. First, I have some US explorations on the agenda, before next summer. 🙂

  18. Correction: Writing On Stone Provincial Park

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